Our friend tells our team that we will visit a village in the mountains where two kids started their lives who are now members of a Hope’s Promise family for orphaned children and where Hope’s Promise implements a Thrive scholarship group for thirty orphaned and vulnerable children who live with relatives. That’s about all we know.
He instructs us to pull hoods over our heads and masks over our faces so we won’t draw attention to the people we will visit. We hop from our vehicle onto the backs of motorbikes driven by people we’ve never met. Pavement turns to dirt, and dirt transitions to a mud track slicing up the side of a mountain. As the back tire of the bike I’m riding slips and tosses me off sideways, I manage to land like a cat on my hands and feet. Mud dripping from my hands, I walk, slipping and sliding so my driver can navigate the rough patch. Mud weighs down the soles of my shoes. Then we resume plugging up a trail through steep slopes as mist obscures the view. When we pass a walking team member, I wonder if we will ever arrive and if everyone will make it.
Forty-five minutes later, three of our motorbikes grind to a halt. The drivers direct us to walk up a rocky, single-track trail. We emerge into a flat area carved out of the mountainside with two structures. Villagers in brightly embroidered clothing welcome us with smiles and nods into a dirt-floor house with light streaming between slats of wood. We gather gratefully around a warm fire.
Miraculously, team members come trudging up the hill, one by one. After a particularly gregarious American, who happens to be my husband and a Hope’s Promise board member, arrives, he gathers the kids with hand motions and sound effects and teaches them the “chicken dance” and the “macarena.” Play and laughter need no translation!
When at last our Vietnamese leaders arrive, bringing up the rear, we settle in the second structure, a roughhewn wood church with corrugated metal roof. The life stories of our new friends pass from their native language into Vietnamese and then into English. Ten years ago, a man from the village came to know Christ in another area. He returned to tell others. His first convert, a 12-year-old at the time, now serves as our Hope’s Promise Thrive group social worker. While both new Christians faced opposition to their faith, now 24 of the 100 families in the village follow Jesus.
They share the challenges of living in this remote area where people cultivate rice for their own food and grow corn and cassava to sell, earning an average of $400 per year for each family. Schools provide poor education, and medical services are all but impossible to access.
The pastor holds a young girl on his lap as he tells the story of her family. Soon after her birth, her father died from a snake bite. Her mother left with two older daughters, leaving the baby in the pastor’s care and two young sons with a disabled aunt. The church built a rudimentary home for the aunt and young boys, the first structure we visited; but she was unable to care for them. A visiting evangelist, friend to our Country Coordinator, learned of the boys’ plights and welcomed them into his Home of Hope 7 family. He also helped start the Hope’s Promise Thrive group.
As we talk, villagers wash chickens in tubs under laundry lines and cook over a campfire. They welcome us to an outdoor, pop-up restaurant of blue plastic chairs and tables between the two buildings to enjoy a feast.
Later, I can’t stop giggling when two toothless women in their 80’s mime their teeth popping out.
Before we leave, we pray together, translated into three languages, around an outdoor campfire and reluctantly say our good-byes.
I think we all wonder if this day really happened, but our team members testify to each other that we remember the same experience. And photographic evidence proves we were there. Somehow, we were lucky enough to visit the ends of the earth and find the same Jesus who works in our own hearts bringing hope and transformation there.