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Bob Roberts Praised in Vietnam Newspaper

May 6, 2011

This article was written by Nguyen Van Kien, Vice-President of the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations and long-time friend of NorthWood and GVI. It originally appeared in Vietnamese in the online edition of the Vietnam Times (Thoi Dai) and was translated by GVI staffer Vu Thanh Tra.

"Be Patient to Love"

About ten years ago, I met an American senior pastor (B.R. - Bob Roberts) who founded GVI, a Non– Governmental Organization (NGO) to carry out humanitarian assistance and development projects in Vietnam. When he first went to Vietnam, he was full of suspicions about a country that still restricted religion and human rights. However, after each trip to Vietnam, he met Vietnamese people who were hard working, hospitable, honest and peace-loving; he saw church bells resounding and welcoming devout Christian believers. They love God and live in freedom in their country. B.R saw that this was a small country where more than 50 ethnic groups have lived together in harmony for thousands of years. They united together to build and protect their country: a country with many cultures, religions and peoples; a country of peaceful landscapes and full of energy.

After this pastor went to Vietnam, he shared his observations and experiences with his church in Texas. In front of all his Christian believers, he said that Vietnam is not an atheist country at all, but one of the world’s most religious nations. In addition to Buddhism and other religions, more than 80 percent of Vietnamese citizens worship their ancestors. He asked, How could anyone say Vietnam is an atheist country? Who could say Vietnam didn’t have freedom of religion? (And one more interesting thing about B.R.’s church that he leads in Texas: 80 percent of paintings that decorate the church were bought in Vietnam.)

The first time I met B.R., I knew that he was a prestigious pastor who wanted to contribute to peace, heal war wounds, and mediate religious conflicts. But in his country, most of the information about Vietnam was distorted. This information was repeated many times in public media and was aimed against Vietnam. So in light of this, how can someone who has not come to Vietnam and has not had contact with Vietnamese people possibly understand Vietnam? His hometown has many people who misunderstand Vietnam. We spend a lot of time and take opportunities to make everybody understand Vietnam. I have stood with him more than 5 times on the stage of his Protestant church to talk about Vietnam in front of the thousands in his congregation. The pastor lectured about religion and I talked about Vietnam and the relationship between Vietnam and the US.

But the most interesting part of this was the time when the congregation asked questions. There were many questions that made me wonder why they had a distorted view of Vietnam. For example, someone asked, “Are there any churches in Vietnam?” After providing the answer, I also wanted to invite him to Vietnam to see the truth. Then, by the acquiescence of GVI, the pastor organized trips for hundreds of people in his church to visit Vietnam. When I met them again, I only heard them praising Vietnamese people, the beautiful sights, and the food in Vietnam. The church was proud that they were engaged in Vietnam and helping Vietnamese students come to study at high school in America. My colleagues and I spent a lot of time talking and sharing with Mr. B.R. and transported him thousands of kilometers away to the mountainous regions to show him the real Vietnam. I told him that America and Vietnam are two countries with different cultures so the concept of happiness, customs and lifestyle would be quite different, even the life values were different too. Vietnamese people live differently and sayings like “Different strokes for different folks” or “When in Rome, do as Romans do” are very applicable. After some time, the pastor could appreciate Vietnam in an objective and comprehensive way. Furthermore, he clearly criticized the untrue propaganda about religion in Vietnam and said he believed Vietnam’s side of the story.

We took the respectable pastor and also foreign NGO volunteers to the mountainous region to carry out projects that supported and helped ethnic minorities. Many of them were confused and even irritated by the behavior of the minorities, especially about the amount of alcohol that was served. We explained that using wine to welcome the guests is a special feature in ethnic minority culture, similar to the way Russian people greet their guests with bread and salt, or Mongolian people offer their guest a special wine mixed with horse's milk. If we wanted to empathize with them, we had to drink as much as we could. Afterwards, the success of the project made everybody gather together with their hearts, and at the end, the Vietnamese were saying to the foreign delegation, “Please stay, please don’t leave.”

When we have friendships like that, our difficulties are shared by each other and our work also becomes our friends’ work and responsibility. Vietnamese have a saying that  "Friendship is like two acting as one.” That explains how Vietnam could overcome years of poverty to become the world’s second largest rice exporter, and how Vietnam has constantly achieved success as a developing economy.

Patience helps us understand each other. If you people only give and expect something in return when you think about aid from Non-Government Organizations, it is unacceptable and untrue because in this world there are many sincere hearts. We receive this love from others because our nation itself has always shared and loved others, not only towards our own nation, but also for international community as well, supporting other countries after natural disasters, for example.

Many people come to Vietnam simply because they want to make friends with Vietnamese and to experience the beautiful aspects of Vietnamese culture. They want to come to Vietnam to help. In 2006, I met a Korean man in Vietnam who was involved in a war reparation project. He really enjoyed his work. He explained that he owed Vietnamese people and this debt weighed on his soul for many years. He had joined the army which invaded Vietnam so he wants to do everything to redeem his mistake and to have peace of mind. And he said that he wanted to live and work the remainder of his life in Vietnam and die in Vietnam. There are many stories like that. Our generosity helps them feel relaxed and contributes to creating a positive atmosphere.

Kindness alone is not enough to make friends. You have to get over difficulties, have patience to overcome challenges and be generous to yourself and your friends.

by Nguyen Van Kien
Vice president of Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations, VUFO; General Editor of Vietnam Times Newspaper




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