Thursday, August 12, 2010

Vietnam - Day 13

Today is Tuesday April 20, 2010, our 13th and final full day in Vietnam. Our day begins with another great breakfast, this time at the Golf Can Tho Hotel in Can Tho, Vietnam. We are deep in the Mekong Delta, Can Tho being a thriving metropolis of over 2 million, with the mighty Mekong River flowing through the middle of the city. After breakfast we load our luggage onto our busses, but we are note quite ready to leave yet. First, an adventure!
The busy Mekong River flows past our hotel. And so before we leave the delta, we are in for one last sight-seeing tour. We board two floating taxis and head up river, deep into the city. What a view! River traffic is always heavy, and now we are just part of the "water ballet". For almost an hour we travel in our boat, soaking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the river.

Eventually we arrive in an area known as the "floating marketplace". Imagine shopping in the produce section of your favorite grocery store - except that each bin is a boat, and each boat is different. Here we found (by our estimation) close to a thousand boats of all shapes, sizes, and each with different produce.
Boats full of bananas, coconuts, and melons - barges loaded with potatoes, fruits and vegetables. Small, personal boats - large, barge-like boats. Men, women, children on board these watercraft - some with entire families, who make these boats their floating homes.
Hundreds of boats and who knows how many people! All buying, selling, trading, bartering their goods. Some loading, others unloading - all done by physical labor - no machinery here. Melons are man-handled from boat to boat, person to person. Flowers are examined and carefully stowed on decks.
Here in Can Tho, as I imagine is true anywhere in the delta, the river is life. Everything and everybody touches it. In the span of less than a half mile, we see a woman washing her breakfast dishes in the river. A little further on we see a man taking a bath in the river. Farther down is a woman brushing her teeth with river water. A little farther and we see a man and woman fishing in the river. Further yet we spy a man using the river as his bathroom!
Imagine the filthiest, smelliest river you could ever imagine. No, worse than that. Dirtier. Matter of fact, we were advised to not touch the water. Cannot imagine the germs and bacteria floating beside our boat. Mile after mile the scene is the same - boats and people, all using the river for their personal reasons.
We slowly trolled alongside this floating market place for almost two hours. It was over a mile long, and then we floated back through again. We watched as families ate breakfast, hung laundry out on the deck railings, or plied their goods. Many families and lots of small children. One mother in a small boat used her young daughter to sell water and cola to passing tourists, like us. Children were everywhere.

Eventually our tour came to an end. The hour long ride back to the hotel was mostly quiet as we contemplated what we had just witnessed. For us air-conditioned, spoiled American tourists, this was a world we simply could never live in. Still trying to figure out how the people survive here.
It is a quiet group that slowly boards the busses. We begin our final journey, this time traveling north, back to Ho Chi Minh City. Ahhhhh, air-conditioned busses! We cross the mighty Mekong River by ferry boat one last time. We stop for lunch, really enjoying the meal, especially the "sticky rice" or "Dragon's Egg" as it is called here.

Several hours later, we enter the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City. We weave our way through the streets and arrive back at the Roal Kimdo Hotel for our last night. The evening is ours as we venture out onto the streets for the last time. I have my picture taken with a couple shop girls at a small store near our hotel. A liitle last minute shopping and off to bed. We are told that we leave for the airport around 3:30 am! Gonna be a short night!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Vietnam - Day 12

Today is Monday April 19, 2010 and our 12th day in Vietnam has just begun. We are staying at the Golf Can Tho Hotel in the city of Can Tho on the Mekong River. We arrived here in the Mekong Delta late yesterday afternoon, and today we are to spend the day visiting United Methodist churches in and around Can Tho. And so, after breakfast, we spend a few moments watching the river traffic, then we board our busses around 9:00 am to begin our goodwill church tour.

Our first stop is a relatively new church in Can Tho. Several United Methodist churches in southern Ohio helped build this small but growing church. Here we met the pastor and his family along with several members of the congregation. A couple of the pastors in our group took turns baptizing several of the new Vietnamese believers.
Here we participate in a short service, preparing new members for baptism.
Here new members are baptized into the Methodist Church and the family of God.
More new members being baptized by members of our mission group.
Reluctantly, we leave this church and our new friends. Back on board our busses we discuss the excitement and fulfillment of helping and encouraging new Christians. Our bus takes us deeper into the city of 2 million, and eventually we stop at another church. This one is more of a house church - the pastor and his family live downstairs while church is conducted in a room upstairs.
Here we meet the pastor and his family.
Allow me to introduce you to a new friend, Bich Nguyen Thi. Bich is a 22 year-old college student attending university here in Can Tho. She is one of five children, (and the only Christian in her family), she is a long way from home, and she found this small United Methodist church where she discovered new friends and a love she had never known before. She enjoys her church because they love God "enthusiastically"! Although she is attending university, her desire is to become a pastor so she can share the love of Christ with her family and others.

Here members of the Vietnamese congregation exchange gifts with members of their sponsor church from Chilicothe, Ohio.

Here members of the American Mission team are seen leaving the house church. The church is located down this alley, back in behind store-fronts and homes. Note the condition of the alley - this is typical of most alleys, especially in the larger cities.
Our next stop isn't exactly a church, but a small wood-working business owned by one of the Vietnamese pastor's and his wife. This particular business is unique in that the pastor/owner will only hire employees who are handicapped. What you have to understand is that the handicapped of Vietnam have little to no life. They are shunned by society as being non-productive. This particular pastor and his wife will hire ONLY handicapped, and provide them a place to stay if need be. We met many of the employees and listened to their stories, sharing in their joy of being able to find not only employment, but acceptance in this biased society.

Our last visit of the day was to a small, but growing United Methodist church about an hour west and south of Can Tho, deep in the delta region. Here we found another church that is being sponsored by United methodist churches of southern Ohio. Once again, we met the pastor and his family, along with a large portion of his congregation. They greeted us with cold bottles of water and fresh bananas!

As with all the churches we have visited on this trip, what they lack in material and 'stuff' they more than make up in their enthusiasm and sincerity. The music may be simple, but they are "loud and proud" as they worship with their new American friends.

We gather together to have one big group picture taken before we take our leave. Once again, we have found new friends, and despite the language barrier, we have been able to communicate our love and friendship for these brothers and sisters in Christ.

Reluctantly, we board our busses once again and begin our journey back to the hotel. The drive is about an hour, giving us plenty of time to try and absorb what we have witnessed today. Homes turned into churches. Churches built with help from small American congregations located in southern Ohio. Employers who will only hire the "unemployable." Yes, I think we have much to learn from our new friends.

And so, we eventually arrive back at our hotel. Most of us are still in deep contemplation of the things we have experienced today. Some are already looking ahead to tomorrow, our last full day in Vietnam. We arrive back at our hotel, looking for supper. Tonight we are on our own, to find whatever we can in or around the hotel. Believe it or not, the hotel serves hamburgers. We are dubious, but hungry, and so many of us order the familiar sounding meal. When our food comes, it looks like hamburger, yet tastes different. We are half afraid to ask, and so we settle on "similar, yet different". We end our long day with a walk along the river. It is a very pleasant evening (in the mid 80's) and many families are out with their families. We enjoy this quiet time, watching life along the Mekong.