Few people have the chance to touch as many lives as the Rev. Vinh Tuong Do did during his 40 short years of life.
Do, the smiling, humble pastor to his flock of about 70 in the Vietnamese congregation at the Rockdale Alliance Church, who taught himself English and the guitar, who dreamed of preaching the gospel while he and his family were persecuted for their faith in Vietnam, who enjoyed raising rabbits and served as a bridge between generations, was killed in a car accident Sunday.
Upon hearing about the accident, the congregation, who had gone home for the day, all returned to the church, said congregation treasurer Thanh To. The Rockdale Alliance Church houses three congregations — Haitian, Vietnamese and English-speaking — and members of the different congregations came together and held a unity service that night. In a few short hours, the phones were ringing off the hook with calls from across the country and even overseas, in shock and disbelief.
"People are flying in (for the funeral) from a lot of states," said To. "He has touched so many people’s lives. Because of his humbleness, his forgiving spirit, his understanding, he always, always pointed people to Jesus."
"(Do) was a different kind of guy," said Pastor Mike Brewer of the English-speaking congregation. "I admire and respect him as a pastor more than any other pastor I know. He had the heart of his congregation."
He had been preaching at the church for five years and his congregation and colleagues described him as an exceptional pastor who lived what he preached and truly put his congregation’s needs before his own.
When the congregation gave him an expensive watch on his anniversary, said To, he sold it and bought himself a $5 watch in order to give the rest of the money back to the church.
Outside the church, things were going well for Do in many ways. He had just been made a full-time bus driver with Rockdale County Public School system, in addition to his lawn care business. And he and his wife were expecting their first child in a few months — a son.
Then, on Sunday, August 30, Do was killed in a car wreck on Ga. Highway 138.
The afternoon had been a cloudy one, with a sudden torrential rain that drenched the streets. Do had just left the church a little before 3 p.m. and was on his way to a youth group Bible study. He was driving alone in a silver van when, near the Centennial Olympic Parkway, it suddenly crossed over the median, crashing into an oncoming silver SUV, according to the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office incident report. Do was declared dead at the scene and the 61-year-old driver of the SUV, incidentally also a pastor of another church who had just left Sunday services, was transported to Grady Hospital.
That driver was released from the hospital Wednesday with no broken bones or internal injuries, according to Brewer. The driver had reportedly sent an e-mail addressed to the Vietnamese congregation, expressing her sorrow for their loss.
"She’s heartbroken," said Brewer.
The Vietnamese congregation likewise had been concerned for her condition and had been praying for her recovery, said Do’s younger sister Amy.
Do had touched the lives of other bus drivers as well through Bible study sessions he would hold in the cafeteria. Last week, after learning of the fatal accident, many bus drivers tied a white ribbon to their vehicle in his memory.
Driver Keith Cox had gone through driving classes with Do and said he knew something was wrong when he didn’t show up on time on Monday. "I was saying to myself, ‘That’s not like him. He’s always on time.’"
When Cox heard the news from his supervisor, "I couldn’t move… I knew what I heard but I didn’t want to believe that."
His colleagues, church members and family all described Do as a happy, smiling, patient, kind, frugal man who built his driveway out of discarded bricks and was passionate about discussing the Bible and telling people about Jesus.
Do, the fifth of seven children, was the son of a preacher. His family was persecuted in Vietnam before they came to the States in 1994 for practicing their faith, said Brewer.
"The Communists thought if they made it unpleasant, the Christians would stop being Christians," he said. "But it just increased their resolve."
Do knew his wife back in Vietnam as an acquaintance and reconnected with her through mutual friends when they both moved to the States — she to Louisiana and he to Georgia. Through e-mail correspondence and phone calls, their friendship gradually blossomed, and shortly after he graduated from seminary in 2001 in California, they were married.
Amy said though his wife was five months pregnant and diagnosed with high blood pressure, that she was doing remarkably well.
"Her doctor said don’t let any shock around her, that will affect her blood pressure," said Amy. "But we just pray. We keep praying for her and thank God that she’s OK for right now."
Thanh To reflected on a particular verse, 2 Timothy 4:2. "He fought the good fight," she said. "I’m personally not mad at God. I thank God that God shared him as our pastor on earth for five years. And that God did bless him with a son before he goes."
The funeral service will be on Sunday at 10 a.m. and the burial will be at the Floral Hills Memorial Gardens in Tucker.