2016 Vietnam – River Trang Ha

Laying Down the Past

Forget the former things; Do not dwell in the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. – Isaiah 43:18-19

“Forget the former things…” These words resounded in my mind again and again throughout the 10 day mission. Joining a missions team in my own country, being the main translator- the bridge between the Vietnamese locals and a diverse team representing 5 different countries- I had to face some of my deepest hurts and fears from the past.

Five years ago, I came to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior during my second year of college in America. From the moment I stepped foot in the United States, I was in a constant wrestle between different languages, cultures and value systems- trying to find a sense of belonging in a diverse society where you can be friends with everyone and also no one. I always remembered the fear of entering into the big dining hall, not sure where to sit. Would I sit by myself or with one of the many different groups? Would I speak Vietnamese or English? Would I try to listen and mingle? It was difficult because I witnessed people using language as a tool to ostracize others. For example, the Vietnamese group would use Vietnamese to discuss things so foreigners couldn’t understand, even turning people into the subject of gossip and ridicule. I was deeply hurt by such experiences. The struggle continued when I came back to Vietnam- wrestling between Vietnamese and English, East and West, even tensions between the Christian values that I now uphold, and the secular environment I grew up in.

It was during this trip that God revealed to me that a part of me had never left that dining hall, that every time I stepped up to translate at the pulpit, I still had to fight through the memories deeply instilled inside. But at one point God brought me back to that memory. I received a vision of the walls in that dining hall dissolving into a glorious light, and a bird flying into the sky, completely FREE. I knew the Lord was speaking to me through this vision and I received a new grace. Afterwards, it was a daily choice of not dwelling on the past but rather moving forward- choosing to love and serve my own people through translating and praying and delivering the words of God. And indeed- seeing hearts opening up, wounds being healed, layers of hard-heartedness being peeled off from people- I was so humbled to be a part of what He is doing in Vietnam. This move of God is so much bigger than myself, and if I had continued to dwell in the past, I would have missed out on the amazing things He is doing in my country.

In addition to restoring me from past hurts, the Lord also brought restoration in how I viewed people within the church. Back in my early Christian walk in America and then Korea, I had seen so many different denominations, and heard stories of division and many church splits. I also saw cults labeling themselves as Christians. This created in me a strong dislike towards labels, and this is why I embraced calling myself a non-denominational Christian. But what I didn’t realize was that this strong disposition had prevented me from accepting the diversity and differences within the Christian community. It was preventing me from truly loving my brothers and sisters for who they are. Instead I was allowing myself to get distracted by their background and how they chose to label themselves.

During this missions trip our team encountered sad stories of church splits and division, in addition to people being hurt and eventually leaving the ministry. The stories were different, yet strikingly similar to what I had witnessed and experienced. My heart broke because after all, I know that the ministry of Jesus is the ministry of reconciliation. I kept wondering how the Father would feel about this. What if people could look beyond their differences to see Jesus as their source of unity and strength? What if people could humble themselves to listen and understand the burdens that other people carry? What if people could open up their hearts to honestly talk through the misunderstandings- to apologize and forgive?

In the midst of all this, the Lord was highlighting the other side of the story, which is, “behold I am doing a new thing.” This was what our team got to witness throughout the trip. In 10 days, we travelled to many regions in Vietnam- from churches in Ho Chi Minh City to the villages of Dong Nai, from the mountains in Quang Nam to the Cambodian border. We were so humbled to minister to churches from different backgrounds: from traditional conservative to young and lively churches, from those that were more cautious to those that were very open to the moves of the Holy Spirit. From churches in the big cities to churches of the tribal border areas- where for many, we were the first foreigners they had ever met. Each church community had its own unique ways of loving and serving Jesus, but one thing I know for sure: God loves them all. As I joined the team to minister to these people, the walls in my heart melted down, and by God’s grace I was able to love and embrace each person out of the overflow of God’s love for them.

One specific memorable moment was at gathering of youth from 10 different churches in the Danang and Quang Nam areas. As these sons and daughters joined together to worship the Father, we saw a glimpse of open heavens. As we prayed together, Holy Spirit poured out His powerful love upon His children. Lots of tears and hardened hearts were broken. Destiny was being called out and prophesized over these young people. This powerful breakthrough came from unity in the hearts and minds of those in The Church, gathering despite denominational barriers to worship the One and Only God.

Four years ago while in Korea, I prayed that my church, New Philadelphia, would send a missions team to Vietnam. If you asked me back then what I wanted to see on that trip, I would have replied with healings, miracles, revival fire, or something along those lines. However if you were to ask me the same question now, four years later, my answer would have changed. Now what I truly desire to see is greater intimacy with the Father and unity in the church. This is in alignment with the desire that God put in the heart of our local contact, Brother Sang. His vision is that one day, all the churches in Vietnam would join together to worship our Lord. That one day, all the boundaries between different denominations would be broken- that one day Vietnam would be a Christian nation, being a sending nation instead of only a receiving nation. All of these dreams seem so big, maybe too big to grasp right now. But I know God is the only one who can make all these happen. Our job is to just be faithful in the small steps. And in order to embrace the new things the Father is doing, and step into the fullness of what He has in store for us, eventually each of us has to lay down our own hurts and fears at the altar. We must fully surrender and truly mean it when we say “Here I am, send me.”