Elder and Sister Coffey

"A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race." Joseph Smith

Friday, December 8, 2017

Holiday Season for Senior Missionaries

The holidays are rolling around again. Our fourth Thanksgiving without children and grandchildren has just passed.  Because we served a two year mission in Hong Kong immediately prior to the one we are currently serving, it has been a long time since we have spent the holidays at home. We are facing our fourth Christmas.

Many senior couples might wonder how they could cope being away from loved ones during these tender moments.  Some may find that to be a key deterrent to serving a mission.  Admittedly, it is tough.  How does one do it gracefully?

First and foremost, we strive continually to stay focused on Jesus Christ and serving Him.  We might not be perfect as this yet, but day by day we remember Him as we pray individually and as a couple – praying for those who we miss at “home”, while praying for those with whom we are working here at this “home”. We work to remember that we are here just for a short time, just for one and a half years or two years, to possibly make an eternal impact on someone in helping them come to Christ.  Indeed, if we can be the means of even one person finding faith in Jesus Christ, the sacrifice will have been worth it. 

What if many come to Christ through our efforts?

Secondly, getting through the holidays is made infinitely easier when we stay focused on the people.  These are not their holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas are full of memories from childhood that spark powerful emotions and warm fuzzies for us – but not for the Vietnamese.  To them the fourth Thursday of November is just another work or school day.  

Turkeys are not a thing here and cranberry sauce is hard to come by. 

It’s actually kind of easy to nearly forget about the holidays here. Largely because of the people. It’s always the people – people who bring us back to reality as we see their sacrifice, their faith -their simple, powerful child-like faith – that teaches us what it means to serve.  Rather than us serving and helping them, we are pretty sure we are the recipients of far greater blessings than we could ever leave with them.  They are teaching us so much about courage, faith and devotion to the Lord.

Though we might not be in the full spirit of the holiday season, nevertheless our hearts to “home” are always tender as we visit by Skype those sweet little family faces and share via email, Facebook, Viber, Skype or Instagram. Senior missionaries have privileges, and we take advantage of them!

So you scrounge up some quazie-holiday dishes and invite some of the young branch builders over to share in your bounteous “feast”  - and the turkey-lacking-football-missing holiday is filled with warmth and love anyways. We are creating memories of a new kind.

Our Thanksgiving guests!

It is nearing time to return home.  Christmas will come and go, the New Year will roll in quickly, and we will soon return to the arms and lives of our dearly-missed children and grandchildren. It will be so healing to be with them again.

But a part of us will always remain here, where our lives have been forever changed by the powerful, faithful saints of Vietnam. 

So how do senior missionaries pass the holidays on their missions? 

With the Lord, and with the people. As it should be.  

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Fun Foods of Ho Chi Minh City

Pho Bo
Bun Bo Hue

One of the great cultural interests of Vietnam is it's unique cuisine. Many people are most familiar with the steaming bowls of beef noodle soup Phở.

There are several variations of Phở, but our favorite is the raw beef version. When your bowl first comes to you, the thin strips of raw beef on top are literally cooked within seconds in the piping hot broth. Cost? $2.90.

But did you know there are literally dozens and dozens of rice noodle soups of various names and with all kinds of ingredients?  Like Bún bò Huế , pictured to the right. Each soup has its own special name and flavor, though to many Westerners they all look like - well - like noodle soup!

The other all time favorite in Vietnam is Chả giò - a fried spring roll that is completely unique from other countries versions of fried rolls.  Traditionally you wrap them in greens and dip them in nước mắm (fish sauce). When I was little and lived here in Saigon, we'd have 100 of them made up and eat them as the main course. These are a family favorite of ours.

Flickr.com courtesy of Katarina

But what else is there to eat here in Vietnam?  It's time to go exploring! That's when the fun begins!

Bánh mì - which really means bread - is the Vietnamese version of Subway. Probably the most popular food item in the country. Cheap, fast, and available everywhere. Motorcyclists stop by the little carts to order their take-away Bánh mìs. They come neatly wrapped in used paper and a rubber band. When the food is gone, the cart owners close up shop and the cart disappears down the street or into a nearby shop. Cost?  About 65 cents.


Bánh xèo, or sizzling cake - made with rice flour, water, tumeric, seafood and vegetables. We ate our first Bánh xèo with one of the other senior couples here in HCMC. This particular restaurant was made "famous" by chef and food author Anthony Bourdain.

 Here is the kitchen where they make this famous dish. 

Sinh Tố - the most delicious discovery here.  Fruit smoothies of exotic flavors - mango, soursop, papaya, strawberry, coconut, or our all time favorite - avocado.  And if you haven't tried an avocado smoothie yet, Google it and try it.  You are in for a real treat! Commercial cost?  About 90 cents.

My homemade avocado smoothie - yum!

Everywhere we go, if they have smoothies, we try them.  Our good friend showed us where there was an especially delicious smoothie vendor - tucked down a little alley where we sat on the popular tiny red plastic stools and sipped away under the canopy of an old fabric awning on a sweltering humid day. Chickens, cats and geckos mingled aimlessly around us - and the enjoyment of the smoothie was only topped by the aesthetics of the surroundings.

Pork kebabs are not exactly Vietnamese, but they come right off the street vendor carts and we love them. Street vendors are an endangered species here, as the government tries to keep the sidewalks clear for pedestrians, and sometimes the carts get forcibly removed.  Somehow, the carts reappear within a few days. Cost?  About $1.25.

Another non-Vietnamese treat here is Bing Su - a delicious blend of finely shaved ice and packed with your choice of fruit or other flavors.  Elder Coffey goes for the mango and I go for the chocolate - both are delicious! Cost? About $2.95.

But back to traditional Vietnamese fair - the cơm gà (rice chicken) is the street food of choice for many - including us.  On Tuesdays when we run out to District 6 to teach English conversation, we usually make our way to the little shop across the street where their cơm gà is the best we have tasted anywhere. 

Our cơm gà dinner - with broken rice, seasoned deep- fried chicken, and a few veggies, costs a whopping $1.20. Each. To the right is our cơm  lady - whipping up a plate for us.
Eating cơm  with the branch builders of District 6.
The banana paper lady.  I don't know the real name for her treat - but it involves smashed paper thin dried bananas dried over coals.  We bought from her a couple of times, and now she cheerfully invites us to continue the habit each time we pass her spot.

We could go on and on about the interesting foods we have discovered here - but let's end this post with two of the most unusual.  The red dragon fruit is a tropical fruit of Southeast Asia - looks similar inside to the kiwi fruit - but lower on the flavor scale.  Still, it's beauty makes it a popular gift or dessert.


And lastly, the frogs.  A cage full of patiently waiting frogs.  Cheap protein.

Uhhh - no - we did not try the famous frog porridge. 
 Though I'm told it's delicious....

As good as these foods are, when we tire of them, we always fall back on our American recipe of homemade zucchini bread!

Sunday, November 5, 2017


When we arrived brand new in Ho Chi Minh City on September 5, 2016 we were so amazed to see the Church functioning so well here – two active branches, eight young “branch builders”, a District (similar to a diocese) with a District presidency.  We stood in awe that here in this part of the world the church was growing and thriving and doing so well.
Our first day in Ho Chi Minh City, with our eight branch builders
and two professors from the United States.

Little could we have imagined the changes that would take place in just one year. Today, there are 25 young branch builders and 8 "seniors", as us older folks are called. 

Branch builders serving in the Ho Chi Minh District - September 2017

There are now two Districts in Vietnam – the Hanoi District and the Ho Chi Minh District.  Ho Chi Minh City and outlying areas now has six branches and several church buildings to accommodate them.

The Ho Chi Minh District was created in a special meeting held on September 17, 2017.  The energy was electric and only surpassed by the power of the Spirit.  The chapel was overflowing for this special occasion. 

September 17, 2017 on the occasion of  the creation of the Ho Chi Minh District
The Tan Son Nhat branch president, President Thinh, was called to serve as the first District President (center).

President Thinh then stood to speak.  “Hallelujah,” he began. “Heavenly Father is the author of this work. I commit myself to help establish Zion wherever He needs me.”

Surely the field is ripe already to harvest.

Courtesy of flickr.com/
World Bank Photo Collection

Our two branches have now grown into 6 little branches, and new leaders are being raised up, trained, and established. Last week in sacrament meeting a 17 year old young man who was just baptized a week earlier was one of the main speakers.  Another speaker was a recent convert of only a few months, now newly called as the Primary president.  Their talks were just as doctrinally sound as if they’d been in the church for many years. 

Outside of the Tan Son Nhat building
The Tan Son Nhat branch meets in a large house.  The ground floor has a large open room which serves as an activity center, dance hall, meeting room, and general gathering place. 

Multipurpose room that serves
 as a chapel on Sundays
But on Sunday’s the plastic chairs are lined up and the room transforms into a sacred chapel, a room worthy of the sacred ordinance of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  Today 66 people attended sacrament meeting. Many are new converts or friends who are investigating the church.  Even with all the recent new branch divisions, the Tan Son Nhat branch is still one of the largest branches in the Ho Chi Minh District. Foreign visitors also often join us – travelers trekking through the country, business executives, families of Vietnamese descent coming back to see the roots of their ancestors, and many others.  

I can’t pinch myself enough – this is so amazing to see this all unfold.  A great foundation is being laid, and it is a great miracle.  The people here are so happy to find answers that bring peace to their lives, stronger families, and good values.  We are blessed to be here and watch this all unfold from the side lines.  There is far more work that can be done than we have people to do it.  Instead of the work moving forward one step at a time, it does so in leaps and bounds.  We truly “stand all amazed!”

We are witnesses of the prophecies made in holy places regarding this land.  The Saints rejoice today, saints on both sides of the veil, as this great work moves forward.  Hallelujah indeed!!!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Dragons, Incense, and Eternal Peace

A recent Senior Missionary Conference held in the central city of Huế  (pronounced like "hway") gave us ample time to observe the many ancient symbols and traditions that grace this land. We discovered that we share much in the symbolic nurturings of Huế.  Particularly, we share a common yearning for peace in this life and immortality in the world to come.

The dragon has long been a highly recognizable icon of Asian culture.  Unlike the dangerous fire-breathing dragons of European lore, Asian dragons have inspirative symbolic meaning and purpose. In spite of their fierce appearance, Vietnamese dragons are greatly loved.
For one thing, in Vietnam the dragon is a symbol of life-giving rain. With rice being the mainstay of the everyday diet, rain is the lifeblood of the people and essential to the endless rice fields throughout the countryside.

Dragons protect mortals from evil spirits and unfortunate mishaps. Here dragons protect water travelers along the Perfume River.

Dragon-laden boats along the Perfume River

Those lucky enough to have a pair of dragons by the gate are protected from evil spirits throughout the generations to come.

In addition to providing protection, the Vietnamese dragon represents the universe, or life, and nobility. The tombs of the Nguyen emperors are heavily guarded by these royal dragons.  It makes one realize - Dragons are our friends! 

Tomb of Khai Dinh - guarded by dragons

Temple of King Tran Nhan Tong - guarded by dragons below:

The Senior Missionary Conference provided amazing training, insights, uplift and strength as we met together over several days under the direction of our mission president.

The senior missionary force in Vietnam

On the side, we had opportunities to visit some of the many historic and cultural sites in this area.

The generally quiet, peaceful city of Huế carries a charm and a nostalgia that attracts visitors from all parts of the world.

Ancient folk lore and animist traditions have left their mark. While many of the ancient beliefs of spirits and dragons and rituals are not practiced very often in the bigger cities, Huế continues to carry many such beliefs and practices.  From throwing shredded blessed paper into the Perfume River to burning incense on trees or doorways, a belief and hope of something more than just this world moves the people forward on a daily basis.

Incense in a beer can
Incense blessing a tree

Incense has long been a symbol of the prayers of the faithful ascending into heaven. So whether it be dragons or incense, or countless other symbols used in ancient Vietnamese beliefs, the yearnings and message are the same. We seek for peace in this life and immortality in the life to come.
Incense near an incense factory in Hue
Courtesy of Flickr.com Travel Aficianado  
Both are amply provided by Jesus Christ and His Atonement.

We all are here in Vietnam to share that 
peace in this life and immortality in the world to come are not mythical ideas of folklore, but realities offered to us - not through dragons - but through our Savior, Jesus Christ. With a continued focus on Jesus Christ, we receive daily protection with the powerful guidance of the Holy Ghost, keeping us from evil and guarding us against sin. 

We are so blessed to serve as senior missionaries in this amazing land!  Join us!  Senior missionaries are always needed, nearly everywhere.  The opportunity to share the message of Jesus Christ is abundant. What a joy it is to share the peace and protection and power that come from Jesus Christ to those who have been searching for these blessings for many generations.  
The Citadel - or the Imperial City - was the political and religious center during the Nguyen Dynasty - from 1802 - 1945.