China Beach Orphanage
(Bob Martin, please contact Le Chau Esther if possible -
March 4, 2011
Le Chau Esther -
Dear Mr. Ronnie Foster,
am writing this to thank you for the photos you took at China Beach
Orphanage. They are so precious to me, and I think to the orphans as
well. Everything was in chaos when we were forced to leave the place. We
were unable to bring with us anything. Right after we left, everything
in the orphanage was stolen and destroyed. I cried when I looked at the
picture of the Chapel, our beloved chapel, with Simone Haywood's little
white Honda car in front of it. That was the place where we went every
Sunday morning or whenever we wanted the Lord to share with us our
sadness, our sufferings, our
sorrows and even our happiness. It is very nice of
you to keep these photos until today and put them on your website, so
that we can see again the place where I worked nearly four years and
where the orphans spent their childhood. All the
orphans, I dare say that, cherish the time they
were brought up there. We always talk about that time whenever we have a
chance to meet. We only regret that we can't retain the photos we have
taken at the orphanage. That's why we appreciate your kindness and
thoughtfulness to put the photos on the Internet. I'll download and have
them developed to show the orphans. I want to see if they can recognize
you, who loved them and cared for them. They have a very good memory
about what ever happened to them.
Several of them are now living in mountainous
areas, some in Danang and some in their native village, if you are still
wondering where they are now. I go to their mountainous villages almost
every summer. I came there to visit them, to go to Church with them, and
especially to attend their son's or daughter's weddings. We are always
very happy to see each other and have plenty of things to talk about,
most of which are about "hidden stories" happening then in the
orphanage, which make us laugh a lot.. If you ever have a chance to come
back to Vietnam, I will take you there to see them. Thank you again, Mr
Ronnie Foster, for your great love and kindness to our orphanage.
May God bless you and your family abundantly.
Le Chau Esther
Chau. I am so glad you found the website with the pictures. It is so
personally satisfying that my old pictures can bring joy to others. I
wish I could remember more about the orphanage, but as you know, we
were pretty busy just doing our jobs and only got to visit the
orphanage every week or two. I enjoyed every minute of it. I was still
just a kid myself, even though I was a Marine. I can only imagine what
life was like after the war ended and could only hope and pray that
you all were okay.
I would love to come visit you and meet some of
the "kids", but that costs a lot of money and I'm just a working guy.
Maybe some day. You are more than welcome to use any of the pictures
at any time. I hope some of the kids in the pictures will be able to
see them. I hope you are doing well. Thanks again, and please write me
every once in a while and let me know how you're doing.
and God Bless.
On the same day I received the email from Le Chau Esther, I
got the following email:
I came across your
website when looking up China Beach orphanage and I am e-mailing you
in hopes that you or someone you know (i.e., Bob Martin) would
remember (or know someone who may remember) a Montagnard/Vietnamese
orphan girl named Muon from the China Beach orphanage who was there
from the age of about three (1963'ish) until she was 12 (1972) when
she was adopted and sent to live with her new family in the states?!
I know this is a stab in the dark, but this girl is my older sister,
now named Sarah, who came to live with us in Minnesota and I would
love to hook up with someone who knew her to find out more
information, especially as it sounds like she would be one of the few
actually adopted out of that orphanage and likely had family who had
to place her there!
Thank you for any help you can provide!
the information on to Le Chau Esther and heard back from her the next
Sat Mar 5 3:42 am
Le Chau wrote:
Did I write and tell you that I know Muon that Ms.
Mary Wald mentioned in her letter to you, that you forwarded to me?
Thank God that we can hear something about Muon since the day she was
adopted by a nice American family. Thank you very much, Mr. Ronnie
Foster , for writing to me and forwarding Ms. Wald's e-mail to me. I
phoned Muon's aunt and she was so glad to hear about this. I have
written to Ms Mary Wald (and to Rev. Bill Shuler as well,) and am
waiting eagerly to hear from Ms. Mary Wald.
Thank you again, Mr.
Ronnie Foster, for all that you've done, and May God bless you. Next
time we will talk about your visit to VN. It's not very expensive as
you may think
Sat Mar 5, - 7:08 pm
Le Chau wrote:
Mr. Ronnie Foster,
I read the e-mail Ms. Mary Wald wrote to you,
mentioning Muon, once an orphan at China Beach Orphanage and was
adopted by a nice American family. I wrote to her three times until
today, but have never heard from her since then. I wonder if my
e.mails have got lost on the way. I would appreciate if you could send
her my latest e mail so that she would know I could give her some
information about Muon's relatives
here, as she requested. Thank
you very much always for your great love and kindness, Mr. Ronnie
Foster. May God be with you and your family.
Dear Ms Mary Wald,
I've written you twice after reading the e.mail you wrote to Mr.
Ronnie Foster, asking about Muon, who was adopted by a nice American
family in 1972. I know Muon, and I also know Muon's closest relatives
here, Dinh thi Manh and Dinh thi Tuoi, who were brought to the
Orphanage together with Dinh Thi Muon. Her parents were killed in the
war. We haven't heard from Muon since she was adopted, except a photo
sent by her new parents right after she arrived. We would appreciate
if you could get contact with Muon and tell her we
wish to hear
from her and know how she's been doing since then. Rev. Bill Shuler
and Mr. Ronnie Foster have received my e-mails and have written back
as well. I wonder if my e.mails to you got lost on the way. So please
write if you receive this.
We are looking forward to hearing from
May God's Blessings be yours.
Sat. Mar 5,
I am sending you one of the latest photos I took with former
orphans on my trip to PLeiku and Kontum to visit them. They are now
mountainous areas. You surely met them and probably
played with them when you came to visit the orphanage as they were
brought there during the 1960s. I am the one who was wearing black
pull over. The cottage (whatever you call it, it is called "nha rong"
in Vietnamese, a kind of special house of the mountainous people, so
that wild animals can't come up to steal their food) was built by the
one (in red shirt) and his friends. He is now the chief of the
tribal village up there. The nha rong is located up on a small hill
where young people gather to sing or dance on special occasions. It's
also the place where they can come to study together. I am not good at
using computer, so don't hesitate to tell me if you don't receive the
photo I mention. I'll try again.
On Sunday I heard from Mary Wald:
Sun. Mar 6, 2011 – 5:42 am
Mary Wald wrote:
Thank you so very much for quickly getting the word out - I cannot
believe I have been able to get in touch so quickly with Le Chau who
knew Sarah (Muon)! I was unable to get back as quickly myself as
my Father had an unexpected surgery and so I have been away. I will
surprise Sarah with a phone call tonight to give her Le Chau's phone
Thank you again for your help - I know it will mean
alot to Sarah!!!
The response from Le Chau:
Sun Mar 6 7:20 pm
I am in a hurry now. But your very nice letter urges
me to write this and tell you I have got contact with Mary Wald and
Muon Sarah, her older sister, just phoned me. It 's a miracle, Mr.
Ronnie Foster, and we do appreciate your help in this. Muon Sarah is
also trying to contact her aunt in Danang, but it's hard because her
aunt can't speak English and Muon forgets lots of Vietnamese. Will
write you more later. I am glad that you like the picture. God be with
you and your family, Ronnie Foster.
In the meantime I heard
from Mike and Kimberly Delaney:
Bill Shuler was Kim's foster brother in CA when she
first came to the
U.S. Bill was the son of Ruth
Smith (later Ruth Shuler) married to Jack Shuler. Kim lived with
them for just over 1 year while dozens of other Vietnam orphans came
and went usually within a couple of weeks thru this home.
Kimberly was very excited to re-connect with Bill.
also made contact with several
folk's including Le Chau who was the China Beach Orphanage translator
for 4 years. Le Chau says she was known as Co Chau. You may know
her? Kimberlyly has asked me to contact you and ask if we can get any
images you have of the Orphanage for her treasured scrap books?
'The Ten Dangerous Years' by Laura and Gordon Smith can usually be
found thru Amazon used book's listings. Just be patient.
My neighbor found one just recently. Also used Christian book
stores especially in MI seem to have them. Moody Press was the
We will eventually get some images to share!
Kimberly was diagnosed with Acute Myloid Leukemia back in November and
has been in and out of the Hospital battling this ailment. She
is so far doing great. Kimberly goes in for a bone marrow
transplant March 21. We are certainly Praying for divine
intervention since this is medical science's only cure.
again THANK YOU for the web site it has made a difference!
Peace Mike Delaney
I forgot to mention that we are currently
copying the Gordon and Laura Smith biography documentary from VHS to
DVD. We would be pleased to send you a copy. Please
email me your home number, address and which format (VHS or DVD) you
prefer. This is a fantastic story of how Gordon and Laura
Smith brought the Gospel message to a lost people and how that
message is still alive today. Many images of
not often seen or perceived by the U.S. There are 2 images of my wife
Kimberly in the documentary. One with a General Walt or Dewalt?
She is sitting on his lap. Just can't remember the name right
now. Second among other orphans playing at the Orphanage.
Kimberly would like to give you a call and talk too!
Mike and Kimberly Delaney
On Monday I got a phone call from
Kimberly and Mike Delaney in Chicago. Kimberly thanked me for posting the
pictures and how they had brought together so many people around the
world. In 1969 her village was destroyed by VC, murdering everyone
in the ville, including her entire family. She was left for dead
with a serious head wound, either bullet or bayonet. Two days later
a Marine unit found the bodies piled up in a trash dump. As they
began to separate the bodies a baby was found in the pile still
alive. It was in the month of July, so the Marines named her Julie
and took her to a hospital. When she recovered, she was sent to the
Protestant Orphanage (China
From Le Chau
Dear Mr. Ronnie Foster,
I think I
must write this to send you again my deep gratitude for your kindness
expressed through your website. First of all, the pictures you took
during your time in Vietnam have
brought up to us lots of good memories.
Secondly, the time you
took to write to me, and then sent me Mary Wald's letter searching for
her older sister has resulted very well in
urging me to write back
to Mary Wald and therefore got in touch with Muon Sarah, who was
adopted from China Beach Orphanage in 1972 by a nice American family.
Mary Wald gave Muon Sarah my telephone number, so she was able to call
me, which formed a connect which had been broken for nearly 40 years.
Muon's auntie here, Dinh thi Manh, was sleepless the whole night after
I told her that I had got contact with Mary Wald, thanks to Mr Ronnie
Foster. And the next morning, she cried when I told her Muon Sarah
just called me. Sarah said she was so excited as she couldn't believe
that she was able to get contact with someone from China Beach
Orphanage, and thanks to that,
with her own family. We must thank you for this, Mr. Ronnie Foster.
Thirdly, again through your website, I could get contact with Mike and
Kimberly Delaney. Kimberly was also once an orphan at the
Orphanage, adopted also in 1972 by a generous American family. Mike
wrote me at once after receiving my letter. He knew that his wife
Kimberly would be very pleased to be able to get contact with someone
from China Beach Orphanage, who knows her and her case. Rev. Bill
Shuler was also very helpful in giving me more information about the
Delaney family. Kimberly's call to me the night before assured me that
what her husband said was true. She was very glad to hear my voice
again. I wish I could come to see the Delaneys. I admired their
efforts in the way they live and serve God, the way they take care of
their four children when both of them have lost their sight. I really
for being with them and giving them strength to overcome
all difficulties and obstacles in life. I do know that you are very
busy, so thank you very much again for everything you have taken your
time to do for us. May God bless you and your family abundantly. Thank
you very much for your very nice letter. I thought I was reading an
emotional letter from a G.I. ! It is so generous and considerate of
you to have such thoughtful feelings. I am proud now to know a good
person that I think it's hard to find on earth, which makes my life
I think you really can imagine how excited we were
to be able to get contact with people we had lost touch with in almost
40 years, and you
will understand how grateful we are to you. We do
hope your website will be, as it has been, a bridge to link more
wonderful relations. Several former orphans have called me lately to
share the happiness of finding Dinh thi Muon Sarah and Nguyen thi Cong
Kimberly Delaney, who are their friends as they came from the same
Therefore, I would like to ask if there is, in the
future, anyone who reads your website and asks about an orphan in
China Beach Orphanage,
would you mind informing me, as you had done
in Muon Sarah's case? I believe there will be more, because at that
time, there were more than
300 orphans in the orphanage and each of
them had a sponsor from the U.S (some in
Germany and Britain),
either a family or a Church.
Through their letters, I could see
that they really loved and cared for their sponsored child, and I
would understand if they wanted to
know what their "child" were
doing and where they were now. And the orphans here would be very
excited to get contact again with their
sponsors. Because three of
the sponsors from the U.S did come back to Danang and looked for their
"children". They found them, eventually,
and all were so thankful
to God for helping them.
Jan 11, 2011
II happened upon a blog that you set up with
photos of the China Beach Orphanage. I noticed a blog entry in which a
Mike Delaney mentioned that his wife Kimberly had been at the orphanage
and was adopted by an Ivan Fuller. I believe this is the orphan that
lived with my mother, my brother and me when she was rescued by US
marines after her entire village was killed. My mother, Ruth Shuler (at
the time Ruth Smith) placed her in the home of a military chaplain by
the last name of Fuller. Her name was Cong but she was called Peacock
(this was actually her sister's name but someone told the marines it was
her name mistaking her for her sister). My mom raised the funds to get
her surgery for her eye. Due to malnutrition her eye was such that she
wore a metal cover over it and needed to sit close to the television set
to see. I would love to get back in touch with her if there is a way to
reach her or have her reach me. Thank you for your help! God bless you.
Rev. Bill Shuler
My wife Kimberly spent time at China Beach Orphanage from age 3 to around
9 before coming over to the U.S. and being adopted eventually by a Navy
Chaplan named Ivan Fuller. Kimberly was known as Nueng Te Cong there and
had a serious eye problem. She lost her entire family and was a sole
survivor of her village. We have a decent collection of literature and
photo's to share. I know Kimberly would love to talk to others and share
experiences. We now have 4 children and they too like these stories. Are
you aware that Stanley Smith created a documentary video which contains
some great photo's of China Beach Orphanage? The video is a life
Biography of his father Gordon Smith and his time spent in VietNam.
Please feel free to contact us.
Peace Mike and Kimberly Delaney
Elmhurst IL 60126
January 26, 1010
Stanley Smith of United World Missions could get you a copy of the
Documentary. The Documentary is about his parents Gordon and Laura
Smith who were instrumental in building and maintaining China Beach
Orphanage. Try Stanley at
and find out what it takes to get a copy it is quite moving and Kimberly
appears twice in the Documentary. One is a still shot on a U.S.
General's lap! Kimberly needs to sort out all her pictures etc. and
decide what and how to share them. She still retains her original China
Beach Orphanage clothes believe it or not! Our 2 youngest girls get a
kick out of those. We also have a picture of the new wing which on your
web site is under construction after it was complete. Amazing we have
any of this at all. I also think you should hunt down a copy of a book
no longer in print titled 'The Ten Dangerous Years' written by Gordon
and Laura Smith and published by Moody Press. This is a great view of
the war thru the eyes of the Missionaries and local Vietnamese. Chapter
25 is all about Kimberly!
Appreciate the invite from TX and we
also invite you to come meet us if ever near Chicago. We are very busy
with 4 kids but will eventually get around to posting some pic's.
October 08, 2006 9:36 PM
Subject: CHINA BEACH ORPHANAGE MEMORIES
The other day, I found your site when I somehow got it into my mind to do
an Internet search on "China Beach Orphanage" and wound up with a
collection of pictures taken presumably by you during your time in Vietnam
in 1966-69. I just about fell out of my chair. I also shed a few tears.
The only reason I did a search on "China Beach Orphanage" was because I
worked almost daily at China Beach Orphanage in 1972-74 through United
World Mission, which was sponsoring the orphanage at the time. Their field
office was headquartered in Da Nang. I first came into contact with the
orphanage in the spring of 1970 when I was working as an Army Chaplain's
assistant at 37th Signal Battalion, near the air base. One of my chaplains
took a great interest in the orphanage, and we raised nearly $1000 from
our unit to help out there. I began sponsoring a little Montagnard boy
named A Mot, who I continued to sponsor until the fall of the Saigon
government in April 1975. Since then, I have lost track of him and
everyone else connected with China Beach Orphanage, and like you, I have
often wondered what became of everybody.
Down through the years, China Beach Orphanage has often come into my
thoughts, but I don't often speak of it because it has little meaning for
much of anyone else. It has been years since I have come across anyone who
has had any experience with China Beach Orphanage. Since you were
stationed around Da Nang before I arrived, it is interesting to note how
things appeared in earlier years.
I definitely recognize some of the kids. One, a little boy named Hao,
looks only five years old in your photo. I knew him when he was about 10.
Another boy, Bon, looks about 8 or 9, but I picture him in my mind as a
teenager. The picture of the girl standing on the beach is a bit fuzzy,
but it looks like it might be a girl that was later in an English class I
was teaching for the older kids in 1972-73.
In the photo of the kids on the swings, I note in the corner the
beginnings of a new structure. Don't know when that photo was taken, but
in the end, that structure turned into a four-story building that housed
the babies, toddlers and under-5 group, the orphanage dining hall, the
girls' dormitories, and living area for Diana Read and Simone Heywood, the
nurses (besides the Vietnamese nurse that everyone called "Co Y," or "Miss
Nurse"). When I first came to the orphanage about May 1970, that building
was already finished and in use.
In the photo labeled "classrooms," that building ultimately held
apartments for the orphanage director, Pastor Hut, and his family, plus an
apartment for a staff worker, and boys' dormitories. In fact, almost the
entire L-shaped building became the boys' dormitories.
While I was there, the orphanage had about 300 kids, about 25-30% of whom
were from the mountain tribes, most of them Jeh, but also Bru and Cua.
Just after I arrived in 1972, the Easter Offensive began, and about 30
mountain tribe kids were brought down from Kontum. Because they spoke only
Jeh and not much Vietnamese, they were housed in a separate building
throughout the entire time I was there.
While I worked at China Beach, school classes were held on the ground
floor under the chapel, seen in the first photo. Off the orphanage
grounds, and down the road about a half mile or so, extra classroom
buildings were built to house the overflow of kids.
In 1973, the nurses arranged to have the girls who were interested in
becoming nurses to participate in a kind of "candystriper" program out at
the children's hospital. As far as I remember, about 8 of the older girls
participated, staying out at the hospital in special living quarters for
the rest of the summer.
In 1972-74, my duties were varied. I was the mission bookkeeper, but I
also had duties at the orphanage. As I have already said, I taught a daily
English class for some of the older kids. They were very sharp and a lot
of fun. They were motivated, and they picked up English fast because they
wanted to read books in English. Often, they practiced their English with
Sometimes, I was asked to speak at the chapel services (with the aid of a
translator) or to help out with their summer camp. One boy was interested
in taking piano lessons, and since I have taken a couple years of piano
lessons myself, I gave him a start.
As I say, I arrived just about the time of the Easter Offensive, and the
orphanage kids were involved in collecting canned food and other items
through the Vietnamese churches to distribute to the refugees. I helped to
drive them out to the various locations to distribute the food directly to
Also, I wrote a regular monthly newsletter for the sponsors, sent out
through the Vietnamese secretary who did the translating of letters
between the kids and their sponsors. When the kids got sick, I drove them
to the children's hospital out at Hoa Khanh, north of the city, and picked
them up after they recovered.
The times I most fondly remember was just "hanging out" with the kids,
sometimes trying out my bumbling Vietnamese with them. I joined them in
giving swings, playing volleyball, walking them to the beach, taking them
on little trips. Every Sunday afternoon, I would load up about 20 of the
little kids in the VW bus and take them around Monkey Mountain or Marble
Mountain, around the streets of Da Nang, over to the air base (where we
knew a number of Air Force personnel who were still there), or over to my
place where I gave them cookies and soft drinks. Took a load of them by
boat to the north side of Da Nang Bay, where our mission had another small
orphanage of Montagnard kids. The beach there is very beautiful and the
scenery very tropical. Every week, Pastor Hut made a list of the kids who
would go on these little trips so that everyone who wanted got a chance.
We always carried a couple of the adults or older kids to help with the
As you well note, the kids didn't have much in the way of toys, but they
sure made up for it with the most vivid imaginations I ever saw anywhere.
I remember a day when I saw a group of Montagnard boys make an elaborate
set of roads and bridges and villages, with piles of sand, twigs and tin
cans used as cars, jeeps and trucks. There was a certain unspoiled quality
in this that I found extremely attractive. They were still very happy in
spite of their lack of material things.
When you spend a lot of time with kids with whom there is not adequate
communication through spoken language, you develop a kind of sixth sense
when it comes to communication. None of us knew each other's language very
well, but we somehow developed means of speaking, understanding and trust
that went beyond words. It was "soul to soul" communication, which is
somehow different and deeper, going beyond cultural differences. After a
while, the distinction between Vietnamese and American broke down, and it
was just person-to-person. It is a fantastic experience, and I haven't
duplicated it in quite the same way since.
Over time and almost daily contact, I think we developed real feelings of
love for one another. Sometimes the little kids would run up to me, throw
their arms around me and start crying about something that I didn't quite
understand. But I knew they were sad, and that was enough. Somehow,
something nonverbal got communicated to them, so they just continued to
pour out their hearts until they got it out of their systems (and dampened
my shirt). After a time of quiet and taking refuge in my lap, they would
suddenly revive and return to their play.
Sometimes, it worked the other way around. Occasionally, I would
apparently show some sign that I was upset or sad about something, and the
most sensitive of them would pick it up. They would sit next to me,
obviously trying to comfort me with a touch or a look in only the way
little kids can do it. It was pretty hard to stay upset after that.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Anyway, thank you for making your photos available, and thank you for
letting me express myself. The photos bring back a lot of fond memories.
Like you, after 1975, I lost complete track of the kids. In the months
following the communist takeover, I went through several months of grief,
knowing their lives, already uprooted, would change again. I wonder where
they are and what has happened since.
With best wishes to you,
October 17, 2006 9:05 AM
Subject: CHINA BEACH ORPHANAGE
Your "Welcome Home" struck me. During the war period, I actually lost a
couple of friends because of the time I spent in Vietnam. One person in
particular was very hostile towards me. He had always been a very amiable
companion before that. Other people took issue with me, saying I should
have taken off and gone to Canada. After those experiences, I was very
cautious about who I talked to about my Vietnam experiences.
My last e-mail turned out so much longer than I expected that I failed to
say everything I intended to say.
For example, were you aware of the adoption policy of China Beach
Orphanage? For all the orphans there, very few of them were actually
adopted out to Americans or anyone else. The reason for that is because
although the orphans may not have had parents, they did have other
relatives-older siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins. The
Vietnamese concept of "family" is much more inclusive than our western
concept. We may have been agents in caring for the kids, but we didn't
have the last word.
Often, I saw relatives of this or that child who would show up for a
visit. Many of the kids stayed at the orphanage because of economics. The
family situation was so precarious that they could not support anyone
else. They had no choice but to leave one or more children in an
orphanage-not a pleasant choice, but we were there to help. Under such
circumstances, we had no right to take these kids and send them abroad
unless the relatives gave specific permission for us to do so. Sometimes
that happened, but not very often. Most often, the relatives looked
forward to the day when conditions would improve and the children could
There was one little girl named Thanh that everyone wanted to adopt. She
was about 2 or 3 when I arrived and about 5 when I left. She was a
gorgeous little girl with a bright disposition, and it was understandable
why she charmed everyone. She was a true orphan with no known relatives
outside the orphanage. However, she had four older siblings at the
orphanage who were very close-knit. The older ones said, "You may adopt
Thanh, but only if you adopt the rest of us." Of course, that never
The only ones who were actually adopted out were those whose relatives
gave permission or those who had no known relatives. Given the events that
happened later, one may say that was a mistake. But at the time, it seemed
the right thing to do, and it wasn't always clear where we sat that
America was going to "cut and run" from Vietnam. It helped the relatives
and the government to trust us better. Unlike the Catholic orphanage down
the road which did a lot of adoptions, especially of babies and toddlers,
the number of babies and toddlers at China Beach Orphanage was relatively
small. Many of the children you knew were in late childhood or even
teenagers by the time I arrived-not good prospects for adoption.
Another matter that we faced was the religious matter. Did you know that
China Beach Orphanage was a Christian orphanage (specifically,
Protestant)? As you probably know, Vietnam is primarily Buddhist, and
probably most of the kids at China Beach Orphanage came from Buddhist
backgrounds. So how did that work out, you may ask.
Actually, quite well, in ways people may not expect. The general attitude
in Vietnamese culture is very fatalistic. What happens to a person in this
life, whether good or bad, is the result of one's fate or karma, and the
karma of one's ancestors. There is no way a person can escape or redeem
it. It must simply be played out until it has all been paid. According to
the general culture, the suffering that has happened to these kids because
of war is the result of bad karma. There's nothing they can do about it.
In a time of war, this can lead to some pretty pessimistic thinking, even
Christianity, on the other hand, does not have such answers to the problem
of suffering. While the reasons for suffering are not so clear cut,
Christianity basically says that all suffering may be redeemed. None of us
escapes evil, but evil does not have to turn us into victims. It may be
transformed into something with good results. This was a message that was
conveyed to the kids at China Beach Orphanage, and many (not all) welcomed
and adopted it for themselves. It gave them optimism and a strength of
character and purpose that enabled them to forge on in spite of the evil
circumstances of their lives.
This has practical applications. When you no longer feel bound by karma or
fate, you are more open to positive experiences. Last time, I mentioned
the eight girls involved in the hospital nursing program. All were
Christian girls. Though they came to China Beach Orphanage because of
unfortunate circumstances, they wound up having an experience that opened
them to new possibilities for their lives that they may not have
considered otherwise. This doesn't justify the evil circumstances, but
says that they may be harnessed to good ends.
As I have implied, there was no compulsion placed upon the kids to become
Christians, though many of them did. Those who left the orphanage may have
reverted back to their Buddhist upbringing. On the other hand, some of the
kids definitely had an influence upon their relatives. The changes in
their lives moved the relatives to also change and become Christian.
I also did not tell you that I, like you, am also a writer, although I am
not published like you-at least not yet. Like you, I am working on a
novel, also placed in Vietnam during the war years, though in my case, all
my characters are Vietnamese. Americans show up only incidentally (no baby
killers, by the way), but just enough to give a sense of the flow of our
coming and going and the flow of history that is common knowledge about
A number of the characters are based roughly upon the people I knew at
China Beach Orphanage, and about half the book takes place in an orphanage
whose setting is similar to that of China Beach Orphanage (although I give
it a different name). But the book goes back further, to their village
lives and what brought them to the orphanage in the first place.
The title (at the moment) is "A Voice from Heaven". The title comes from
the central thesis of the book. The main character, Huynh, in the first
chapter, seems to hear a voice from heaven telling him to focus upon a
particular girl in his village named Dao. Of course, he wonders if he is
hearing things or engaging in wishful thinking. One thing leads to another
and another, until he gets the answer to his question. Before he does, his
village comes under control by the VC. Americans free his village, but for
a time, he and his family wind up in two refugee camps. He also
experiences street life, the orphanage, and just as it looks as if he is
about to return to his village, Saigon falls and he winds up on a fishing
boat. In the midst of all this, he experiences conflict within his own
When I began working on this novel, I had no idea how difficult it would
be. The process has taken far longer than I would have dreamed. If I had
known in the beginning how long and difficult it would be, perhaps I
wouldn't have started it. Now, I am far enough along, there is no looking
back. The challenges of understanding culture and Vietnamese perceptions
of Americans and themselves are really difficult. As you know, finding
accounts of the war that don't give a leftist interpretation of our
involvement are not easy to find. But the non-leftist interpretations are
out there, and a new generation of writers is emerging that is not so
committed to the so-called "conventional wisdom." There are also some very
good and interesting personal accounts and translated literature written
by Vietnamese people that give a lot of cultural clues, and little by
little, I have pieced together the thousands of pieces of the puzzle.
After sixteen years, things are finally coming together, and one day, it
will definitely be finished.
Again, this e-mail is getting longer than I expected, so I better draw it
to a close.
With best wishes,