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Thousands of Steps to Get Here

Updated: May 4, 2022

By James Kang, Country Leader, Vietnam

My first trip to Hanoi, as part of a REI short-term team, was spring 2008. It was my first time in Vietnam. I remember well the smell, food, people, noise, and organized chaos of traffic. It was similar and yet very different from Cambodia and Thailand, where I had just been before stepping off the plane in Hanoi that spring.

Outdoor dining in Hanoi

I have grown to love Vietnam and its people, but what drew me on that first visit, and to making subsequent visits multiple times a year, was the “volunteers” who worked with REI on short-term trips as well as REI resident staff who lived there loving the Vietnamese within their relational circles.

I was struck by the number of professionals volunteering on short-term teams who were at the top of their careers and serving both in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City without pay or accolades, motivated by their sheer love for the Vietnamese people. I loved the hearts of the REI resident team that lived among the Vietnamese people affirming and honoring their culture.

Motorbikes in Hanoi, the primary means of transporation

I wondered what drove these hundreds of medical volunteers, working at 44 hospitals, and business leaders, teaching seminars at seven top universities, which resulted in one hospital’s infant mortality dropping from 70% to about 7%. I also wondered what propelled REI’s resident team to live in Vietnam, an enduringly beautiful culture but very unlike their own.

I realized what propelled them is their heart of faith and love for the Vietnamese people – something many of us may find hard to exhibit with the people in our daily lives. On the flight out of Hanoi that spring, staring out the plane window, I knew I wanted to be with these people.

James (front), REI volunteer professional (back), with a group of Vietnamese students

And now, after many years of working with the REI volunteers and resident team in Vietnam, I have the privilege of serving as the REI country leader, continuing the work of those before me who laid a stable and firm foundation.

I am looking forward to working with the various leaders and institutions in Vietnam, with incredible professional men and women in the medical and business teams and our REI resident team. Also, I can't wait to work with our Vietnamese partner Lien, head of the REI Project office in Vietnam, whose invaluable partnership has helped us to be effective and influential in our work there.

So many people and many thousands of steps to get here. And I anticipate the next thousands of steps will be full of hope and faith surrounded by love as we move forward.

James and his wife, Janet

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