The poor lead
By Joseph Do Tuan Anh C.Ss.R.
I spent a number of years working among the poor of rural Vietnam. From them I have learned three things about life: simplicity, sincerity and contentment.
Simplicity: These people have few material possessions. They have no desire to seek a luxurious life and the complexity that goes with it. Rather, in their relations with others, they are practical and direct. Simplicity is threaded throughout their lives.
Sincerity: Lying, cheating and deceiving others are all regarded as unacceptable. When I was with these rural people I could see they were open and honest with one another. That’s just the way life is for them. As a result, many families are able to live harmoniously together in the same village. Their lifestyle is based on a cultural assumption of personal sincerity.
Contentment: Very few people choose to be poor. Vietnam’s rural poor don’t choose poverty either; they are caught in it. They possess a quiet acceptance of their material deprivation and a realisation that wealth exists in a full, relational and spiritual life. There is an ease and contentment about these people. The meaning of their lives is within that contentment and not in something they are unable to attain.
Questions remain for me about engaging the deprivation of Vietnam’s rural poor. I don’t have the answers and I don’t know that the people do either. But I do know that if they bring to these questions their simplicity, sincerity and contentment, they will have the means to address their own needs and their own questions.
These people don’t necessarily see God as Christians do. But as a Christian I can clearly see that Vietnam’s rural poor are living many Gospel values. When I am with them it is like a new Pentecost – many languages and many cultural customs – but one understanding of what is truly important for life.
The poor have revealed to me why I am so glad to be a Redemptorist. Their inspiration is still with me as I prepare for ordination and a life of mission. Undoubtedly, the poor have led me.