Vietnam 2016 - Day 6
Monday April 4 dawns bright and warm. We are up early and wolf down our breakfast. Today, our 6th day in country, we are back on our motorbikes by 7:30 am and scheduled to ride north into the mountains. We ride out of Dien Bien Phu following our guides and steadfast friends, the Vietnamese pastors. Our destination today is the very mountainous region better known as the Tonkinese Alps.
We head out of town riding mostly north along the main highway. We follow our Vietnamese guides for about an hour along this fairly decent highway until we suddenly turn off the main road and begin an ascent up the side of a mountain on a not-so-decent road. For the next couple hours we ride mostly up! We are in a very mountainous region with very narrow, dusty roads that are crumbly in some places, and always with some motorbike traffic or water buffalo obstacles.
After a couple hours of mountain hugging roads, we enter and stop in a small village, once again to make introductions at a regional police station. There we met the chief of police for this district, and we exchange gifts and pleasantries. Once again we happen to notice that they already have our names in front of them. After the speeches are made and gifts are exchanged, we take some time to shake hands and meet some of the local government staff. When we leave the police station, one of the local officials hops on our mini bus to ride with us for a while.
We ride out of this small town and continue down the mountain jungle road. A few kilometers down the highway, we turn off the main road to follow a dirt lane back deeper into the jungle. We follow this dirt lane (no way you could call it a road) as it winds deeper into the jungle. We follow a river for perhaps 7-10 kilometers (very hard to judge distances when your riding a dirt trail in a jungle).
Eventually we leave the dirt trail and ride down along the river and into a fair sized Hmong mountain village. We are told that we are the first Westerners to ever visit this particular village. The building are mostly crude wooden shacks with dirt floors and no running water. Yet here amongst the village houses we find a small United Methodist church. As before, we find ourselves surrounded by these extremely friendly and generous people. Greetings are exchanged, songs are sung, and we spend considerable time in prayer with the villagers.
*Side note: as I reported at the beginning of this blog, I had not been feeling well, and had not been eating because of kidney stones, although I didn't know what was ailing me until later. Here in this remote village, with temps in the high 90's, high humidity and no air moving down in this jungle valley, I pass out from the heat and dehydration. I was quite humiliated when they picked me up off the dirt floor. The Vietnamese pastors refuse to let me ride up and out of the village, so they put me on the back of a bike and I ride out as a passenger. From that point on, they refuse to let me ride on my own, and instead I will ride in the mini bus the rest of that day. And what a ride that was! I have come to the conclusion that our Vietnamese bus driver learned to drive by playing the video game "Grand Theft Auto"! All I can say is, "Wow! What a ride!!"
We finally (and safely!) arrive at our next destination, the town of Lai Chau around 7:00 pm that evening. We are exhausted, but exhilarated! What a day and how blessed each of us feel to have been able to see and experience some of God's Children in such a remote location. As before, we were surprised and humbled by the exuberance of these humble people. Their singing was loud and boisterous... their praise was joyful and exciting. Their worship was sincere and meaningful. As pastors and ministers of the Gospel, we couldn't help but admire their enthusiasm and join in with them. Once again, these American preachers got preached, and experienced God's blessings in a way that both humbled and excited us. What a joy to be able to experience God in such a new and unique way.
Tomorrow we continue north toward the Chinese border, but for us weary pastors, it's time for supper and bed. Good night from the Tonkinese Alps of northern Vietnam.