On 21st July 2018 at the Lutheran Orphanage in Vietnam I wrote in my diary, “I think every child came forward for blessing and prayer. They look up to us with angelic and expectant eyes. These are the unexpected blessings on the journey. I thought I came to teach Valbi: (Vietnam/Australia Lutheran Bible Institute), but here I am teaching 100 orphans of all ages, and praying for them, and blessing them. And there’s more. They pray for me and bless me. They and some of their carers tell me their painful stories, and we pray for them, and praise God for them. And this happens two nights in a row. They want more and more prayer and blessing. They want to praise God in song more and more. How I would love to see our children in Australia learn from them to pray and praise God, and pray and bless one another! Do I go to Vietnam to teach or to learn? On my last day I write in my diary: “I know God has blessed many people through this trip, maybe no one more than me.”
The purpose of my journey to Vietnam was to teach Valbi, and that happened amazingly. There were two three day Valbi Classes. 30 attended the first 3 days and over 40 the second 3 days, although due to flooding some didn’t make it until the second day. (When it rains in Vietnam it rains like I’ve never experienced it!) I taught mainly on the book of Jonah, but also on some key passages dealing with the Gospel and with mission and growing those who come to faith. Jonah is the most amazing book on mission – God’s mission to Nineveh, and God’s mission to Jonah, his recalcitrant prophet whom he pursues in love through storm and fish, and second chances, and worms and hot sun and hot wind. The sailors are saved, and Nineveh is saved, but what about Jonah? What about us?
On this trip I was joined by a wonderful young Lutheran pastor’s wife from the Philippines. Amabel and her husband are planting a new church in the Philippines, and she gave us great teaching on church planting. I was greatly blessed by her teaching and so were all present. She was also a great companion as we could speak in English about following Jesus every day. It wasn’t a coincidence that Jesus sent out his disciples in mission two by two. In pairs we learn from each other and encourage one another. If possible, no pastor or missionary should work alone. Ministry and mission is about teams. I prayed for one of the pastors who crosses the border from Vietnam into Cambodia to engage in mission. He corrected me: “We are a team. I am part of a team. I am a leader of a team.”
My destination was Ho Chi Min City and my goal was to teach pastors in Valbi classes. I praise God for that. But I also praise God for all that happened on the journey. The people I met with at airports and sat with on planes. Above all the experiences and opportunities God gave me in Vietnam.
1. I get very close to the interpreters. I am so dependent on them, and we talk so much. I learn from them and they learn from me. Altogether I worked with 4 interpreters, and each of them is a very mature and maturing Christian. I have learnt that as I am dependent on them to get my/God’s message across to people, so God is dependent on me/us to get his message across. “How can they hear without a preacher?” Romans 10.
2. I had so many opportunities to pray for people. One day during a class one man looked increasingly sick. I went to him along with the interpreter and found out he thought he was having a heart attack. With others gathered round praying I did something I have never done before. I commanded: “Be healed in the name of Jesus.” Immediately he said he felt better, but to me he still didn’t look well. We prayed some more, and as the afternoon developed he felt better and better. By the next day he looked as fresh and young as a baby. He hugged and kissed me over and over, and wanted heaps of photos taken. That is just one of many amazing opportunities to pray, in the midst of people who believe that God answers prayer.
3. During Valbi the father of a leading pastor died. Pastor Kinh asked me to preach at the funeral of his father, 84 year old Pastor Nguyen Minh Chau. I had met him last year and we had prayed for and blessed one another. So we drove 3 hours for me to join the very Christian funeral of a non Lutheran pastor and preach to his family of 9 living children who were present and 4 of whom are pastors, and their families and Christian friends and neighbours. One of the family of 11 had died in prison for his faith, and another one lives in Germany. This is one of the most amazing opportunities God has given me to share the Gospel on the journey in Vietnam.
4. I was overwhelmed by the appreciation and gratitude of the people for bringing the Gospel to them. They know their Bibles very well but hunger for the Gospel and for a proper distinction between law and Gospel. Even though some have had little schooling they write good notes, and seem to understand the teaching very well. So many men hugged and kissed me, (I don’t ever remember hugging and kissing my seminary lecturers!), and the women present were also very affectionate and affirming, almost embarrassingly so! Lots more people/pastors/house church leaders are crying out for us to give them this good teaching. In my diary I wrote, “I am learning to appreciate my own doctrine more, not as dogma, but as my way of life and ministry.”
5. I asked those present at Valbi to share their stories with me so I can encourage the church in Australia. I said this is part of their ministry to us, for they might have more to teach us, than we have to teach them. I await the translations of the stories of about 20 people who took up the challenge.
6. I did not go to Vietnam alone. I know the Holy Spirit was with me every step, and I felt carried by the prayers of so many people. I and my wife, Joy, had asked to pray. And of course my trip was supported by all who support Asia Focus, and by Pastor August Fricke, God’s faithful servant, who we need to pray for every day.
I praise God that at 73 when I thought life and ministry was drawing to a close God has opened a door for ministry and mission I could never have expected. What a journey!