Uncle John and Aunt Ida – Views From A Loft

I going to tell you a story, though I want to warn you right now that it has no ending and presents a problem for which there is no “school solution.”  You may want to skip this story altogether.  Well, if you’re still reading, at least you’ve been warned.  This is the story, at least in part, of Uncle John and Aunt Ida McRorie who were missionaries in South Viet Nam in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  They had a little mission in Vung Tau on the coast of the South China Sea.  It was open to the locals, open to American service people who happened to be in Vung Tau for business or recreation, open to anyone, in fact.  They acted like and treated everyone like they were your favorite aunt and uncle.  If you needed to talk, they listened.  If you needed to mull things over in silence a bit before you could talk, they talked — usually about something in the Bible — often about forgiveness.  They always had coffee brewing over a charcoal brazier and they always had time, it seemed, for everyone.  They were a real oasis of peace for home-sick service folk.

Now, “missionary” may be too generous a word for some folk to call them as I don’t think they were associated with any particular denomination.  If you believed in Jesus, you could get yourself a cup of coffee and sit in on their worship service.  If you didn’t believe in Jesus, you were just as welcome to the coffee and the service.  I’ll tell you that a lot of Saturday night hangovers were worked through on Sunday morning by Christian and non-Christian alike, sitting on a handmade bench in the dirt-floored mission building just off the Vung Tau beach.  I don’t know that Uncle John had ever attended a seminary, but he could preach a very fine sermon.  To a small-town southern boy, it was like a taste of home, except that no one passed the plate.  If you wanted to contribute something, you had to hunt down the collections jar over in the corner.  Most of us did, because every piaster not required for the basics of the couple to live (and I mean, the very basics — they lived just like their neighbors who were poor by any material standards) or gas for their van was spent buying Vietnamese translations of The Bible.  That was their true mission — distributing Bibles to people in the small villages and hamlets in the jungles and highlands of central Viet Nam.

Every couple of weeks to a month, whenever they’d been able to collect enough Bibles, they’d load up their VW van and hit the road.  They might be gone several days, but they were very successful in making trips through areas where other missionaries required a military escort to keep from getting their throats cut by the Viet Cong (VC) or North Vietnamese Army (NVA).  A time or two, I helped them load their van.  It was hard work, mostly because they’d be chattering away about where they were headed and how much good those Bibles would do while I’d be afraid I was seeing them for the very last time.  I saw them last in May, 1972, because I got shifted to a new area of operations in the very northern part of the country.  Sometime in early July, I heard terrible news about Uncle John and Aunt Ida — but not the news that I’d secretly expected.  They had been arrested for smuggling heroin.

Have you ever been let down by someone you really believed in?  There can be a very severe thump on landing.  How could they have done that?  They had been using Bibles, some of which I had paid for, to cover a drug smuggling operation.  How could all of us have been fooled so completely by a pair of middle-aged drug traffickers?  How could I have been so blind?  They must have been framed by someone.  It was my intention, as soon as I got back down to the south, to march right into the Vung Tau hoosegow, new home to the McRories, and ask those very questions, but I never got the chance.  I stayed in the north until my tour of duty was over and I got shipped home.  Nearly a year later, I ran into one of my friends who had stayed in the south.  He also knew the McRories and he had done exactly what I had intended to do.  The answer they gave him was that they weren’t being framed — they had smuggled the heroin — but that he had it backwards — the smuggling operation had been the cover for the Bible distribution operation, not vice versa.

They had realized soon after they’d arrived in the country that they would never be able to move around in the countryside and give away the Bibles as they felt they’d been called to do.  It would take a force more powerful than the present government to allow them safe passage through all the territorial lines of warlords/generals, VC, NVA, etc.  The only people who could do it were the heroin carriers: heroin traffickers had their way paid by their bosses through all lines.  So, the McRories ended up striking a deal — heroin transport in exchange for safe passage.  They’d spread their Bibles here and there around the countryside, then load up the raw heroin, take it back to Vung Tau, and off-load it.  Their position was that the heroin would move anyway — might as well do some good and spread the Word of God at the same time.

I am not one of those who consider the precepts of Machiavelli (“The ends justify the means.”) to be part of Holy Scriptures, though I have occasionally heard them advanced as if they were such by preacher and church-goer alike.  However, I’ve never been personally involved in such a stark example as this one.  The McRories seemed to be good, Christian people, yet they were involved in drugs. They were carrying heroin — the combined governments of the world haven’t been able to stop that traffic — yet, because they did they were able to bring thousands of Bibles to people who weren’t able to get them otherwise.  So, are they villains or just pragmatic people who found a way to get the work of God done when others couldn’t? You’ll have to decide.

Kurt Hendrix

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