The ‘Love Hanoi Festival’ with Franklin Graham was the
first of its kind in communist Vietnam, where hundreds of churches
persevered in prayer ahead of the event. Now they’re praising God for
the crowds of people who responded to the Gospel message.
In 1966 and 1968, Billy Graham spent Christmas in
Vietnam ministering to American troops. Fifty years later, two Vietnam
veterans went back to where they once witnessed the horror of war. But
this time, they saw the beauty of new life in Christ.
“I never in my wildest dreams could’ve imagined that, especially in
Like all my trips to Vietnam, I felt an innate connection and affinity for the people, the culture and the mission to give back through the Spero Group.
In taking Isaac to Vietnam for the first time, the trip for me also represented a great opportunity to reconnect my children to a piece of their history and heritage. I am very blessed and fortunate to have the opportunities to introduce my children to not only "their" heritage, but also to start to give them a taste of how "giving back" looks - it can be rewarding, impactful and a way to exercise our God-given purpose.
I can't wait to get back, already...
For quick access, here are all the links to each of the day's blogs:
Our last day ended with a few tour-isty activities.
We started off with a quick run through the Ben Thanh Market (one last whiff) and then a coffee at Starbucks before hopping on the tour bus to the Cu Chi Tunnels.
Note the "fresh" meat on the right? Every part anyone would ever want!
American as... STARBUCKS!
The Cu Chi Tunnels were dug with simple tools and bare hands during the French occupation in the 1940s, and further expanded during the Vietnam War in the 1960s to provide refuge and a defensive advantage over the American soldiers. Despite all the bombings in their town, the Cu Chi people were able to continue their lives beneath the soil, where they slept, ate, planned attacks, healed their sick, and taught their young.
The Tunnels are another "first time to Vietnam" jaunt that everyone must take in. Having a personal tour guide helped to understand the exact meaning and highlights of the Tunnels.
Isaac barely fitting into an entrance of one tunnel...
And then, one must go down into the actual tunnels and experience the narrow passage ways. See all the pictures below for the actual video of our snaking through the tunnels.
We had planned to have two washing machines purchased and dropped off at the centre. We also planned to provide a presentation about Spero Group and our mission around the world. Another "special" presentation was on the docket too. But the real mission was to show Pastor Nhon a vision for his children that should start now!
We loaded up the van in and around HCMC and took off for our 2.5 hour trip (some slept!)....
Once we arrived, I was immediately surrounded by my little friends. It was like a scene out of "Star Wars - Return of the Jedi", when Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie first met the Ewoks. Friendly and chattery, they were not hesitant to be themselves. And since many mission teams visit them, they were big fans of the selfie!
Shortly after arriving, the washing machines arrived. The muscleman unloaded and set them up in a span of about 30 minutes (after a PVC "T" connector was secured). Pastor Nhon and his wife Tre were quite thankful as now their children would not have to wash their clothes well into the night. It was a rewarding time to know that God brings many people together to provide for the least of His.
Our next order of events was to have a presentation over what Spero Group is and does around the world. We also provided a glimpse into what is possible regarding establishing life-skills training programs as I included and shared pictures from My Hunog and Peter Stone's Centres. I had my little portable projector in tow so it was a good "show" to really drive home the vision we felt Pastor Nhon needed to catch... I feel Pastor Nhon really caught the vision and knew that he needed to move on some of these programs for the good of his children.
We chatted for another 30 minutes or so after the presentation; them relaying the challenges they faced with being an "unofficial" centre. Ironically the government had just visited the day prior informing them of the requirements they would need to meet go become registered - quite a process!
Then it was off to lunch. Another well-oiled machine. Some cooked, some set up, some prepared. Much like an ant hill, it was "orderly chaos" culminating into feeding the masses! Ask yourself, how much faith would it take to know you would be able to feed ~100 kids three meals a day??
I was struck by what selflessness looked like as Pastor Nhon and his wife worked together with everyone to serve the children - there was no delegation going on here...
We were honored to help bring the bowls of rice, meat, carrots and potatoes to the children. After a short prayer, we dug in!
For the final part of our program, Isaac has brought with him several of his magic tricks. He had practiced a few tricks for the older boys. It was a smash hit!! A little razzle dazzle, a few laughs and one botched trick (due to the extreme heat), Isaac received a rousing applause... definitely service with a smile!
And finally, my favorite part! The "growing up" talk (a.k.a. the "Birds and the Bees" conversation). Ministry always takes on many forms but I don't know if this will ever get topped.
Essentially, Pastor Nhon had an "urgent need" and had asked Bich (our local contact who arranged all of the site visit logistics) to see if I could do the "growing up" talk. Evidently, culturally, it would need to be someone younger than him to provide the talk. Since we're in the business of meeting needs, I was in!
After convincing the leadership group that yes, only boys should attend, we also had to clarify the minimum age of the attendees. I originally thought 12+ would be about right. So I proceeded to "enforce" my guidance. A little later, Pastor Nhon's daughter and right hand woman, came to me and through Bich's translation relayed to me, "In the Hmong culture, "men" are having babies at 12 years old so 8 to the oldest (13) would be fine."
After being initially taken aback by that information, it was game on - young and old, come to the big tent for the "growing up" talk! Through my good friend and translator, Peter An, we worked through the presentation I had put together (using my little projector). The "men" were attentive for the most part and we had good interactions. If anyone would like my version of the "birds and bees" presentation, I have a multi-culturally-approved version (not to mention Isaac my 9 year old is now also "certified").
Peter noted he felt it went well, but also thought some were a little young. I told him about the conversation Bich relayed to me and he was also a little taken. Oh well, we do what we do all for His glory!
Remember the marbles and random bag of matchbox cars that caused so much interest in Hong Kong? Well we were finally able to jettison them after trekking them all around southern Vietnam. Again Pastor Nhon and Mrs. Tre were very thankful to Isaac...
After a short game of something and a few photos, we were off!
Our long trip back...
At the end of the long day, we were all exhausted, but still riding the emotions of the day. Knowing that you can bring hope the the Hope Centre is a cool feeling. But more than that, it was good to know that our collective efforts to serve these Hmong orphans will change their lives forever in ways we can't even imagine.
Just look at my life. People I will never know on this side of eternity invested into me.
God put me here for a reason and purpose and when He puts me in these situations, I feel His smile through the smiles of the little ones we serve...
Friday was a great time to reconnect with Peter Stone at the Company of Grace. As you may recall in previous posts, Peter has an awesome business/ministry to the disabled in HCMC. As a person with disabilities and who has also has been brought from the depths of despair, God is using him in a great way through the Company of Grace.
Since last March, Peter's Bakery shop has started and is profitable and his other programs continue - computer training, English language classes and making handicrafts.
The bakery is already turning a profit after six months!
Orders in and around HCMC are being filled and delivered by his staff.
Enjoying some cupcakes from the local bakery (right behind us)
Time to say a prayer of encouragement for Peter and his wife, Ing...
Conveniently, on the way back into town, the new Tiny Hearts of Hope Hope Center was right along the way. As you recall from yesterday's posts, Friday was their moving day!!
For the rest of the day, Isaac and I motorbiked over to the War Remnant's museum.
...and then Uber'd to the Hard Rock Cafe HCMC (a treat for all the first timer's to Vietnam)
One of the agenda items for this trip was to help a good friend, Peter An, with his new video production business. Peter's vision is to start a business that will do various biographical video pieces and make them available to others as encouragement and as an outreach ministry. He will also produce professional training courses as a subscription-based service.
Peter and his team had arranged for a professional video shoot for me to recount my testimony and to tell others what God has done in my life.
After a short Uber ride to the video production centre, Peter guided me through the process of the video production business - using my story as the content! I am looking forward to seeing how the piece can be used to give others hope in life...
Our next stop was to meet up with Brent, Stacey and the Tiny Hearts of Hope (THOH) team. They are good friends who are living and doing business among the people on a full-time basis. Over the last two years we've come to know them and have supported a few project with them - namely helping set up a computer lab for English language training.
They had just returned to Vietnam from their short stay in America. Adjusting as well as could be expected, it was great to see and encourage them!
Another project that the Spero Group is partnering with them in is the move to a different Hope Centre and the opening of a second Hope Centre. The Hope Centres are safe houses where abused, neglected and underprivileged woman and children can stay while they are rehabilitated and set back on their feet. A local pastor is one of the staff members. He also runs the house church on Sundays!
Spero's small part this time was to help with some financing to get their new facilities up and running - beds, washing machines, etc.
Our time with THOH proceeded with a site visit to "Minh Tu's" centre. About 30 minutes away from THOH, Minh Tu oversees a private facility to minister to disabled children. Having been in the same location for over 30 years, they were building a new facility just down the ally from them. It was a great time to see more work that God was doing in and around Vietnam!
Our day ended with a customary "Night Out with the THOH Team"!
Texas Chicken was the way to go (note the change from "Churches" Chicken?). It was a great time of fellowship, fun and encouragement. The kids from the Hope House have very little to smile about, but through THOH, they understand what Hope means... Hope in a Father who loves them!