Well friends, if Cambodia broke our hearts (even if we were encouraged by the joy of some of God's people and those beautiful children), Vietnam drained them. Why do I say "drained our hearts?" Because of the oppressive spirit on the country. Maybe it is the Communism. Or maybe it's because we knew our mission there could get us in trouble. But I'll tell you what...it felt like driving into the Enemy's camp. From the time we crossed the border (in a van) until our flight took off a couple of days later, the Team felt the stronghold. Amazingly, our host said it used to be much worse. Yikes.
Now, let me also say that the stress of the trip made our time together as a team much more valuable. From seeing the poverty in Cambodia to the demonic overcast in Vietnam, our fellowship and fun together as a group was a great source of strength. We laughed and joked each other mercilessly to ease the tension. :) By the time we got to Vietnam, almost everyone had a "trip name."
Me: “Homeboy.” As soon as we crossed into Vietnam, I was like "nobody call me pastor! All protocol is hereby suspended until wheels up out of here!"
Pastor White: “Rite Aid.” His wife packed him so many medications “just in case” he could have opened his own drug store. LOL
Minister Wilson: “Jordi Laforge.” You know, from Star Trek The Next Generation? Levar Burton? LOL. Minister Laforge always had lots of interesting facts and scientific questions…just out of the blue. His blackberry was his tricorder. Not only could he pick out “universal languages” of all the children as they played from place to place, but his renditions of historical facts and the exact chemical makeup of the hydro-dynamic properties of the dilitheum crystals was quite interesting. LOL
Deacon Chuck Bryant: “Neckbone.” Need I say more? LOL
Bro. Randall Anderson: “Detroit.” His wit and constant one-liners in the van kept us all smiling and laughing, and his street sense helped us stay clear of trouble.
Ministry in an Underground Church
Getting back to business….
Our first ministry opportunity came when we visited an underground church. It was situated on the third floor of a beautiful private home in the outer section of the city we were in (don’t think I should name the city). The owners apparently built the house with this room in mind. And it was wonderful. About the size of big family room, there were about 40 or so chairs, worship equipment, and even a pulpit! There was a large cross behind the pulpit, and the name of the church was lit in neon right above it. It was a Baptist church. There were about 30 people there. We opened with hymns (we knew the tune and sang it in our language while they sang in Vietnamese) and prayer. They had hymnbooks too! :) We all gave our greetings after that, and then very nervous at first, I preached the Gospel and tried to encourage them.
But what do you say to people who risk their physical freedom to worship the Lord? My answer was encouragement in Christ to keep going, and to by God’s grace, change the Nation! But I’ll admit, I felt a little like a High School graduate lecturing a room of PHDs.
We had wonderful time and everyone was strengthened.
Ministry to Leaders
The next two events were ministry to church leaders. At the first one, we met in an open-air restaurant in the middle of the city! I was thinking “this must be a mistake.” When we arrived, about 60 leaders were at a big long table sitting down for breakfast. Then we ate. I spoke to a young pastor and his wife who were excited about what God was doing in their church. She told me of how their new converts were so transformed by the Lord, that they their goal was to read the whole Bible in a month! A MONTH! And many do it! Most of us can’t/won’t do it in a year! Lord!
After greetings were given by the team, I got up and spoke to them followed by our host. Through a translator (like at the house church) and with a mic (all loud up in that joint), we ministered on leadership, holiness, and integrity...and didn't back off the Name of Jesus at all! They seemed so enthused, another meetings was called for later in the evening. There was some stirring amongst the locals as we were ministering, and the Team had their eyes on a few people! It was intense.
In the evening, we met at Government licensed Christian school. God is moving! Some churches and schools have been able in recent years to get licensure. May Christ continue to open up this Nation for the spread of His glorious Gospel. I ministered “part 2” on leadership, and our host gave a powerful word on marriage. Again, everyone seemed encouraged! Wow…our God is good…even in the midst of communism.
One last word here. We met a wonderful lady (who I won’t name) there who had been imprisoned for 3 ½ years for her faith in Christ. While in prison, she went through terrible hardships, but her faith didn’t waiver. She continues to worship passionately, serve the church, and preach the Gospel. The team will never forget this warrior for Christ. I wonder how our churches would be different if we had to fight just to attend service.
Leaving for Thailand
We are all glad to leave Vietnam. They hassled us as the airport over carry-on baggage and we had to pay extra for our checked luggage, which we didn't have to do the whole trip. At the gate, the airline people cruised the isles asking questions about what's in our carry-on’s. And they were persistent! It was during one of these incredulous moments where Pastor Komanapalli earned his "trip name:" Obi Wan Kenobi. :) One of the airline ladies was asking tons of questions about his carry on. With the nicest voice and facial expression you could imagine, and with a Jedi-like non-rude wave of his hand, Pastor said, "You go away and come back later." "Yes sir" was the reply, with a smile no less! We burst out laughing! It was as if he said, "These aren't the droids you are looking for. We can go about our business. Move along." LOL
We arrived in Thailand and spend the day there resting and being tourists before the long trip home. This trip changed us all forever. Our prayer as a Team is that CRCC will be changed by it too.
May the Lord teach us more and more about the need to serve the broken and the poor, to defend the widow and the orphan, and to Reach, Teach, and Release Hurting people all over the world through the Power of Jesus Christ. May, by His Grace, we go out and CHANGE the WORLD!