By Cam Nguyen
“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked, and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the greatest poverty.” – Mother Teresa
The first place we served in our Mission of Love in 2015 was Sapa. Life at Sapa was so very simple and peaceful. The people here live in great poverty, but how rich their hearts could be in the midst of nothingness. Very simple people they are; and very patient and enduring they must be. Nature was truly their home. I saw this especially in little children’s play: how they run up hilltops and hang on hill edges without any fret of danger; how they so comfortably climb and ride on giant ox; and run barefoot through the dirty mud. I admired them and their simplicity so much.
But will I dare take a chance to look deeper, further, and through the rose-colored glasses? Will I dare to look with not only my eyes, but with my heart? Because a part of me wants to see what is comfortable to bear and accept— that part of me perhaps saw the free-spirited smiles in each person. Perhaps they were truly genuine smiles, but a part of me still urged me onward to look even deeper and more. Look, Cam, what do you see? And so I closed my eyes, and let my eyes not deceive me, so as to really see with the eyes of my heart, and hear with the ears of my heart.
And what did I see then? Lives that are deprived of what every human being seeks and is in need of love. On the other side of the glass, very little children who carried baby siblings on their back, walking around the streets of Sapa and asking passersby to buy their knitted products; parents working day and night, till the earth for barely any food to bring home; bare feet walking through dirt
and mud mixed with trash and manure. The children selling on the streets, and even the children that I saw playing on the hills of Sapa—where were their teachers to teach and help them learn and grow? Where were their parents to care for them, to love them? Where were life and all of the possibilities of life? The parents working tirelessly in the fields—will anyone hear their silent cries of
suffering? Will anyone notice them? Will anyone help them? Yes, they lack very much all the opportunities that I’ve been fortunate to receive in my life: a comfortable home, more than enough food and water, an enriching education. But what was even more important—they lacked love.
When I look with my heart, I see this more clearly for my heart and their hearts seek and yearn for the same. And so I realize, with a now deeper conviction, of this something greater than we could ever imagine that connects the whole of humankind. We are all firmly planted on the same earth on which we are striving and growing to find our purpose of life, our source of life, our giver of life, and our Creator of life, namely, God Who is love. We are like flowers planted in one vast garden field. Though we are each our own individual flowers, there is something—something far beyond our perceived reality—that interconnects each of us to one another. Underneath our appearances, our actions, and our words, is our very core seed that all searches and yearns for the same: for life, for love, for God. From these seeds springs our roots, and it is these roots that connect and unite us to one another. We’re all trying to grow, to find the purpose of life, to find love, to find God. We are all together in this life, breathing the same air, standing on the same earth, living under the same sky; yet, we are still separated by barriers of poverty. Some of us are suffering much, much more than should. Some of us are deprived and are lacking of the most basic, fundamental human needs. And some of these people are just right next to us. Seeing a glimpse of this grim reality, will I still choose to see with my heart, and see all the sufferings, the poverty, the homelessness, and the hungers for love that stand right next to me? Will I share the light and love that my heart has blessedly found and received with my brothers and sisters who are lacking love? Will I respond to love? Yes, God: I will serve and love You in the least of my brethren.
Cam Nguyen, Mission Trip 2015
How often we say the words “you are my home” to a beloved. Our hearts know that what is most important is not the mere material but the human person right in front of us. We may not all share the same personal love and connection with the country of Vietnam, but I believe that there within us is something still and much deeper than the connection we have with a physical location: it is the love we have for one another. We live in a temporal world, but love will always remain because the gift and worthiness of life is sacred, timeless, and unquestionably worthy of love.
I love Vietnam, the motherland of my parents, the origin of my history and heritage, the roots of my identity. But the people in Vietnam, especially all those whom I’ve met during my missionary time there, have inspired me to an even greater love of Vietnam. In the end, it is life there which is most important, and it is the poorest of the poor, especially among the children, who have captured my heart in a special way.
Which parent does not grow particular care for the child who is sick and suffering? Which teacher does not go the extra mile for the student who is falling behind? Each of us is uniquely called and inspired to love and service, but we must never forget to love and serve Christ in the poorest of the poor. For me and the time being, I am called to serve God’s children in my career, my ministry — however, God beckons me. I have been blessed and I cannot say I have always been grateful as I should, but it is never too late to begin again and anew today: to live up to my calling, to return my gratitude to God for everything He has given me, to return my love to Him by loving those He has placed in my care and path, to love these little ones. “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.” – Mark 9:37.