"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

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Tân Sơn Nhất Branch of Ho Chi Minh City

Little feet straggled in, filling up seats in the front of the chapel. Teachers held fingers to their lips as the children settled in.  All 6 of them, then one more, then another.  Eventually 10 children were in their seats.

Fidgeting hands and swinging feet kept little minds busy as they waited.

Finally, it was time to begin. 

The song “I Will Follow God’s Plan for Me” opened up the Tân Sơn Nhất Branch 2016 Primary Program. Later, the first two verses of another hymn were sung by the little group, followed by the congregation standing to their feet and joining in for the last two verses.  Choked with emotion, I could no longer sing.  There I stood listening to the future church leaders of Vietnam sing praises to their Savior and of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In Vietnam!  The embodiment of all the dreams to build the future with eternal families stood before me singing lustrously, in Vietnam!

Primary Children of the Tân Sơn Nhất Branch
Primary programs and children singing usually elicit tears from my eyes, but here the emotion was different.  This was Vietnam! I can still hardly wrap my head around these images.  As I walked the streets in a war torn country decades ago, I could never have dreamed to be here listening to the songs of Zion by the 2nd, and sometimes 3rd generation of faithful Saints.  We are truly grateful for all the miraculous events that have brought this reality into existence, grateful for the current peace.

Later, the branch of Saints joined together for a pot luck dinner – hungry hands reached in to serve up platefuls of food - and before we knew it – the food was gone!

Enjoying fellowship, friendships, and good food following the potluck.

Elder Coffey and I have spent some time getting to know branch members and leaders to find out how we can be of service.  We met in branch council last week - the branch council concept here is alive and well!  They do an amazing job!

Our branch president (second from left) and his counselors (first counselor not shown) exemplify the outstanding leaders the Church has in Vietnam. They are men of faith, men of action, and men of God. It is such a privilege to work with them.

And work with them we do!  Among the assignments we have been asked to do, we are assisting and advising the Young Single Adult group and the Returned Missionaries group, working with the branch presidency on self reliance and welfare needs, providing leadership training for the branch presidency and branch councils, doing apartment inspections for the young missionaries, attending district meetings and English preparation meetings and providing in-service training to the young missionaries, teaching a monthly self reliance workshop for members and for the public, bringing food to the potluck (!!!), teaching a weekly English class, finding people to bring to church or English class, and fellow-shipping and sharing the Gospel message!  And much more. And we love it! There are many ways to be engaged in the service of the Master. Serving a full-time mission is just one of them. But what a blessing it is!

Young Single Adult (YSA) Activity Night

YSA Family Home Evening - Game Night!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Wave Gently and Walk Swiftly...

The first thing you notice in Ho Chi Minh City is the traffic. It's an amazing swift-moving river of torrents and obstacles. Crossing the street as a pedestrian becomes some kind of delicate art form.  It reminds me of when Joshua's priests put their feet in the water of the Jordan River.  When the feet touched the river, the waters parted.  To cross the road in Ho Chi Minh City, you kind of edge out into the traffic and then slowly keep moving forward.  For extra help, you can wave your arm toward oncoming traffic to alert them that a pedestrian is making his way through the river.  The massive flow of bicycles, scooters and motorcycles sort of glides around you, but you do have to keep an eye out for anything larger than you as cars and buses have the right of way.

Once you are in the river, you don't want to stop.  Just keep edging forward so the traffic will be able to predict your direction and move around you.  If you stop, you're likely to get hit. Wave gently, walk swiftly and arrive alive!

It's particularly intimidating at night!

And in case you don't wan't your arms and hands to get tan from the sun, or don't want to get specks in your eyes, or dust in your nose or mouth - they sell a wide array of trendy coverings to keep you clean, dust-free and ....very very hot! It's like 90 degrees out there with 70% or higher humidity!

Rain never stops anyone here.  Just pull out those ponchos and keep going.

Then there are the little shops... 

There are fancy high rises here for modern offices, but not very many compared to the local shops just around the corner. Colorful fruit shops are very common. 

The open markets sell everything you need, and some things you might not want!

Large frogs?  What for?

For this, of course!  Frog Porridge! It's famous!  We are told it is spicy and yummy. Not sure we'll be sampling that one!

The bicycle and motorbike repair shop is a common site - just pull in, wait a few minutes for the job to get done, and your vehicle is ready to roll.

And if you just need some air in those tires - these compressors are on nearly every street corner with the "shop" owner sitting nearby waiting for your business.

The tailor is also just around the corner - every corner! This tailor is right outside our apartment complex. Another one set up shop just a few yards away.  There is no excuse for having a loose hem!

For garbage disposal, these little mom-and-pop shops just put their little (or not-so-little) sacks of trash beside the nearest tree by the sidewalk. As the day progresses, the sidewalk then becomes full of little trash bags as well as anything else that needs to be thrown away.  Street cleaners come by later in the day to pick up the trash and haul it off.

Because almost no one owns a vehicle large enough to transport items, the delivery business is available any time, day or night, rain or shine.  You need it - they'll deliver.

And in case you just get missing Western food, that, too, is just around the corner. I did find a place with an ice cream drink that looked like a Dairy Queen Blizzard- called a "Tornado"!!! You can also enjoy McDonalds and KFC, but none may taste quite like what you are used to.  But not to worry, Vietnamese food is delicious and cheap - and with 100 different varieties of noodle soup, you don't have to think very hard about what to have for lunch or dinner - just order more noodle soup!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Living the Life in Ho Chi Minh City - Now...and Then


We live in a fairly nice apartment, simple, but adequate. The apartment is about a 23 minute walk from the chapel.  It is 12 stories high and we live on the 8th floor.

Our apartment is bright, cheery and comfortable.  Tile and wood floors are the flooring of choice here, with two spacious bedrooms (all things compared to our apartment in Hong Kong, of course), lots of closet space, two (yes – two!!) full bathrooms (his and hers – for sure!), a good sized kitchen which the mission has outfitted with a microwave, counter top oven and other Western “necessities”, dining and living room, and a flat screen TV with loads of US channels on it.  Not that we have had time to watch any!

Of course, there are some idiosyncrasies. There is no dryer, so you hang your clothes wherever you can - on the balcony or indoors. Either way, in the heat, they dry quickly.

And in order to get hot water in the showers, you have to remember to turn the hot water on 5 minutes prior.  But truthfully, there are days when you don’t need any hot water to shower – we are so dripping wet from the walk home that we are grateful for the cool, refreshing water in which to recover.

But at least the bathrooms have hot water if we need it.  The kitchen, on the other hand, does not.  Just one of those things – no hot water for the kitchen. Pretty typical for many homes in HCMC. So, to wash dishes safely, we heat water in the “coffey pot” and a large stock kettle, and add it to the sink.  This takes several trips back and forth – heating water and pouring it in the sink.  But it does the job!  No complaints here.

But perhaps the best part of our apartment is what we can see, and hear, out the balcony. Out the back from our balcony, we can look over the houses and buildings behind us, to see little stacks of old narrow four or five story homes ornamented with tropical plants and singing pet birds, all nestled in among narrow winding alleys. 

It's very quaint.

An old apartment complex also greets us behind our home, with a little courtyard and a round-a-bout with lush trees.

And somewhere down there is “Frank”. Frank is our friend.  We haven’t actually met Frank in person, but he greets us and everyone else each morning, as if on cue, around 4:30 am.  His lustrous voice echoes out through the sleepy little community as if to say, “GOOD MORNING EVERYONE!!!"

We don’t know what Frank looks like, but this is probably pretty close ....

We are told that the mind can learn to tune out certain sounds while sleeping, and focus only on the sounds it chooses to hear.  So far this hasn’t happened.  We hear Frank at 4:30 am. 

And Then...

Yesterday Elder Coffey and I had an assignment on another part of the city, and it just so happened that it was near my old home where I used to live. When I was a little girl, I lived in Saigon with my family from 1968-1972 - exciting years, to be sure.  My father worked for an international engineering construction company, so we were here as "ex-pats". I still remember my address - 26B Chi Lang, but they long ago changed the names of the streets. The new name is Phan Đăng Lưu. 

And there it still was, bringing even more memories flooding back - good memories and happy times. The purple Bougainvillea vine still hangs over from the house next door - just like it did decades ago. Now-a-days small shops and businesses crowd the front of the house but back then the house had nothing between it and the busy and wide Chi Lang Street.  

One of the reasons Vietnam holds dear memories for me, is that it was here that I "found Jesus". A friend took me to a church meeting, and I still to this day remember the sermon.  It was about looking up and finding the light.  And it was here, indeed, that I first "looked up".  

It was also in Vietnam that I was baptized by immersion in an outdoor font at the Interdenominational Church of Saigon.  

And it was also here, as I studied the Bible, that I discovered my baptism was not fully complete.  Peter, in teaching in Judea and Jerusalem, "said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that arafar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." Acts 2:38 - 39.

Paul asked the people of Ephesus whether they had received the Holy Ghost after their baptism. When they answered they didn't know anything about it, he "laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied." Acts 19:6. 

And so it was in Vietnam, in this old house, that I first learned about the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands by one who had authority.  And that knowledge set me on a quest to find - and to receive - that supernal gift. 
In time that quest led me to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where baptism by authority and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost have been restored to the earth.

I have ever since been a grateful recipient of the power of the Holy Ghost in my life and the restoration of the fullness of the Gospel.

Young woman receiving a blessing by the laying on of hands

A Young Single Adult activity
This blessing is why Elder Coffey and I are here in Vietnam - to share this sacred message of the restoration of Christ's Gospel and offer these blessings to whoever will hear. 

For as Peter says, the promise is available for anyone."For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that arafar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." Acts 2:38-39. 

People are out there!

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Smells of Ho Chi Minh City

It was the smell that first hit me.  I remember the first time I returned to Asia, many years ago. Leaving the airport terminal, it was like an unleashed Pandora box flooding my mind with memories of the past. It was definitely the smell. 

Thing is.. It smelled so good! Like homemade bread or freshly baked chocolate chips cookies.  Strangely familiar, yet distantly mystical.

Elder Coffey eating phớ - a specialty dish in Vietnam
And so again, as we walk the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, smells from my childhood come floating in. Smells of kickball games in the school yard of the Phoenix Study Group, and climbing trees in the alley. Smells of slurping down bowls of phở from the street vendor and climbing through rolls of barbed wire in games of spy versus spy. 

Smells of 100  chả giòs made special order by our cook.

It smells like home.

Flickr.com/courtesy of Jessica and Lon Binder - chá giòs - another signature dish.
Memories of motorcycle fumes and fresh coconut stalls, red bean ice milk and open air markets.  Yes - it definitely smells like home.

There we stood, standing on the brink of our future with the floodgates of the past whiffing by us.  We could not have had a better welcome.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Elder Coffey and I in front of one of the LDS church buildings in Ho Chi Minh City. (Tân Sơn Nhất chapel)         

"Lift up your heart and rejoice, for the hour of your mission is come; and your tongue shall be loosed, and you shall declare glad tidings of great joy into this generation. Therefore thrust in your sickle with all your soul... And you shall be laden with sheaves upon your back, for the laborer is worthy of his hire." " D&C 31:3-5

We arrived on Monday, September 5th. Elder and Sister MacDonald, the humanitarian couple here, met us at the airport and helped get us settled in our new apartment. They were so kind.

On Wednesday we enjoyed a full day of training at the church.  Dr. Paul and Dr. McKay from BYUI were here to teach the missionaries how to improve their English teaching methods.  One of our assignments here will be to work with the missionaries on the free English classes that are taught each week.  The six Elders and two Sisters teach Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced English classes once a week at the church. They are great teachers and eager to learn new methods to improve. 

The missionary team currently in Ho Chi Minh City.  More are on their way!

Dr. Paul discusses a teaching principle while
Dr. McKay looks on.
Elder Coffey visiting with Dr. McKay

Elder Rigby, the District Leader, conducts the training meeting.

The Elders study their agenda in preparation for the evening English classes.

The Sisters prepare for Wednesday night's English class using the new methods taught that day.

They did a GREAT job!
It still is amazing to me that we have full-time missionaries in Vietnam, two chapels in Ho Chi Minh City and one in Hanoi, a mission home and office in Hanoi - and that we are actually here!  

My home where I lived in old Saigon from 1968-1972 still stands.  It is not far from our current apartment.  I'll snap a picture of it someday and post it.  

Isn't the Gospel wonderful?  To every land and people it goes - and wherever the banner of truth is unfurled, communities are bettered, homes are strengthened, and lives are blessed. Today the Sisters taught an investigator at the Church.  She says she will return for the branch activity tomorrow.  The work moves forward.  We are so blessed.