So a week ago I was in Siam Reap. Now I'm in Hanoi, Vietnam... Crazy!! We were home for 2 days then we left again to go to Ho Chi Minh. It’s been nuts!
We flew in on Thursday afternoon to Ho Chi Minh airport. The flight was really turbulent. A couple people puked once we got to the airport. I thought it was fun though. First roller coaster I've gotten to ride in a year! What was really weird as we arrived in Vietnam was that we had to take off our nametags. Missionaries aren't allowed to wear them here. It was an unusually poignant moment taking off our nametags. I knew it'd be coming, but it was definitely weird to do, and then to have to walk around in public with it off. It’s not like the nametag is what makes me a servant of the Lord, it’s my setting-apart which does that, but it’s definitely been weird not wearing it the last few days. It feels nice once we get to the chapels here and get to put them back on inside.
But wowwwwwwww is Vietnam different than Cambodia. Vietnam is SO NICE!!! It’s so clean and the roads are so smooth and the buildings are so modern. Parts of it look nicer than America. We've been blown away at how different it is! I really can't describe. Y’all just need to go and live in Cambodia for a year and then go to a country that’s not 3rd world, such as Vietnam. It'll blow you away. Ho Chi Minh City is beautiful, because it’s full of parks. There are huge tall trees everywhere... It’s like having a mini-Central park every block.
So yeah, we arrived and then we went over to the hotel. The bellhop took our bags from us in the lobby and then Elder Eppley and I headed straight back outside to catch a taxi to the Tan Son Nhat chapel to rendezvous with the elders there to do splits. Sister Christensen was way worried about us going out alone with nothing but a card that said the address of the church building in Vietnamese. Elder Eppley and I don't even have working phones here because our phones only work inside of Cambodia. We were excited though. It’s interesting being helpless in a foreign country. We headed outside and hailed a taxi just to find out that the address on the card didn't exist and that our taxi driver spoke no English! At that point there was a rush of adrenaline to the head, because the Christensens were gone and we had no phone to communicate with anyone. We got out of the car, ran over to the bellhop on the side of the road and told him we needed to use his phone (he spoke a little English). We looked up the elders number on our phone, typed it into his phone (After we figured out the proper number. Part of the number in our phone had the international Vietnamese country code in it so we had to figure out what part that was and delete it), and had him call them, get the correct directions and then tell our taxi driver. Well we figured it all out and made it over to the Tan San Nhat building. There we met the zone leaders Elder Bao and Elder Van and the Tan San Nhat elders, Elder Cuang and Elder Quang. I'd never really met Elder Van or Quang at length, since they're native Vietnamese elders; but Elder Bao and Elder Cuang are from America and they're both hilarious. It was way fun seeing them in Vietnam. So I went with Elder Cuang and Quang and Eppley went with Bao and Van. First stop for us was... McDonalds! Elder Cuang/Quang hadn't eaten yet and so they gave me a couple options for food. One of them was Micky D's, and since Cambodia, North Korea, and the Somali coast are basically the only places on earth that don't have McDonald’s, I had to choose there (I ended up eating there three times in 2 days, haha). Then we went and volunteered at a member's English class and had one of the best branch member meetings I've ever been a part of as well. Both the elders and the sisters are total fireballs in Tan Son Nhat. They're doing great work there.
Saturday we had a meet the president meeting with the 5 companionships of missionaries in Ho Chi Minh, plus the two senior couples, plus this tiny little senior sister who is an absolute saint. Apparently she goes out into the rice fields and highlands where the church isn't established at all, for weeks and she just goes and finds lost-members who she doesn't know at all, but wants to invite back to church. She does all that at her own expense. You can find the most amazing saints anywhere. Afterwards Elder Eppley and I went with the two other companionships of Elders in Ho Chi Minh. They're both in the Thao Dien branch. I went with Elder Sok and Elder Le. I'm pretty sure that was my fourth exchange with Elder Sok in total (we were in the same district in Stung Mean Chey). We biked all the way over to their house, which is 45 minutes away from the church. Their areas are hugeeeee there. Ho Chi Minh is a city with like 12 million people I think. It is enormous. We would cross these hugeeee bridges that span all these rivers that crisscross Ho Chi Minh. It would take about a few minutes to bike all the way to top of these bridges and then you can just coast allll the way down. It’s pretty fun! It was even more fun because for most of the day it was raining pretty good so we were soaked for hours. It was a nice reminder of Cambodia:) Elder Le and Elder Sok's house is on the 19th floor of a high-rise. I was not expecting that! We pulled up to the building and I was like what’s this? I didn't realize it was their house. Vietnam is so different...
An interesting part of Elder Eppley and my exchanges here is that we aren't allowed to participate at all. We can only sit and observe. We aren't allowed to share about the gospel at all while here. So when I was out with Elder Sok and Elder Le, for the two lessons we had I would just sit there between Elder Le and Sok and when Elder Sok was speaking Elder Le would translate into English for me (he's from Texas) and when Elder Le was speaking, Elder Sok would translate into Cambodian for me. The whole purpose of Elder Eppley and me coming on this trip is to really understand how they do missionary work over here under the restrictions that they have. In case y’all don't remember, missionaries here aren't technically called missionaries. They have to operate under the title "branch-builders". They aren't allowed to openly proselyte to people. They have to wait for people to directly ask them a question about the church before they can provide them information. Even then they can't share gospel principles or testify to them in the street. They have to wait till they're inside the church or a home to do that. They can only invite them to go to English class or to attend church. They aren't allowed to wear nametags or even take in large amounts of church materials. If they catch you bringing in large quantities of church materials they take and burn it (which is what happened to Elder Cuang one time when he tried to bring take in 30 Book of Mormons in his suitcase).
It’s been interesting seeing the way that they have to contact. For instance, when I was waiting for the elevator with the elders to go up to their apartment, a woman walked in and waited as well. They had a conversation in Vietnamese, which I couldn't understand at all, but towards the end I did at least catch the Viet name for Jesus Christ and I asked him afterwards how that had been able to happen. He said that first off he asked her how she was doing. She said she was good and asked about him and what he was doing here. He told her he works here. She asked where he worked and he told her he worked over in District 1. She asked what he did and he told her he did charity work. She asked what the charity did, and he told her that it was a church. She asked what kind and he said Christian. She asked what’s the name of the church and he could finally tell her. Then he invited her to English class and then we went our separate. I was amazed. I was like " Do you really have to be that roundabout?" Apparently you do. You've got to totally put the ball into their court. It’s a big no-no to initiate anything religious of your own account. It made me really grateful for the religious freedom which Cambodia enjoys. One of my favorite ways to contact people is just to go up to people and say " Hi I'm a representative of Jesus Christ. Have you ever learned about Him before?" It’s simple, direct, and powerful. But you can't do any of that here.
Sunday we went to church in Tan San Nhat and then hopped on an airplane to Hanoi. We had our 7th and final meet the president meeting here this morning. Hanoi only has one companionship of elders and one companionship of sisters, and then 2 senior couples. As careful as you have to be in Ho Chi Minh, you have to be even more careful up here in Hanoi. For one, this is the seat of the government. It’s also super isolated from the rest of the mission, so no ones around to help you if trouble occurs. (Fun fact: also gets really cold up here in the winter. Like 40 degrees. Weird to think that it is in the same mission).
It’s been amazing being here with President Christensen as he's done these meetings in Vietnam. I don't think I've ever told you about his personal connection to Vietnam. In the early 70's, President Christensen was a missionary in the Hong Kong China mission speaking Cantonese. Eighteen months into his mission he was called into his mission president’s office, where he was told that he and 3 other elders would be sent into Vietnam to open up the country to missionary work. Crazy! Especially because that country was still the hotspot of the world! It was in the middle of the war. It would be like if I got called into the mission presidents office at my 18 month mark to go and open up missionary work in Afghanistan. It was so big that the First Presidency actually had to call his parents to ask for permission before they could extend the call. So he and those 3 others flew into Saigon and were left there on their own. None of them spoke any Vietnamese, and absolutely no church materials had been translated at all either. All there was was a small branch made of people who had been introduced to the church by American servicemen. President Christensen has such a strong testimony of the gift of tongues. They would study Vietnamese all morning every day with a woman who also spoke Cantonese. He said that within 3 months he felt just as comfortable with Vietnamese as he did with Cantonese after speaking that for 18 months! He says that within a month of going home, all of his Vietnamese completely left him. He couldn't even count to ten. The Lord certainly worked miracles through him and those three others, and He knew that they would need to learn the language fast. Two of the people he taught in the 6 months he was in Vietnam are the mothers of 2 missionaries who are here right now in our mission, Elder Bao and Elder Cuang, both of whom I've already mentioned! How cool is that?!
The mission in Vietnam at that time was only open for about 2.5 years. Then it was closed and the majority of the members actually had to be evacuated out because of their close association with Americans (that’s how Elder Cuang and Bao's mothers got to America). The Lord truly knew that He had a short window in which to lay the foundation of future work in Vietnam, and He took full advantage of it. It’s amazing seeing how this truly is the Lord's work. He has a great plan, which we don't always understand, but as time passes we truly can see the masterpiece the Lord works. A few of those early members in Vietnam were able to stay independently active in the gospel all the way until the Church could be reopened here just a few years ago. They are now pillars in the branches here. The Lord also must have truly known that the Vietnamese government would only allow Vietnamese-ethnicity missionaries to serve here in the future, so He raised up families in Vietnam who would move to America, grow strong in the church there, and bring forth missionaries which could then be sent back here to teach the Vietnamese people. What a marvelous work and a wonder!
I love y’all! We'll be flying back tomorrow! I'll send pictures when I get back to Phnom Penh. I'll tell y’all more about Vietnam next time I email too! I love y’all so much and I love this gospel!
Love Elder Burger
Love Elder Burger