Sunday, May 15, 2016

Vietnam 2016 - Day 3
It is Friday April 1st, and I am excited!! Today we will meet with the Vietnamese pastors, and we will pick up our motorbikes!  Praise the Lord!! Let's go!!
We wolf down a quick breakfast around 6:00 am local time (at least what we can eat, which is mostly bread and Sprite for me).  At 7:30 am we assemble in the lobby of our hotel with our suitcases, because we will be hitting the road shortly.  We glance out the front lobby doors, and there are Karen and Ut, surrounded by a group of Vietnamese United Methodist pastors!!!
It was a joyous reunion as we are reunited with pastors some of us have known from previous trips, and we quickly meet the newer pastors who will be joining us for the very first time.  These brave and resourceful preachers are from all over Vietnam, some from as far south as the Mekong River, some from the Ho Chi Mihn area, and for the first time, some are from the Hmong villages in the far northern areas near the Chinese border.
Everyone is excited, and so we begin by singing a couple songs together in praise,  It is noisy and boisterous and we sing, some in English and some in Vietnamese.  Traffic in front of the hotel slows down and pedestrians stop and stare as this group of pastors are singing joyously at the top of their voices!! 
After several songs are sung, we take turns praying... praying for safety, praying for direction, praying for fellowship, and praying for the weather... but mostly thanking God and praying that our mission might touch the lives of the villages and churches we have traveled so far to see.
At last, we mount our motorbikes and we ride off into the busy traffic of Hanoi.  To get an idea of just how big Hanoi is, it will take more than an hour to navigate the streets and the traffic just to reach the western outskirts of this city of over 8 million!
One minor incident... one of our riders, Roberta Eddy, Shawnee Valley District secretary, got sidetracked by following the wrong person in front of her, then she ran out of gas!  Luckily she had a walkie talkie, and after several anxious moments, a couple of our very sharp and resourceful Vietnamese pastors were able to track her down, get her to a gas station, and catch up with our group in short order.  A few quick prayers of thanks and we are finally out of town and on our way toward the mountains.
We rode over 300 km (about 200 miles) that Friday. The roads have been decent as we traveled west and a bit north of Hanoi.  As we travel farther away from Hanoi, the towns become smaller, and we pass through many small villages.  Mountains and valleys, towns and villages... and the villagers we encounter along the way seemed enthusiastic and friendly to see these motorbike riding foreigners.

 In the late afternoon, we arrive in the town of Son La.  We check into our hotel around 6:00 pm, clean up after the long ride, and head to the dinning room for a nice supper.  Everyone is tired, so most head off to bed before too long.
**Side note:  While meeting the pastors and picking out our motorbikes prior to leaving our Hanoi hotel, our luggage was loaded into our minivan by the hotel staff.  Much to my surprise, my suitcase was missed and left in the hotel lobby!  About half-way to Son La, we received a call from the hotel informing us that they found my suitcase in their lobby.  Well, believe it or not, we made arrangements for a hotel shuttle to deliver my suitcase to our Son La hotel!  This was a trip of about 300 km here, then 300 km back to Hanoi!! What a trip for the shuttle driver.  But by 9:30 pm, I had been reunited with my suitcase and was able to shave, shower, and change clothes! 
Yes, God is good, and despite our best (or worst) efforts, He cares for us, watches out for us, and leads, guides and directs us.
One other observation... after several delays, missteps, and glitches, we developed our own catch phrase... "Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not get bent out of shape!"  Praise the Lord!!


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Vietnam 2016 - Day 2
It is Thursday morning March 31st... note we lost a day when we crossed the international dateline sometime yesterday.  Well rested from our night at a Tokyo airport hotel, we enjoy a breakfast buffet, then board our bus for the trip back to the airport.
We arrive back at Narita-Tokyo airport at 8:00 am and begin the security and boarding process.  We board our plane, a Vietnam Airlines jet at 10:00 am for the 5 1/2 hour flight to Hanoi.  By the way, flying with Vietnam Air was a better experience than we had with American Airlines... more room, better food, more entertainment choices, and a smoother ride.
We arrived Hanoi airport around 3:30 pm local time, and survived entry inspections.  Now for those of you who are paying close attention, it was at this point, waiting for my luggage at the Hanoi airport, that my real adventure began... for while waiting for my suitcase, I slip into the men's restroom and throw up my breakfast! 
Before I continue recounting my Vietnamese adventure, some explanation is in order.  From this point on, my tummy is on an adventure all on its own.  During the next two weeks, I will have difficulty eating and keeping anything down.  I will survive mainly on peanut butter and crackers, granola bars, sprite and bottled water, unable to eat or sometimes even smell the Vietnamese food.
As you can imagine, I was very concerned that I had picked up a virus, a parasite, or food poisoning as I suffered day after day, unable to eat and keep food down.  It wasn't until I returned home (and suffered for a few more days at home) that I passed two kidney stones!
As we leave the airport, we are met by Karen and Ut To, our United Methodist representatives in Vietnam.  I have known Karen and Ut since my first trip to Vietnam back in 2010, and over the years they have become great friends.  We join Karen and Ut as we board our mini bus and head toward downtown Hanoi.

We decide to do a bit of sightseeing before we check into our hotel.  It begins with a rickshaw ride around downtown Hanoi.  Nice to sight-see from a comfortable moving chair!  It was fun and interesting watching the Hanoi traffic and the people...

Next on our agenda was the Water Puppet Theater... puppets, not controlled by wires from above, but by rods and wires under water.  Really enjoyed the show and especially the traditional Vietnamese music.
After the show, we stopped by an outdoor café and watched with amazement as the evening traffic became completely jammed below our 3rd floor café balcony!
Finally, we check into our downtown Hanoi hotel for some much needed rest.  While everyone else headed off to supper, I was more interested in my Pepto-Bismo and Xantx!  Yes, at this particular time, I still thought I had a simple foreign stomach bug, and was more interested in sleep after our tiresome travels.  Night-night, everyone!



Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Back to Vietnam 2016 - A Daily Journal

And so once again, I am beginning a journey... A physical journey to be sure as I prepare to board a plane for the seemingly endless flight to Vietnam... A mental journey as I contemplate the wonders of a different country and climate, the different peoples and cultures, the different foods and aromas, and the different traveling companions I know I will encounter along the way... And a spiritual journey as I witness firsthand the amazing diversity and power of God to be found in the willingness of my fellow travelers and the enthusiasm of the Vietnamese pastors we will be traveling with, and the village churches and congregations we will be visiting...

In the picture above, it is Tuesday morning March 29th... It is approximately 5:30 am as I await the arrival of my fellow travelers.  I am seated in a waiting area at the Columbus, Ohio international airport, preparing to begin the boarding process.  On this trip I will join ten others from various southern districts of the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church.  Most of the group I know, having traveled to Vietnam with them before.  A couple of them are new to me, but we quickly become friends as together we contemplate the journey before us.

Our journey today will entail a two hour flight from Columbus to Dallas-Ft. Worth.  After a short layover there, we will endure a 13 1/2 hour flight to Tokyo, Japan.  Another couple hours there, then a final six hour flight to Hanoi, Vietnam.  Altogether, we anticipate about 30 hours of airports and airplane time!  At least, that was the plan... but you know that God sometimes has other plans for us!

After we gather and pray for God's guidance and traveling mercies, we board our plan scheduled for a 7:30 am takeoff.  However, an unexpected announcement informs us that the pilots are having difficulty starting one of the engines!  Hearing that sure fills one's heart with confidence!  But after about a half an hour, the plane is started and we are in the air... just a half hour behind schedule...

We arrive Dallas-Ft. Worth airport where we have a layover.  We find our next gate and sit to await the arrival of our next plane, a Japan Airlines flight to Tokyo... However, after sitting and waiting at our gate for some time, our scheduled time for departure comes and goes, and our plane does not arrive!  When asked what happened, the airport staff informs us that they cannot find our plane!  After about an hour and a half, an American Airlines plane pulls up to our gate and we begin boarding.  We finally take off, but we are now an hour and a half behind schedule.

Thirteen and a half hours to Tokyo... at least we are finally on our way.  As I glance around the cabin, I see our group busily engaged in reading, watching movies, or trying to nap... At least until we arrive somewhere over the Rocky Mountains... As the stewardesses are passing out drinks to the passengers, our plane hits an unexpected area of severe turbulence!  It just so happened that I had just been given a glass of Coca-Cola when the plane decided to leap up, the drop down.  Needless to say, I ended up wearing my coke!  On a more serious note, one of the stewardesses was injured, having hit her head in the turbulence.  After an announcement asking if there was a doctor on board, another announcement followed stating that we would be making an unscheduled stop in Seattle to drop off our injured stewardess.  Land we did sometime later, which took an additional hour to off load the injured and top off fuel tanks.  We are now two and a half hours behind schedule.

Finally, back in the air.  It is still nine hours to Tokyo.  The flight from this point is pretty much uneventful.  We fly quietly and smoothly (Thank you, Lord!) across the northern Pacific Ocean, somewhere along the way crossing the international dateline...

We arrive in Tokyo around 7:00 pm local time.  However, we arrive to find out our connecting flight to Hanoi left about a half hour ago!  A representative from Japan Air Lines informs us the next flight to Hanoi is scheduled for tomorrow morning!  So they put us up in a hotel there at the airport, with no cost to us.  Check out this picture of my Japanese toilet in my hotel room!  I call it the new and improved Ipot!  It has more buttons and icons than my IPhone!

And that, my friends was just my first day!  Adventure awaits... the Promises of God are before us as we trust in Him during this mission time.  Watch for my next blog to be posted in the next couple days... Next stop... Hanoi!!!