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Historic, Healing Heartsongs

April 29, 2012 (Sunday) – Simple acts of kindness are miraculously effective at bridging deep divides. Among the many miracle workers we have met in Hanoi are Michael Orona; his wife, Selena; and their three children.

These beautiful Baha’i souls made history at the 20th Anniversary celebration of the founding of the Hanoi Baha’i community. There’s still a lot more other news and photography in the pipeline, so please stay tuned. But I could not wait to post the video below. The stage performance it depicts took my breath away because, as I was recording it, its significance suddenly struck home. “Has anything like this ever happened before?” I wondered.

I couldn’t think of anything. Neither, when we discussed it later, could Michael. Please bear with me while I explain:

Vietnam-iPhone First 069 Michael is a member of the U.S. diplomatic corps. He serves at the American embassy in Hanoi as the ambassador’s adviser on human rights and religious freedom in Vietnam. His heritage is Native American, his father being Apache. (He hails from Arizona, a state where — I was delighted to discover — we share close friends in Charles and Jeanette Coffey.) Anyone who meets Michael or his family will immediately sense their deep love for Vietnam, its people, its culture, its long and often painful history – and their hope for its future.

But what is historic about performing Baha’i music at a Baha’i celebration? Don’t people do this all the time, just about everywhere? Yes, of course we do. What in this video is different?

Probably you already see where I’m heading with this, but please consider two points that sharpen our focus:

First, after the unspeakably tragic events of the Sixties and Seventies, it would have been hard to imagine two governments further apart, diplomatically, than those of the United States and Vietnam. The rebuilding of trust has been slow, awkward, and painful. My sense is that much of that path remains to be traveled.

Second, although the celebration we attended was completely Vietnamese, its ramifications were national and even international, given the attendance. Scores of well-wishers came from other countries, including at least one from the diametrically opposite side of the planet. (That was me!) In Vietnam, anyone wishing to make a stage presentation at such an event must first seek and receive approval from the government. For example, Zabine did not address the gathering because she did not get her visa in time to submit the necessary application.

But back to the family of Michael Orona: As they sang of love and peace, it occurred to me that this might well be the first time (since the end of military engagement) that any American government official had performed onstage at a state-sanctioned national event in Vietnam. Of course, I understood that someone else might know of such an event where I wouldn’t. But Michael himself almost certainly would know, and he too could think of no previous instance.

I am therefore cautiously confident that this was indeed a historic “first”. One that should help bring our countries and our people closer together. It certainly exemplifies the Baha’i approach to unification and healing, heart to heart. Please enjoy and comment on the video:

8 comments to Historic, Healing Heartsongs

  • Jasmin

    Great video. Any videos of the election of the Vietnamese National Spiritual Assembly? Would love to see the Vietnamese Baha’i community.

    • Gary L. Matthews

      Thank you, Jasmin. We have many more photos and some video of the Baha’i community here, in and around Hanoi. Please stay tuned while we sort it out and upload it. I believe the photos include the new National Spiritual Assembly. For reasons explained in previous articles, Zabine and I were not authorized to attend the convention where the actual election took place.

      Meanwhile, please check out back articles and photo galleries. More are on the way. Your enthusiasm energizes us!

  • Jasmin

    Thank you so much :)
    You are doing a great job!

  • Shiraz Gol

    Dear Gary,
    The video definitely shows a joyous occasion and you are an excellent reporter – thank you for sharing this unique event with us.

  • Jo

    A Native American serving as an U.S. government diplomat leading prayerful songs to the Brilliant Beauty in a Vietnamese community. Fellowship, fellowship! Love, love, unity! All the people are one! We’re one now! — Miracles everywhere. Thank you for sharing your travels.

    • Gary L. Matthews

      Thank you, Jo, for your kind comment — and for “getting it”. I mean, for for your instinctive response to the spiritual and historic significance of the occasion.

      Unfortunately, the video sort of “got loose” on YouTube before most readers of The Astonished Tamale! could see my article. Thus many people never really knew the back-story. You wouldn’t know the context simply by seeing the video itself, and I therefore felt the impact was under-appreciated.

      Be that as it may, thank you again, dear friend!

  • Patricia

    How very colorful your trip was, in every sense of the meaning. Absolutely delightful. I loved reading about the golden lights dancing on the shoulders of the very first Bahá’í ever in Vietnam.
    No coincidence, I’m sure!

    • Gary L. Matthews

      Thank you, Patricia. One clarification: Dr. Dao An Son was the first known Baha’i in Hanoi — not in Vietnam per se. There was a large, flourishing, rapidly expanding Baha’i community in South Vietnam long before the events being commemorated at this convention. I recall reading a great deal about that community during the Seventies, prior to the withdrawal of American troops.

      Although the Baha’i community ebbed greatly after North/South unification, it never vanished. It was the Baha’is of Ho Chi Minh City that Zabine called in 1992 when her husband, J.T. Linkins, was near death in Hanoi. And it was one of those Baha’is, Le Ha, who risked his own life to bring J.T. the meds and antibiotics he required for survival. To understand the courage and heroism of that act, one would need to know the other circumstances of Le Ha’s life — a life certain to inspire generations as yet unborn.

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