The name "Asia's Hope" first emerged at a Denny's restaurant in Mansfield, Ohio. It was halfway between Columbus, where I live, and Wooster, where my co-founder Dave lived. Dave and I had started meeting there on a monthly basis over hash browns and eggs shortly after we returned from a short term missions trip he had led to Cambodia in the summer of 2000.
So, the organization -- at least the formal incarnation of it -- technically started about 14 years ago when we put a name and a shape to a commitment we'd made to each other and to God to move beyond intermittent involvement in God's work in Asia to an ongoing commitment to raising funds and recruiting supporters. But when I answer the question, "How did you get into this kind of work?" my answer always starts in 1997, a few years prior to the founding of Asia's Hope.
Kori and I had moved back to Columbus from Detroit, and had started the long, arduous and expensive process of adopting from Vietnam.
We didn't choose to adopt out of any distinct calling to serve orphaned kids, and we didn't select Vietnam due to any longstanding interest in the continent of Asia. We just felt like adoption was God's plan for us to start a family, and the only programs that would take a couple in our situation -- we had only been married 5 years, and had no diagnosis of infertility -- were Guatemala and Vietnam. And when we prayed about it, Vietnam seemed to be the right choice. But as soon as we started filling out the paperwork, our hearts started to shift toward a country that previously only existed to us as the site of disastrous war.
By the time we were approved to travel to Hanoi to meet our little baby son, Chiến, were were already fascinated by and drawn to Vietnam. We had read every book we could lay our hands on, had begun cooking Vietnamese recipes and had even briefly considered trying to learn Vietnamese (we gave up after we realized that we were completely unable to distinguish between the six tones, the slightest mispronunciation of which render the speaker incomprehensible).
From the moment we touched down at the Nội Bài International Airport, we were in love with the country -- the sights, the smells, the tastes, but especially the people. The chaos that other travelers found so daunting was for us invigorating -- even a painful run-in with a motorcycle on our first night in Vietnam couldn't dampen the spirits of my wife Kori, who is by nature an introvert. Both she and I relished the jet lag, the bruises, the traffic and the bewildering trappings of communist bureaucracy as fascinating components of this grand adventure. And while other adoptive families we met were stressing out over the dirt and the apparent disorganization of the city, Kori, Chien and I found the entire experience enchanting -- enchanting, but also challenging.
Beyond the thrill of engaging with a new culture and the joy of finally taking custody of our perfect, long-awaited little boy, we encountered for the first time real, grinding poverty. We saw women my wife's age begging on the streets holding emaciated children my new son's age. We witnessed firsthand the deleterious effects of even a short stay in an underfunded, institutional, state-run orphanage; our son was in good health, but many of the other babies being adopted were gaunt, listless and covered with sores.
Before traveling to Vietnam, the plight of the world's orphaned and poor was only theoretically real to us. After only a couple of weeks in Southeast Asia, we felt as if the "brown smudge of poverty" that had previously haunted the shadows of our consciousness resolved into vivid detail and had forced their way onto our worldview's center stage. The "least and the last" now had real faces, and to us, those faces were Vietnamese.
How quickly those sharply drawn images faded when we returned home to America. We had a new baby to care for, and I had just started a business. Within a few months, we had adopted Pak, our second child (an interesting story in itself, but one that will have to wait for another time) and the people of Southeast Asia were no longer front and center in our wide array of daily concerns.
Nevertheless, something had changed. We watched the news differently. Our ears would perk up whenever we heard the word "Vietnam." We'd squeeze each others hands when we walked past an Asian kid. Our politics, or at least our political lens, started to change as well, and we realized that we were no longer comfortable advocating for things that might be good for us, but bad for poor people on the other side of the world.
We started seriously considering becoming full-time missionaries somewhere. We were only temporarily deterred when our missions pastor told us, "We've talked about this, and we don't think that this is your calling." We just couldn't stop thinking about Asia and orphans and poor people and refugees. So when our church's youth pastor said, "I know you guys really love Vietnam, but would you ever consider doing anything in Cambodia? I have a friend who takes mission trips there every summer..." it was sort of a no-brainer. "Of course I'm interested."
At any rate, I'm really excited and quite emotional about our upcoming summer trip. We're leaving on June 2. And before we visit the Asia's Hope staff and kids in Cambodia, Thailand and India, we'll be taking something of a pilgrimage back to Vietnam. It'll be our first time in the country since we adopted Chiến almost 15 years ago to the day. We're going to retracing our steps -- visiting the Claudia Hotel, strolling around Lake Hoan Kiem, noshing at the Thuy Ta café where we fed our little baby Ritz crackers and watched the city pass by -- maybe even trying to find the site of the former Tu Liem Orphanage, which has since been torn down.
As Asia's Hope heads toward its 15th year and our son into his 17th, this seemed a good time to reflect on how this all started for us. And we invite you to join us on this journey. I'll be blogging a lot over the next two months, posting a ton of pictures and stories. I hope you'll rejoice with us as we celebrate this wonderful life that God has give us. I also pray that you will feel compelled to reflect with gratitude on wherever it was that you received your calling.
And if you haven't heard God's spirit call you to a deeper, more significant role in his kingdom, I pray that this will be your year, one you'll look back upon with gratitude and joy.