12 years ago Rynelle and I were tourists in San Francisco with one more night and $20 left in our pockets before we headed home to South Africa. We decided to go to a Vietnamese restaurant thinking that our last few dollars would go a long way, sure that at least there would be an abundance of rice to fill up on. How wrong we were! That night we left broke, hungry and feeling cheated. Having spent all our money on some tasteless, colorless wafer thin rice paper with shavings of beef and bean sprouts, the waiter looked grumpy that we only drank water so that we could afford his tip!
12 years later our visit to the real Vietnam couldn't have been more different from our faux-Vietnamese experience in San Francisco. From the verdant greens of it's vegetation, to its ever-present throng of delicately loaded 'bikes of burden,' to the unique French - Asian architecture and cuisine - all of it was a sensory overload. A taste, sight and sound sensation amidst cheerful and welcoming people.Not to mention, $20 goes a long, long way here.
My host's final word of advice before we embarked on our first scooter ride in a city with no road rules to speak of and 4 million other scooters was, "remember, nothing normal happens here." For me, that statement carries broader truth than traffic. It is a nation that has crept into our hearts with abnormal swiftness, leaving a surprising affection.
The church we were with has grown rapidly under government suspicion and police scrutiny.Two weeks ago as the pastor got up to preach someone in the congregation took a photo of him and left the building immediately. The local church whose building they use, have twice had their building demolished by the government.But they have persevered, and built a larger church centre where numerous churches now worship.They are thriving in uncertainty, leaning on what cannot be shaken.
The sense of volatile fruitfulness has left us with a desire to invest in this church and nation. We are planning on returning and are asking some big questions about how best we can partner with them in the gospel, in a nation where 20 bucks goes a long way, remembering that nothing normal happens here.