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Advance: Vietnam vet: ‘Many times, I had pictured myself returning’ - June '09

Vietnam vet: ‘Many times, I had pictured myself returning’ -  June '09

Editor’s note: The Rev. George Gilland, a Vietnam War veteran and pastor at First United Methodist Church, Yukon, Okla., participated recently in a Volunteers–in-Mission experience in Vietnam. This story, adapted for our use, first appeared in The Oklahoma United Methodist Contact, May 1, 2009.

People who experience physical, emotional and spiritual trauma are inexorably tied to the time and place of that trauma. As a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, I am joined to Vietnam and her people.

When our VIM team arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, I experienced disequilibrium. It came from being in a place that was not familiar any more. I kept looking for something I recognized.

I found it in the ceiling of the church where we were working, an old mortar stake, formerly used to aim artillery fire. The stake had been reused as a joist in the ceiling we were removing.

I snatched it out of the junk pile, intending to take it back to Oklahoma.

A few days later, we traveled to Tay Ninh. I hoped to see the fire-support base from which I left Vietnam 40 years ago. Many times, I had pictured myself returning to that place and to the people I left behind.

As we drove along, I found everything had changed.

Rather than being disappointed, I was content. I found people reliant and vibrant.

This vibrancy was seen in the Vietnamese United Methodist pastors. This vibrancy was in children and youth, who gathered with excitement for mission school. The vibrancy was in joyful worship. This vibrancy was in the hope of people who gathered in places where signs announce they are a United Methodist church—and in places where they cannot put up a sign.

The vibrancy is in a time and place where hearts beat with great resiliency and hope.

Before leaving, I tossed the old aiming-stake into a pool of water beside the Tan Tau United Methodist Church in Ho Chi Minh City.
The war was over. I felt incredible release. It was all right to let it go.

Today, The Advance—United Methodism’s “second-mile” giving program—supports four ministries in Vietnam: Southeast Asian Relief, #13497A; United Methodist Center, #14931N; Victims of Agent Orange, #3020525; and Vietnam Mission Initiative, #14932A. For information about these projects, visitwww.advancinghope.org.

By the Rev. George Gilland

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