Nine Gainesville residents are taking their mission work to Vietnam today, and The Times’ photographer Robin Michener Nathan will travel to the country to take shots of the humanitarians in action.
Members of First Baptist Church on Green Street, in coordination with Rivers of the World, will rebuild a day care center in Ho Chi Minh City that was recently destroyed by a typhoon. The group will also visit a leper colony and the hometown of First Baptist’s Vietnamese congregation minister Joe Tu.
The eight-day trip also marks Tu’s first visit to Vietnam since he and his family left in 1975 at the end of the Vietnam War. Tu fled Vietnam as a teenage refugee and relocated in Southern California with his family. He moved to Gainesville in the mid-1990s and began ministering to First Baptist’s Vietnamese congregation.
"He’s really the go-to person for the Vietnamese population," Nathan said. "Even if people can’t find jobs in Atlanta, they’ll call him and he’ll help them with paperwork and get family members over."
Nathan will travel with Tu as he visits his hometown in Vietnam and will document his reaction to seeing the city for the first time in more than 30 years.
She will be regularly updating a blog at gainesvilletimes.com that will report on the humanitarians’ efforts, the state of modern life in Vietnam and on Tu’s homecoming experience. Nathan and The Times’ reporter Harris Blackwood will publish a series of stories on the Vietnam trip on Dec. 2-4.
Nathan said that she is excited to relay photos and reports from Vietnam to readers in Georgia.
"To get to go somewhere across the world and have it be relevant to our readers is pretty cool," she said.
Nathan added that she hopes to express the pain or joy of the Vietnamese through her photos in an attempt to convey a sense of how the country has changed for both the Vietnamese population living in Georgia, as well as for the veterans of the Vietnam War who perceived the country through the narrow lens of war.
"Photos have the power to break through language barriers," Nathan said. "(They allow you) to see what life is really like through the eyes of local people, rather than through a history textbook."