Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Vietnam - Day 14 & the Ride Home

Talk about a short night! Today is Wednesday April 21, 2010 and my morning began at 3:00 am! We spent our short night back in the Royal Kimdo Hotel in downtown Ho Chi Minh City where we were awakened at 3:00 am to prepare for the long flight home. No time for breakfast, just a quick shower, throw a few last things in the bags, and we are boarding our busses at 3:45 am for the early morning drive to Tan Son Naht airport. Our flight is scheduled to leave around 7:00 am, and we needed time to clear Vietnamese security.

The flight back was a reverse of the flight to Vietnam. We flew from Ho Chi Minh City to Hong Kong, then to Chicago, and finally back to Cincinnati. Our plane left around 7:00 am local (Vietnam) time arriving in Cincinnati around 7:00 pm local (Cincinnati) time. Altogether we spent another 30 or so hours either in the air or at airports.

Over the past few months, I have had ample time to reflect on the things I witnessed and the people I met in Vietnam. As I bring this series of blogs to a close, allow me to share some of my thoughts and observations.

First, the land I discovered. Vietnam is a beautiful country, and so diverse! From the rice paddies to the mountains, from the warm inviting beaches of the South China Sea coast to the rivers and canals of the Mekong Delta, from the triple canopy jungles to the banana and rubber tree plantations - such vibrant colors, from the green, lush jungles to the deep blue of the South China Sea. Most of the roads are not the best, but that only means your journey will take a little longer, giving you ample time to take in the sights and enjoy the scenery.

Vietnam is a land of contrasts. Yes, the land is diverse, but so are the people. To me, there was a marked difference between those who lived in the cities and those who dwelled out in the rural areas. Their clothes were different, their food was different, and their friendliness was different. It was very obvious to me that the city dwellers had more money to spend - their clothes were nicer and more modern, and many of them loved to shop. In the mountain villages, many were living on the equivalent of about $2.00 per day. In some areas, coca-cola was cheaper than milk, and mothers would buy coke, water it down, and feed it to their babies.
Vietnam is a country of hard working, industrious people. Most labor is still done by hand - whether working in the rice paddies, fishing for self or for sale, or building a roadway - manual labor was abundant. Everywhere we went, in the heavily occupied cities or the sparsely populated countryside, most work was completed with shovels and wheelbarrows.

Vietnam is a country of young people. Everywhere we went we were surrounded by children and teenagers. Conversely, we saw very few older individuals (by older I mean 50+ years). What this means is that there are very few Vietnamese citizens who are old enough to remember the war - shorter life expectancy and a harsh envirenment have left a relatively young population.

Vietnam is a place of hospitality and friendships. At no time did we as Americans feel threatened or afraid. We felt no hatred nor animosity. Instead, everywhere we went we were welcomed with open arms, smiles, and graciousness. In the small churches we were greeted with bottles of water and fresh bananas. They fed us and they graced us with gifts. Church members would surround us, gives us hugs, shake our hands, and want their pictures taken with us, even though they would never see a copy of the photo. It was almost as if they wanted their picture taken for us - so that we would not forget them. And their number one request?? They asked if we would pray for them.

Finally, Vietnam is a country where the Spirit of God is moving mightily. Just three years ago, there were only about 50 United Methodist churches serving about 1,000 people. Today, the congregations number over 150 and serve over 10,000 individuals. Christians in Vietnam are serious and enthusiastic. Serious in that they are literally willing to risk their property and their lives in a Communist controlled country to spread the Gospel. Enthusiastic in their praise and worship, willing to out-sing and out-praise most congregations I know.

In closing, let me offer these final observations. In my opinion, we (the United Methodist mission team) traveled to Vietnam to accomplish three goals. First, to purchase 18 brand new motorbikes, ride them through the country to make ourselves visible, and then to give those bikes away to Vietnamese United Methodist pastors to use in their churches and in their villages to promote the Gospel. Second, we were to visit the budding United Methodist churches, meet their congregations and their pastors, and offer encouragement and support to their efforts. Finally, we wanted to send a strong, clear message to the Communist officials in Hanoi that the United Methodist Church was in Vietnam to promote the Gospel, help the churches and the pastors, and to work with the Government in bettering the lives of their people. In my humble opinion, I really think we accomplished our mission.

In closing, let take this opportunity to thank God for allowing me to visit this amazing country and its even more amazing people. Let me thank all those individuals who helped make my participation possible, either financially or through their prayers. And finaly, my thanks to the amazing people of Vietnam - for their generosity and their friendship in welcoming me and others into their families. :-)