Serving the Lord with Gladness in Thailand

“I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.”

— Philippians 4:13

group of 6 people

Tom & Carol Miles (1st & 3rd from left) 1991-92, Cambodian Refugee Camp, Thailand

Both nurses, Tommy and I served in Site #2 Refugee Camp on the Cambodian border in Thailand for four months in 1991-1992. There were 250,000 refugees in Site #2, with seven more camps along the border. We worked with a staff of 20-24 refugees who had been trained in the camp. The team was examining and treating up to 500 patients per day in the Outpatient Clinic. The camp was run by the United Nations and was active for 12 years, serving both Cambodians and Vietnamese.

Most of the refugees had fled the Pol Pot Regime, which was trying to eliminate all those who had an education … teachers, physicians, nurses, lawyers, and yes, even those who wore glasses! The UN was in the process of repatriating all refugees back to Cambodia and Vietnam. Families were being separated in the complicated process. They were bussed back to a country they had fled, and the refugee camp was still being shelled at night from Cambodia. They were given a large blue tarp (for shelter) and a large bag of rice. 

As foreign staff, we were supplied by non-profit organizations such as the one we were serving with, Youth with a Mission (YWAM), with teams all over the world. We were housed in Ta Phraya, a small village about 20 miles south of the camp, and trucked into camp each day.

Back Home for a Time of Renewal

Upon returning home, our church, Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran (SOTH) in Fountain Hills, AZ, invited us to attend a Lutheran Cursillo weekend of renewal. We each went separately, Tom first, then a few weeks later I had the opportunity to attend. I was a bit resistant to the affair, but what a weekend it was! My faith was renewed.   

During Tom’s weekend, he was the talk of the retreat. Upon arrival and meeting others, at his table was a man from Tucson who had been at Tom’s crash site in Thailand where a bomber had crashed on take-off with a full load of bombs heading for North Vietnam. Tom’s rescue helicopter was blown out of the air when the bombs went off and he was the only survivor. He spent two years in the hospital in San Antonio, TX, recovering from life-threatening injuries. Meeting this man was certainly labeled as a God-planned moment! As our life journey unfolded, we were to meet a total of five men who were present at his crash.

group of people posing for photo at conference

Tom & Carol (3rd & 4th from left) with group at Lutheran Cursillo weekend renewal retreat

Waiting for a Call to Serve

Our strong desire to continue serving as missionaries prevailed. I began to search for places that needed us, including International Teams USA, a Christian organization based in Chicago that had needs in Vietnam. WOW!!! But then I came to the realization that Tom might not be too excited about returning to Vietnam. He’d had two tours of duty there and suffered greatly after his crash.

While waiting for that CALL to SERVE, we became aware of a Lutheran mission and school at Rock Point, AZ, on the Navajo Reservation. Our connection was the daughter of friends at SOTH, Louann Somers. She was a schoolteacher on the reservation and married to a Navajo. Louann helped us get organized to lead teams to the school that housed 68 children. It was 50 miles from any kind of healthcare and then very limited. Louann was also a Naturopathic practitioner. Karen Sigurdson, RN and Naturopathic student, got her professor and class involved in the seven annual mission trips from SOTH. Together, we provided healthcare plus hearing and eyesight testing for all the kids and the whole Navajo community. 

The Call

Then we learned of an opportunity to serve in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in Vietnam. But how could we possibly leave our home and our jobs for the one-year required commitment? We worried about finances — how could we make the house payment, pay the utilities, etc., etc? Well, God took care of all that too. David and Mary Volkman had a friend needing a place to stay and would care for the house and pay the utilities. We had the funds donated from SOTH, enough for the airfare, and a week left before leaving. Tom went outside and shouted, “Lord, if you want this to happen tell us what to do next!” Just then the phone rang. It was Mary calling from the church office, telling us that matching funds from Lutheran Brotherhood had just arrived. Why do we worry and fret? God’s got this! We were going to join a mission team in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, for one year! Exciting!!

After long and then longer flights, we touched down at Tan San Nhut Airport. Tears welled up as we passed concrete Quonset huts housing military planes. We were met by our teammates and taken to a guest house where we would then search for housing. The team — physicians from the Philippines with two children, a single woman, and a young couple from Kentucky — had been living together in one large house. Just before our arrival, they were all arrested in the middle of the night and taken to the local police station. They were questioned over and over. “Why were Philippinos and Americans living together? What were they plotting against the government?” When they were finally released, they found lodging in all different parts of the city.

We found a home, then furnished it sparsely and spent the next year serving the Lord in many ways. We got jobs with a Med Evac company … which led to teaching English, which led to meeting the director of a 1,000 bed Obstetrics and Gynecology hospital (Binh Vinh Hung Vuong), and 30 years of working with teams and teaching. We soon made friends with Nhan, who would become our first project manager after forming Vital Links for Humanity, Inc. (VLH). He was a neighbor living with his aunt, and soon made friends with Tom, who sat outside our door watching the local activities. [Nhan, this new “son” of ours, recently came all the way from Australia to see us in Alabama. What a joy and a believer he is!] We had baptized him at night on a rooftop near our home in Saigon. It’s against the law in Vietnam to share your Christian faith outside the government-controlled church. 

We spent 1991-92 in Saigon learning the culture, making lifelong friendships, and teaching Bible studies. We taught English to youth, neighbors, physicians, midwives and nurses, which eventually evolved into teams teaching at many hospitals and the University of Pharmacy and Medicine.

We attended a Baptist church, and I was invited to sing Oh Holy Night on Christmas Eve. The police came to the practice saying they needed a permit for a foreigner to sing in the church. So, the church applied for the permit, and the police said, “NO.” I even had a verse in Vietnamese that a neighbor helped me learn. 

 In Spring 2023, Tom and I made our 30th trip to Vietnam. Hard to believe all that’s happened along the way.

map of Vietnam and surrounding countries

Vietnam and surrounding countries

Vital Links for Humanity

In 1998, the first Vital Links for Humanity (VLH) mission team headed to Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam, and beyond! They were full of expectations, and also fear of the unknown. Things like the language barrier, and yes, even the toilets took some getting used to! The hard mattresses, the oppressive heat, and the rain showers that cooled us off at just the right time.

The Vital Links teams were made up of  8-10 adventure seeking Christians, some with medical knowledge to share and others from all walks of life who also had gifts to share. We have taken teams to Nha Trang, Da Nang, Da Lat, Hoi An, and finally in 2018, the last team to include youth conference in Cambodia. I tell you, Christianity is alive in the young people we met there! We have ridden on the back of motorbikes through the jungle in the rain to reach the villages on the Cambodian border where we have provided funding to build churches, dig much-needed clean water wells and train pastors for the many house churches in the small villages along the border. These faithful Christians risk arrest by Vietnamese police to worship Christ, our Savior.

Our VLH physician, Dr. Hang, and her staff make monthly journeys to provide much needed healthcare and dental care to remote village settings in churches … where police give permission. She also teaches a “Fetal Protection Program” to women and youth at city and country church settings. We attended “100 Years of the Gospel in Vietnam”, a huge Christian conference in Da Nang that was almost cancelled by the government.

In 2018 a SOTH board member, Marcia Fears, and her husband, John, met with Pastor Bill Moberly and invited him to give a presentation about mission outreach to the congregation at SOTH. We met at the church there in Fountain Hills, AZ, and quickly a plan came together. Tom and I were able to turn Vital Links over to Pastor Bill Moberly of Awakening Lives to World Missions (ALWM). VLH now lives on through ALWM. After 30 years of journeys with teams to teach and share the Gospel, we were blessed to meet Pastor Bill and Sally Moberly, as their journey began in Vietnam carrying on the name Vital Links.

Vital Links … the Ministry Today

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group of 7 women and 1 man wearing summer clothing

2018 – VLH joins with ALWM, team heads for Vietnam and Cambodia

graphic with photo of Vietnamese physician and bulleted list of qualifications

group of Vietnamese medical personnel seated on bench

The Vital Links local team that makes things happen! l-r: Tuyet, Be Dung, Thao, Van, Hanh and Han

graphic with 4 photos of people on left and text on right

group photo of Vietnamese children and adults standing outside on lawn

Dr. Hang and her Gospel kids

photo of Vietnamese nurses in white uniforms

Workshop for nurses

photo of Vietnamese children wearing colorful costumes

Providing health and dental care for 5 years at Christian school for the Hill Tribe children

Vietnamese woman wearing new glasses reading pamphlet

Reading glasses for Hill Tribes

interior of Vietnamese Hill Tribe Bamboo Church with benches and red pulpit

Grant for toilets & well for Hill Tribe church

group of Vietnamese men standing behind two kneeling men demonstrating a new water well

Three wells for six Stieng Hill Tribe villages (2017)

photo of Vietnamese mom and two children on left, Hill Tribe village on right

Hill Tribe mom and kids / Hill Tribe village

photos of Vietnamese Mekong Delta villagers,

4 photos of Mekong Delta people at clinics

woman wearing purple shirt presenting certificate to Vietnamese medical personnel with American man and woman looking on

two photos with Vietnamese women holding babies

nurse with Vietnamese orphans, group of orphans, orphan i wheelchair

photos of Vietnamese orphans

photos of medical personnel in Vietnam

photo of 4 Vietnamese women visiting Arizona

UMP faculty visits Arizona State University and Mayo Clinic, February 2018

You can help! To find out how you can support Vital Links for Humanity projects, click here.

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