Today is Sunday April 18, 2010. Our day begins at the Royal Kimdo Hotel in downtown Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). After breakfast we board the busses and are off to church. It takes about 45 minutes of travel time, up and down back streets and into unfamiliar territory. Eventually, we park our busses on a side street and walk down an alley, behind homes and small businesses until we find this small United Methodist church tucked deep into this residential area.
Once again we are struck by the contrasts we face. From the street-front, the buildings look like many we would see in any large American city; but a short journey down a back alley tells a story of poverty and neglect. Yet here, in the midst of such contrast, we find a small, thriving United Methodist church. It kind of reminds me of the Gospels where Jesus came to serve the poor and downtrodden, the members of society that no one else wanted to associate with.
And so, here we are, worshipping on a Sunday morning in Communist controlled Vietnam. As with all the services we have participated in on this trip, we are surrounded by a very enthusiastic group. What they lack in material things (such as musical instruments) they make up for in volume and excitement! The Vietnamese hymns are familiar and so we sing along in English.
This Sunday morning service is fairly similar to others we have experienced thus far. Lots of hymn singing along with several special numbers by a small choir. No piano in this church, just a small electronic keyboard. But it is enough as the congregation outsings the music! I'm pretty sure these small Vietnamese congregations could put most American congregations to shame with their enthusiasm and excitement!
Another surprise this morning. One of our own, Wade Giffin (a member of the West Ohio Conference staff in Worthington), has been asked to preach for the Sunday morning worship service. He has an interpreter, and so Wade steps up to the podium and preaches. He is all smiles and full of excitement as he delivers his message. We are all very proud and happy for him. In attendance is Wade's son Alex who came on this mission trip to enjoy an amazing adventure with his dad. I for one, am very happy for both of them and this time they are able to share together.
After the service, we wind our way through the alley and back to the busses parked on the street. We board our busses and we are off again. The rest of today is a travel day - we are heading south into the Mekong Delta. And so we wind through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, and eventually find ourselves traveling south into the watery delta region.
We leave the city and the mountains behind. The further south we go, the flatter and wetter it gets. We are surrounded by rice paddies, rivers and canals - less road traffic, but much more boat traffic. The motorbike may be the main means of transportation on dry ground, but here one needs a boat to survive.
Here we see boats of all sizes and shapes, from small personal rowboats, to commercial barges. Even more interesting are the homes along the canals and waterways. The difference bewtween Vietnam and America is that these boats are not pleasure boats - they are necessary for livlihoods. I think this is the first place in Vietnam I have seen where boats outnumber motorbikes! After several hours of driving south, we eventually come to the mighty Mekong River! The Mekong is huge! Much bigger than the Mississippi River, and much busier. The government is in the process of building a huge bridge across the river, but it is not finished yet. And so, we muct cross the river by ferry boat.
There are many large ferry boats criss-crossing the river, and yet there is so much traffic that we must wait in line to cross. The river is so wide we have time to leave our busses and wander around the ferry boat. Here I am crossing on the ferry with our bus drivers, Nat and Bee (rubbing my tummy in happy Buddah fashion!)
Here I am with one of my new friends, Pat Aloisio from Chilicothe, as we cross the Mekong River. Soon we are across the mighty Mekong and driving through the streets of Can Tho. We will be staying in Can Tho for two nights. We finally arrive at the Golf Can Tho Hotel along the river. We check into the hotel around 5:00 pm and prepare for supper. Our meal is at the hotel, and then we are off to explore this river city of over 2 million.
There is a park near the hotel along the river, and this evening the park is full of families and couples, some taking evening boat cruises, but most just relaxing with their families in the cool evening air. And so for a short while, we find ourselves surrounded by couples sitting on benches, by familes watching over small, active children, and street vendors hawking their merchandise - all under the moon and stars along the Mekong River. How peaceful. How relaxing. The foreign music mixes with the sing-song Vietnamese language, and for a short while, we are content. Tomorrow we visit United Methodist churches in and around Can Tho, but tonight, we enjoy the lazy river and the life around it.
School has Begun!
3 years ago