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Rachels Bridge: A vision fulfilled in a faraway land

Shultz family visits Vietnam to dedicate a bridge built to benefit their daughters birth parents


When Rachel Shultz and her family — adoptive parents Bruce and Nancy Shultz, as well as sister Katy, who was adopted from China — embarked on a tour of Vietnam in 2011, they did not know they would be meeting Rachel’s birth parents just a few days later.by: SUBMITTED - Transcontinental family - The Shultz family of Newberg dedicates the concrete bridge named for their daughter, Rachel, during a trip to Vietnam in June. Rachel was adopted from Vietnam and reunited with her Cambodian birth parents for the first time in 2011 and since then, her family raised $15,000 to build the bridge. From left to right: Rachel's birth mother, Nancy Shultz, Katy Shultz, Rachel Shultz, Bruce Shultz and Rachel's birth father, with her genetic siblings in the front.

The Newberg residents knew that it was a possibility, but because Maine-based humanitarian organization Aid for Kids hadn’t yet located them, the Shultzes didn’t find that out until arriving in the country.

Even after the sudden and emotional reunion with Rachel’s birth parents in the Mekong Delta region in south Vietnam, the family had no idea just how powerfully it would affect their lives over the next two years and, quite possibly, for the rest of Rachel’s life.

The family was told that it was customary to give the birth family a gift upon departing, especially in such an impoverished region of the country. Because they can provide some food and money through the sale of eggs, chickens and ducks are a popular choice, but Nancy’s mind went right to a rickety “monkey bridge” — a skinny suspended structure consisting of a narrow log or rope to walk on with hand rails on each side. The family had to cross the bridge on the way to the home of Rachel’s birth parents in the mangrove swamps of the delta.

Rachel’s birth parents, who are Cambodian refugees who fled from the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, used the bridge in order to get into Soc Trang, the nearest town, and Nancy saw an opportunity to help out in a meaningful way by replacing it with a safer and more permanent structure.

She began researching the poor safety record of monkey bridges, including that within a year a young boy died trying to cross the same bridge, which just strengthened her conviction in the project.

In less than a year, the family raised the $15,000 needed to design and build a concrete bridge, a vision it saw fulfilled in late June upon returning to Vietnam for its dedication.

“It was pretty cool to see it actually there because you have a picture in your mind of what it might look like, then all of a sudden it’s there,” Rachel said.

Even upon returning to Newberg, Nancy says that the visit still feels like a dream sometimes, a feeling so strong she sometimes wonders whether or not it really happened.

“Was I able to really be a part of doing that?” Nancy said. “It’s not something I ever would have imagined myself doing.”

The Shultzes did a variety of things to raise the money, from selling crafts, cookies and coffee at the Newberg Christian Church Christmas bazaar to washing cars and even hosting a benefit concert, but once word got out about the project, donations began rolling in of their own accord.

The generosity of the community, as well as people across the country, continued even after reaching the $15,000 goal. It manifested itself again when news reached the family that the home of Rachel’s birth parents had been destroyed, forcing them to relocate to Ho Chi Minh City to take factory jobs and live in factory housing.

Partnering with Aid for Kids, which is nonprofit completely volunteer run, the family raised nearly $22,000 in total, which will be enough not only to rebuild the home (government permits are still pending), but also support 20 scholarships (many of which were paid for by Newberg Christian Church) to send children in Soc Trang to school and a medical sponsorship that was inspired after meeting a young boy with a debilitating goiter. The family intends to continue funding the scholarship and medical programs going forward.

After two years, which now includes serving as west region coordinator for Aid for Kids, Nancy prefers to think of the bridge and continuing projects as planting seeds rather than giving aid.

A perfect example is that the design plans of the bridge will now be free and available for the Vietnamese government to use in constructing more bridges, which it has pledged to do.

“With a little bit of help, they just take it and do the best with it,” Nancy Schultz said. “It just spreads. That was really exciting for me to see that if you do something, it’s not an end in and of itself, it’s just the beginning. That’s what you want to see when you’re helping people.”

A student at C.S. Lewis Academy, Rachel has always had a passion for music — having already learned to play the piano, guitar and violin (and hoping to add the bass and drums before she graduates) — and has long planned to study music in college, likely at William Jessup University, where her sister is already enrolled. She still plans to do so, at least as a minor, but the idea now is to focus on missions as her main area of study.

“Especially going to Vietnam and seeing the conditions, I wanted to reach out to them,” Rachel Shultz said. “Just the past few years it’s been on my mind.”

Bruce said never in “a billion years” would he have imagined completing the bridge was something the family could achieve, but that they did so by doing it as one unit, bringing them closer at the same time.

“It’s a feel-good moment to see how it’s impacted my kids and my wife and myself,” Bruce said. “I think we went down there and accomplished something that needed to be done for those people. I truly do believe that we were led by the Lord we believe in.”




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