How a Pizza Cook from California Became a Change Agent in Southeast Asia
TOPICS IN THIS STORYAsia
Robert Kalatschan made pizzas for a living. He barely graduated from high school and the court system once told him he should spend the rest of his life in prison. But Robert has been transformed. He has a grander vision to transform Vietnam and Southeast Asia, challenge a nation and an entire culture. He has also been an integral part of helping bring the Global Leadership Summit into Vietnam, and blessing thousands of leaders and their communities.
“For me to even voice my vision seems silly,” he said. “How does a guy like me do that?”
“God tricked me,” said Robert. “When my wife and I were not able to have children, we decided to adopt.”
They adopted a son from Vietnam and three years later, they were in Vietnam to adopt another child. “I was hit with the heat, humidity, sites, smells, sounds and everything I was not used to. I hated it,” he said. “I grew up in the Vietnam War era, and it was not on my map of places to go. At the time I thought my ministry was going to be working with guys with guy issues in a local city. But there I was in Vietnam looking at little kids. I remember sitting at a temple and seeing a bunch of kids, and saying, “You need to get a bunch of Christians here to do this. And I heard God’s voice say, ‘You’re it!’”
Even though he knew he had heard God’s voice, Robert was ready to run away.
He and his wife planned to depart for home on September 11, 2001, but the 9/11 attacks left them stuck in Vietnam for another week. Robert was certain that when they finally left the country, he would never go back. But when he got home, he was haunted by the faces of the kids. “I realized that I would rather be called a fool one more time than miss something that God had called me to do. It was so far off my map of things that I thought I knew how to do that I knew it had to be God,” he said. Fourteen years later Robert is committed to serving God in Vietnam—and joining the local community to make Vietnam a Christian nation.
There’s no other way than God. Robert says that just as the donkey that carried Jesus in to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday would have been a fool to think the palm waving and cheering was about him, he knows he would be foolish to think transforming a culture is about him.
Giving it Back
Robert lives in Southern California, and runs an NGO called Giving it Back to Kids based in Vietnam that serves both Vietnam and Cambodia. “We transform lives through education, medical care, and nutrition,” he said. “We help kids achieve their maximum potential through those areas. Truth be told, kids will not receive their maximum potential until they receive Jesus Christ. We also work with churches, and try to build them up. Being in a country like Vietnam, where it’s illegal to be a Christian in many circumstances, we help provide humanitarian aid to the churches and get approval from the government.” And in partnership with the local community, he is doing just that. But he knows that transformation must start with leadership.
The Crossing, Robert’s home church, supports him and the NGO he runs, including encouragement to attend the GLS. “I am rocked by the quality of the speakers,” he said. “I am a front-row sitter and the first year I attended, I was in tears for two days. So much of what I heard resonated in my heart and what I’m going through, and I knew that I was on the right road.” Robert understands the value of leadership development in his effort to be an effective leader himself, but also to equip and empower leaders in Southeast Asia to transform their communities. Robert knows that change begins with leadership, and has been an integral part of helping bring the GLS to leaders in Vietnam.
Robert’s Grander Vision
Robert’s grander vision is to build religious freedom and change Vietnam from a culture that 10-20 percent Christian to a 90 percent-plus Christian nation. “I want to train up the leadership in the country to where they’re able to be better leaders not only in churches, but also in the government,” said Robert. “I want to train up leadership in government where it’s not based on position, but on character. And how do we do that? We have to build character starting at home—starting in their hearts.”
Robert sees the GLS as one of the tools that can be used to bring change in Vietnam. The GLS offers valuable content that presented in a way that is palatable, even by those who are not believers in Christ—yet.
“The hope of the world is the church when its working right, and so much of what we experience in Southeast Asia is that the churches are more inwardly focused, especially in Vietnam because of the persecution,” said Robert. “One of the other memorable things that we heard was from Steven Furtick, where he talked about digging ditches. I don’t like dirt! I hate dirt! I picture hot, dusty, dirt in every part of my eyes, but knowing that the water was coming, that resonated, and keeps me going through the tougher times,” said Robert.
“I want to encourage people to get hungry for leadership,” said Robert. “Devour it, pray and say, ‘God, help me to be hungry for this.’”