Dĩ hoà vi quý – Making peace is treasured
Vietnamese Proverb: Minh. Gọi nắng xuân về. Nhàsách Quang Minh. p. 116.
Over the recent end-of-year holidays I was very fortunate to visit both Malaysia and Vietnam for three weeks. My one week trip to Malaysia was a holiday in the true sense – visiting the land where my father was born. His parents, or my grand-parents, were working in Penang, Malaya as it was previously called when a British Colony between 1949 to the mid-nineteen-sixties. Penang is a very multi-cultural city with plenty of hustle and bustle. One of the most encouraging aspects about this city was how the different cultures and religions were able to live peacefully amongst each other. On the main street was a: large protestant church, Muslim mosque, Buddhist temple, and Hindu stores selling incense and idols. Trips through Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur revealed a more Muslim nation with great food and welcoming people.
However, my trip to Vietnam was of a somewhat different nature. Choosing to study and work as an engineering was a decision I made some years ago to hopefully help those less fortunate in practical ways. After a brief presentation from one of members from the Kew Baptist Vietnamese congregation’s outreach group With A Mission (WAM) at an evening service I was encouraged to join the team for the one week mission and exposure trip. As part of the trip we were to assist with the construction of some houses for local poor people, who, although owning land were often unable to construct or afford a decent house due to being widowed or elderly. We were also to assist with a medical program that the church regularly runs. Fundraising for this church and its activities was conducted prior to leaving.
We travelled to Kien Giang Vietnam, south of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). This area was quite remote from tourists as I was the only ‘white’ person that I saw for about six or so days. In this region we partnered with an amazing local church that is part of a broader network of churches involved with Socio-Medical Committee of the Vietnamese Evangelical Church of South Vietnam, SOMEDCO. I would like to share three primary reflections in this piece:
Firstly, I was shocked with how these very poor Vietnamese people lived and interacted with the rivers and water. Each day we took a boat for over an hour (each way) along the Mei Kong delta. In this tiny boat I saw how the river was used for washing people and food, and for drinking, however, it was also used as a rubbish dump for plastics and human effluent. Regularly our boat’s motor propeller had to be taken from the water to remove tangled plastic bags that were stopping it from working – however, the driver would simply then throw these removed pieces of plastic back into the river before continuing forward. Internationally, sanitation and poor access to clean water are among some of the largest reasons for infant death, and place a great drain on the communities where people may regularly become ill.
Secondly, I was amazed by the vibrancy and work of the local church. Prior to leaving we had been fundraising for the work of a partner church in the region. While we were there: over four houses were being constructed; their main church building was finishing its construction; their church manse was knocked down prior to building a new one; another smaller-church building was about to begin construction for a new congregation; and a medical program was run where many Christian doctors from Saigon visit the region seeing over 500 patients. These Christians are a minority amongst their Communists and the Buddhists neighbours – however, they are well respected for their generous work by the local people. Due to their poverty and most not having any formal ‘weekend’, except for schooling, it seemed that in these poorer regions that only the Christians had a day of the week that differed from any other of the week – trying to make ends meet.
Thirdly, I was humbled by the stories told by our Vietnamese team members. I distinctly remember one morning at breakfast where Pastor Khoi was speaking about his escape from Communist Vietnam as a 14 y.o. boy on a refugee boat with his aunt. He then proceeded to go around the table of primarily Australian-Born-Vietnamese (ABV) team members and tell how each of their respective parents had each risked similar trips. The only two people at the table who did not share this same history was a local Vietnamese Christian worker and I. Over 1 million Vietnamese asylum seekers died at sea between 1975 and 1995.
This trip was a wake-up-call and a reminder of both the realities of poverty in our world and the opportunities for Christians, among all people, to love those less fortunate.
Dragon Bridge, Da NangAfter the mission trip I was able to holiday with some of my new friends through: Saigon – a busy, dirty and changing city; to Nha Trang – where I discovered many Russian tourists and proportionally very few other international visitors; Hoi An – a city with a beautiful UNESCO world heritage protected zone that was heavily influenced by the Chinese; and finally, to Da Nang – arguably Vietnam’s most modern city, featuring many large bridges, including the now famous Dragon Bridge that breaths fire during public displays.
If you are interested in any part of the mission trip and or would be interested in participating or donating please visit: www.facebook.com/withamission
This post is the first of a series of posts about my travel experiences between March 2015 – March 2016 to New Zealand, Malaysia and Vietnam.