From Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul

The Bread of Life

Life is an opportunity to contribute love in your own way.

Bernie Siegel

It had been hard for Binh to leave Vietnam in 1975, just days before the fall of Saigon. It was harder to think of leaving now. She’d come back as a volunteer interpreter for a group of doctors. She couldn’t refuse their request for help. They’d worked so valiantly, if unsuccessfully, to save her baby.

What she saw when she returned to her homeland shocked and saddened her. Preteen prostitutes plied their bodies to earn enough to eat. Younger orphans slept in the street with the curb as their only pillow. They’d long ago stopped caring about the flies that covered their faces. These children, known as “dust of life,” were considered worthless in the Vietnamese culture.

Binh remembered the son she’d lost. Although my baby’s death was not preventable, Binh thought, perhaps I can help keep these children from dying. But how can one person change anything? It seemed hopeless.

Before she returned to the States, Binh wanted to fulfill a promise she’d made at her mother’s deathbed—to look up her mother’s old friend Sister Tan, a Franciscan nun. This was not an easy task. Christians weren’t popular, and no one would share information about Sister’s whereabouts for fear that Binh would tell the authorities.

While visiting a beautiful wooded area by the beach, Binh got lost. Hoping to find the way back to her car, she followed children’s voices to an iron gate. Once inside she found Sister Tan and twenty-seven orphaned children, who in that culture should have been left to die. Though the children were being loved and cared for within the meager means of the nuns, it was obvious to Binh that this little underground orphanage desperately needed money for food and medicine. It was divine providence that brought Binh to Sister Tan.

Binh had one hundred American dollars in her purse. She offered it gladly to Sister Tan. But instead of thanks, Binh received a reprimand. “How could we spend it?” Sister asked harshly. “The authorities would know at once where we were hidden and that we were caring for unwanted children. You just want to go away from here without feeling guilty,” scolded the old nun.

Binh returned to her hotel in the city. The money, which would have bought so much for Sister Tan and the children, was worthless. Binh just couldn’t ignore their plight. She exchanged the American money for Vietnamese currency, but her problems were still not solved. People had seen her make the exchange. Surely she’d lead the authorities to Sister Tan if she tried to go there herself. How can I get the bundle of money back to Sister? Binh wondered.

As she was praying for a solution, a boy rode past the hotel. He was selling fresh French bread from a basket on his bike. Suddenly, Binh had an idea. She called to the boy, “Come up to my room, so I can pay you.” Once they were inside the room, Binh sliced open a loaf of the bread. After pulling out the soft insides she stuffed the bread with Vietnamese bills. Hiding the loaf beneath the others in the basket, she gave the boy some coins and sent him off to deliver the “doctored” bread to the nuns.

The bread arrived safely so Binh faxed her husband sixteen more times for additional money. She used it to transport Sister Tan and her children to Saigon in two vegetable trucks, where they’d be safe in the city.

When she returned to the United States, Binh’s support for the orphaned and handicapped children in Vietnam continued. Her “family” of more than five hundred homeless children is now housed in five orphanages funded by “Children of Peace”—the organization she started. Binh, which means “peace” in Vietnamese, is still bringing the bread of life to the children of Vietnam.

Ellen Javernick

[EDITORS’ NOTE: For information on Children of Peace, contact P.O. Box 2911, Loveland, CO 80538.]

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