SPRING VALLEY, CA (November 11, 2015) — Richard Paff served for 14 months in Vietnam with the U.S. Army in the fight against the North Vietnamese.
These days Paff, a member of Grace Covenant Church, travels to Vietnam to serve in a different way; he helps provide medical care. The patients include former North Vietnamese soldiers and Viet Cong who 44 years ago were trying to kill him and other Americans.
Paff and his wife, Nancy, have made three two-week trips to the country with teams from Veterans With a Mission, a Christian medical missions organization. Nancy normally works in the pharmacy at medical clinics where VWAM serves while Paff has worked mostly with patient services, which organizes the many people who visit the clinics, and escorts patients to and from treatment rooms.
“All three times we have gone with VWAM, the treatment rooms have always been upstairs in clinics that do not have elevators,” Paff says. “So a big part of my job is to assist many patients (and sometimes carry them) up and down the stairs.”
In a recent issue of Refreshed magazine, Paff described helping one elderly former Viet Cong fighter who had “I hate Americans” tattooed on his arm. The patient apologized, explaining that he was forced to have the words tattooed on his arm when he was drafted into the North Vietnamese army.
“I told him the past was in the past and we could now be friends,” Paff said.
Paff said that despite the pain of losing friends and a cousin to the war and seeing fellow soldiers become addicted to alcohol and drugs, he had developed a heart for Vietnamese people. When he retired from 33 years of teaching he began looking for a mission organization that ministered in the Asian country.
Veterans With a Mission works with local pastors who follow up with each of the patients. “Each morning before we travel out to the rural clinics, we have a time of daily devotions and prayer led by one of the team members,” Paff said. He and Nancy have led several teams to the clinics.
Paff said the organization’s theme verse is 2 Corinthians 5:18, “All things are of God, who has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”
Returning to Vietnam for the first time in 1999 was difficult but redemptive for Paff. “The returning Vietnam vets on VWAM trips come with a variety of emotions from their own unique experiences,” he said. “A whole lot of healing occurs within the souls of each volunteer who returns.”
Paff told the magazine, “The Vietnamese overwhelmingly have been friendly to returning Americans.”
To read more of Paff’s experiences in Vietnam, as well as his thoughts about the war and the reception he received when he returned to the United States as a veteran, visit the Refreshed site.