The cocks crow and my neighbours are nattering outside- it’s only 5.30am but life starts with the sunrise, even in a big city. Happily, after 5 years in Vietnam I can sleep through the high levels of background noise, which varies from family karaoke parties, three days of intermittent drum beating to keep the spirits from settling during funeral rites, or just the coming and going of motorbikes and the noise of family life.
Culture and Language
I live in a small side street in the middle of the city, my neighbours are friendly and always eager to know where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to. At first I thought people were very nosey but there’s just not the same idea of privacy in Vietnam. In fact most people live in a home with several people, usually extended family, and a lady living by herself brings a lot of questions: “aren’t you lonely?”, “are you scared of ghosts?” But I usually answer that Jesus is with me always and more powerful than all the spirits- an opportunity to share the hope that I have.
I just have a half day of teaching today. The English centre isn’t far from home and, like most Vietnamese do, I travel there by motorbike. But the traffic is heavy first thing in the morning and you have to keep alert for the people who’ll drive along the street the wrong way and basically break any road rule you can think of! It’s a fun morning’s work with a group of teenagers, lots of laughter and games as they learn. I hadn’t planned on being an English teacher when I arrived, but one of the challenges we face as a team of missionaries, is how we can stay living here whilst serving God, and so becoming an English teacher was a good way forward for me.
I have lunch with my teaching colleagues, but it’s hard to get them to speak Vietnamese with me as they all speak such good English. I need to practice my Vietnamese though, even after five years my use of the local language still needs a lot of work! I started my time here with two years concentrating on learning the language and culture, but in many ways that was just the start as it’s so hard to become a natural speaker of a tonal language- I know what I should say but my European mouth can’t quite make the right sounds!
We spend a lot of our time chatting to people, and in such a sociable culture it’s easy to meet new people, and we hope through natural conversation and friendship to introduce them to the God we know and love. In fact we find most people are open to hear about faith issues and often believe in a creator god, so it’s not hard to have these conversations. But long-held traditions and the influence of decades of communism mean that it’s very difficult to bring people to know Jesus.
Back home in the afternoon and I take a short nap- the Vietnamese have a saying ‘nhap gia tuy tuc’, which means ‘do as the locals do’, and since they like to take a siesta I am happy to follow! On to my computer and there are lots of emails to reply to. Keeping in touch with family and friends back home is such an important thing- they encourage and pray for me and I want to keep in touch with their lives too. It’s easy to forget that my ministry here is not just me and our small team, but the tip of an iceberg of prayer and love. So I need to make sure I keep people up-to-date with what’s happening here and when answers to prayer are seen.
This evening is one of the highlights of my week; I meet with Tram who is a very new believer and thrilled with knowing Jesus. She has only just started reading the Bible and is amazed at the power of the word of God. We’re trying to encourage new believers to be ‘fishers of men’ from the moment they believe, by sharing their testimony with their family and friends, as well as being ‘followers’ who get to know and obey Jesus through God’s word. We hope this is an approach that will have a big impact for the kingdom! Tram’s struggling as she finds that some of her friends are quite hostile about her new faith and she’s cautious about telling her family- but as we pray together for the Spirit to help she feels peace and joy. What an amazing God we serve!
Later in the week, I’ll be meeting up with Christian friends who are also working in the same city; we encourage each other, pray and study the Bible together. We’re also preparing for a team from the US arriving on a prayer journey; they’ll pass through our city for three days as they take travel north to south by train, stopping along the way to pray for the needs of this country. We love getting visitors, it’s a great opportunity to share all that God is doing here and it’s encouraging for us to meet people who share our passion for Vietnam. We also love raising people to pray for the Vietnamese people, of whom only 0.6% are evangelical believers, and we know that, through prayer, God will transform this nation!