Monday, March 13, 2017

Vietnam Reflections - March 2017

What's there to say after a trip like this?

There are so many stories, sites, sounds, smells and experiences I could not write down.  So many "Divine Appointments" and "GRT (God Right There)" moments that if I were to jot them all down, there would be too may pages to read.

So many emotions.
So many shed and choked back tears.
So many people looking for the Way, the Truth and Life...

Numbers don't always tell the story, but they do tell some of it (read the earlier blog posts for more):

22,000 --> Vietnamese Dong to $1 USD
18,000 --> Miles traveled
1,954 --> Pictures taken
170 --> Gallons of clean water per day provided by the Sawyer water filters to Vietnamese villagers
100 --> Families recieving meals every month by the Tiny Hearts of Hope program and Pastor Tuyet
80 --> Vietnamese orphan children being rescued in My Huong's Orphanage Centres
78 --> Vietnamese Hmong tribal orphans being rescued in Pastor Nhon's Hope Centre
65 --> Hours spent traveling to, from and within Vietnam
60 --> Percent recovery rate for Pastor Trung's drug rehab program (vs. 1% in other programs)
15 --> Days in the trip (in which Julie masterfully took care of the home, thank you!!)
6 --> Disabled Vietnamese who now live independent lives through Peter Stone's Company of Grace
6 --> Former drug addicts who now have laptops and basic computer literacy skills

1 --> Lord and Savior we all desperately need to receive by grace to free us from our bondage

Practically speaking, how do we engage to bring the millions to the One?  In the next several months, I'll be continuing to interact with and collaborate with many in Vietnam on how to take Spero Group's mission tangibly to Vietnam:

"Because of The Spero Group, underprivileged people in Vietnam, Moldova and Ukraine will be discipled in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and will have market relevant skills."

Initial reflections:

1. Explore how to work with Peter and Ing Stone to complete his Company of Grace Centre used for training disabled in Ho Chi Minh City for independent living (both disabled, themselves)...


2. Continue to work with Pastor Trung to build out more sustainable life-skills programs to augment his drug recovery program to provide these recovered addicts marketable life-skills...

Pastor Trung on far left

3. Assist in building a proper library for Pastor Nhon and his wife Tre for the Hope Center ministering to Hmong orphan children...


4. Partner with Tiny Hearts of Hope to continue providing food, clean water and the gospel to remote villagers...

 

5. Provide My Hung a "Lego Lab" setup in her centre library for the children to explore and play...


Other ideas may be distilled, but these four our the fist pass from what I've seen and heard.

Here's the ask:

1. PRAY - Pray for wisdom and insight on where to invest time, talents and treasure to make the greatest impact in Ukraine, Moldova and Vietnam for His glory.

2. GIVE - Programs need money to establish and operate.  Consider making a tax deductible contribution to the Spero Group to see these programs get executed.  100% of donor money goes to our programs - any administrative costs are covered by my brother and I as we continue this "tent-making" ministry.

3. GO - We take groups of people to Ukraine and are considering the same for Vietnam.  If you are interested, contact us and we can get you plugged in (jason@sperogroup.org)

Finally, wherever you decide to engage in His work, ENGAGE.  Be encouraged.  He will show you where to give your time, talents and treasures.  If not through Spero Group, find where He is directing you and listen and then do.

In Matthew 22, some crafty smart people asked Jesus, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"  Expecting a long-winded, legalistic answer, Jesus simply replied:

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 

This is the first and greatest commandment. 

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

...go find your "neighbor", love them...


There's No Place Like... HOME!

Friday morning I was ready to roll!  It had been a great trip, but everything good must come to an end!

It started out with a quick hike back to the Jesus statue (see previous posts) to take care of some business for an old friend.  After some time and meditation at the top of Jesus, I was ready to head back to Saigon.

 

My new friends (bellmen) at the Green Hotel helped me load my motorbike; ensuring my bag was tied and affixed Vietnam-style to the back of my bike...


It was a little more challenging getting back to the ferry.  

A few wrong turns and getting yelled at so I wouldn't get on the busy Highway later, I made it!  

As exciting as getting to Vung Tau (see previous posts), 
getting back to Saigon on the ferry was therapeutic! 


My good friend Duy took me and my bags to the Tan Son Nhut International Terminal.  As only fitting, it was a busy Friday night and all the bikes were out in full force.  No worse for wear, it was a final reminder that there's no place like home...



My first leg was to Tokyo, Japan.

After a "short" six-hour flight, I arrived at 6AM local time.  Just in time to wait 11 hours until my flight to America was set to leave at 5PM!

Not to fear, McDonalds and the United Airlines Lounge (thanks, Dad), helped pass the time...



There's no place like home...


10 hours later...


A simple pass through customs, thanks to Global Access, later, Julie and the family picked me up for the happy reunion!


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Vung Tau with My Huong!

The official Vung Tau part of my mission started on Wednesday.

Truyen, My Huong's right hand woman, met me at the Green Hotel and we slowly followed each other on the 7 km motorbike ride to the orphanage centre.

The beautiful centre had a few updates since the last time I had visited a year+ ago.  New soccer pitch and covering over the kids play area highlighted the major changes.  Generous donors came through for My Huong and the children, again!

Notice the blue tarp covering - playground not a "child hotpot" anymore

Truyen and I on the new "professional grade" soccer pitch

And then as usual, I met some of the child care workers and a very special baby boy...


Although normal enough, his story is heartbreaking, but filled with grace.

About two weeks ago, some early morning exercisers on the Vung Tau boardwalk noticed a black trash bag that was moving.  Thinking it was a cat, they stopped their workout and went to the trash bag.  

Needless to say, this was not trash.  

With umbilical still attached, these life savers quickly delivered the baby to the hospital.  His journey then went to the police and finally a delivery to My Huong's centre!  Here was his spectacularly horrifying start to life looked like... 

A seemingly beautiful site for a workout

Another hour or two, a tragedy would have occurred!

What the trash bag most likely looked like

After I got over that heartbreaking story, Truyen took me around to the different parts of the centre.  Remembering most of the rooms, I reconnected with some of the children that I had met two previous visits, I think most remember me too (the Vietnamese looking guy that couldn't speak Vietnamese).






Then we were able to bless the 20+ workers with a thank you lunch for all their hard work.  Ironically, it was Women's Day so it was fitting!  

I always have a special place in my heart for women like these.  I see my own care workers of 40+ years ago in watching these women's diligence and care in ministering to these children.  If anything, I felt like I was saying thank you directly to those who cared for me through these woman. 


The next day, My Huong and I enjoyed a day visiting and catching up on all the progress in her sites.  She has a new venture starting as well to help reconnect older orphans reconnect with a biological past in Vietnam.  What a great opportunity to use her skills, experience and heart to serve in this capacity.


Just before you think Vietnamese food is so fresh and healthy, My Huong took me to the best shop for fried bread cakes with a little shrimp on the top.  As we downed three plates of these tasty morsels, she let me know that the women creating these can only work in this restaurant for 3-4 months at a time due to the havoc it wrecks on their health.  

You decide for yourself, OSHA approved...?



We ran some more errands, and enjoyed catching up.  We ended our time together by picking up one of her sons (adopted from her centre) and taking him to Tae Kwan-do.

See earlier posts on previous discussions with My Huong!

Vung Tau Pictures with My Huong

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Tuesday: Motorbike + Ferry = Jesus and Mary

After a "this may be the lasts time I see you" farewell to Rick, I set out on my adventure...


...a 2.5 hour motorbike ride from Ho Chi Minh City to Vung Tau.  Even when I told some of my local friends, I would get "Wow, I would not do that".

After about 30 minutes, I arrived at the Cat Lai ferry port.  Not knowing the language, the process and/or the cost, I simply followed the sheep to the...  ferry.  


It ended up being quite an easy process.  Funnel your bike through the chute, pay about 5,000 VND (25 cents), get a ticket, drive 5 feet, hand the ticket to the ticket taker, wait for the ferry to arrive, start your engine and follow everyone aboard!  

Kind of reminded me of my Motorcross racing days, except in Vietnamese and a boat was involved...


The journey was littered with sites, scenes and sounds one must experience at some point.  I will say traveling at about 50-60 km/h (35-40 mph) for 2.5 hours became a little tiresome.  But no worse for wear, I arrived in one peace and with a ton of memories (that just need to be experienced one time)!

Not sure, they're aware of the story of the Tower of Babel

Fascinating construction of a Catholic church

Of course, everyone needs a quick workout in the 90 degree/90% humidity

Arrival!  Top to bottom an experience to remember

My first order of business was to freshen up at the Green Hotel.  After a quick shower and snack, I reconnected with Jesus, of course...


...in 1974, a great statue of Jesus was built.  It is actually larger than the one in Brazil, but you don't hear much about this one.  Nevertheless, I hike up to and into Jesus is a must when in Vung Tau.

Breathtaking views




And then if you're going to see Jesus, why not see His mother as well?



Although Catholicism and Christianity are minority religions, most in Vietnam practice some sort of Buddhism or ancestor worship.  A sad state for such a vibrant, hopeful people.



The night winded down with a few laps around the isthmus of Vung Tau.  In about 20 minutes, one can motorbike from the Green Hotel, around the tip of VT and back again.


See all of the sites and sounds in Tuesday's Pictures

A slow(ish) Monday

Monday was semi-uneventful.

In the morning I began my Vietnamese language training.  I had found a good set of YouTubes and it ended up that they did paid courses as well.  My teacher, Duc, lead me through the basics.  Wow, long way to go!  My conversational Mandarin Chinese language skills kicked in a little.  For whatever reason about 1/2 way into our three-hour session, I started responding to Duc in Mandarin!  I'll continue my lessons in America via Skype!


After class wrapped up, I met up with a good friend, Viet.  He has been instrumental in helping many Vietnamese orphans reconnect to their homeland.  He runs his own tour business.  If you need to get anywhere in Vietnam, naturally, Viet is your guy.  Let me know if/when you need his contact information.  He took me to his favorite Pho soup joint and we enjoyed good food and great conversation.


The last stop for the day was to get back with Duy.  He showed me the computers Spero Group provided Tiny Hearts of Hope last year.  In a bit of transition with the English course, Duy was making good use of them as he studied to get his English language certification.  Good to know God continues to move that program along.



I made my final prep for the Vung Tau trip (including new helmet and gloves).