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

Monday, February 26, 2018

Farewell, Vietnam

It’s February 2018.  The end of our mission has come. Everyone has been so generous in their kindnesses to us, with Tet meals in their homes and surprise farewell parties to beautiful remembrances and lots and lots of hugs.

Traditional Tet dinner at the home of one of our investigators.

Surprise farewell party guests

Beautiful Memory Book

Us with Mission President Lewis Hassell and his wife Sister Mary Hassell

Today was our last Sunday here. They asked us to speak in church about miracles.  We have seen many miracles in the lives of the people, powerful miracles that bring the power of the Atonement into sharp focus - miracles that testify Heavenly Father is always mindful of His children and is in the details of the details of our lives.

A few of our miracles
We sang God Be with You Till We Meet Again, Vietnamese and English lyrics ascending together in a harmonious symphony of unity and praise. There was lingering affection and that “one last hug”. Tears flowed, hearts ached.

Farewell photo with branch builders from our district

With soul-rending affection, we bid our dear friends farewell. Then we turned and walked away. 

All endings are simply new beginnings in another time and place. 

It’s a bittersweet experience.

We wouldn't trade our mission experiences for anything in the world.

"Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth;... glad tidings of great joy. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that bring glad tidings of good things, and that say unto Zion: Behold, thy God reigneth!" (verses from D&C 128)

Combined East and West Saigon Zones with 26 young branch builders and 10 seniors
(2 not in photo), plus our mission president and his wife, February 15, 2018

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Celebrations of Tết, Then and Now

Happy Tết!

It’s Tết here in Hồ Chí Minh City.  Tết is the Lunar New Year, often known as Chinese New Year in other countries.  The city is bustling with activity as people clean their homes from top to bottom, buy new clothes, pay off old debts, give gifts to employees and friends, and prepare for the holiday itself with flowers, specialty foods, veneration of ancestors, and visits to their hometowns. Tết officially begins on the 16th, but many people leave early to head to their hometowns in the countryside. In another week, the streets will be nearly deserted.


It was fifty years ago this Tết.  The plane carrying my mother, brother and me began its slow, calm descent to the Saigon International Airport.  We were joining my dad who was living here working for a civil engineering firm.   I was nine years old.

I still remember the unexpected lurch of the plane and the steep surge as the plane rapidly changed direction and climbed upward.  We were shocked and stunned, frightened and confused.  Then the news – the Saigon airport was under attack, and we were headed elsewhere for safety.  The Tết Offensive of 1968 had begun.

Hong Kong graciously housed us and many other stranded travelers until it was deemed safe enough to travel to Saigon.  Ten days later we finally made it safely on the ground at the small terminal in Saigon.  As Customs officials meticulously scoured through our belongings, I explored the area around my seat.  Damaged walls were visible from the earlier attack, and I found an empty bullet shell on the ground.  But my dad had been safe during the attack on the city, and now we were there to join him. In a strange war-torn country,  and in an odd kind of way, we were “home”. 


  Scenes from our Tết of 1968

Barbed wire across the streets

Presidential Palace
From the roof top of our house, watching
 attack scenes like this were not uncommon


Fifty Years Later - Celebrations of Tết Today

"̀50 year anniversary of the general offensive and rebellion 1968"
Today, however, Tết is definitely the happiest time of the year. It is kind of a combination of Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years all wrapped together. The festive spirit couldn't be brighter. 

The beautiful wide Nguyễn Huệ Street, or Walking Street as it is known to foreigners, transforms into a garden paradise at Tết

The pink water lily, or lotus blossom, symbolizes resurrection, purity, and enlightenment.  Growing out of muddy ponds, the flower emerges perfect and beautiful. It closes at night and opens each morning with the sun.  Truly a remarkable symbol.

Everyone's doing selfies! Buying new clothes for Tết is a popular tradition.

More selfies!

Tết gift bags lined up for sale at a local shop
Celebrations continue on into the night with song, dance and  festive foods.

 Tết lights outside the Catholic Archbishop's Palace

One of our branch members decorating the church building for Tết

Tết dinner celebration


But for us, Tết just means continuing our service in trying to bless people's lives. Our last two weeks of mission time have arrived, and between Tết celebrations and mission assignments, we are fairly swamped.  There are more branch builders arriving soon, and Elder Coffey and I have the blessing of finding, renting, and outfitting 4 new apartments (2 as replacements for already existing branch builders and 2 for new branch builders), moving them to their new apartments and cleaning and closing out the old apartments - with help of course!

When we first arrived here, there were 3 branch builder apartments.  Now there are 11. There were 8 branch builders.  Now there are 26, with more on the way.  We think these are by far some of the top missionaries in the world. They are incredibly faithful, funny and fearless, like the stripling warriors of old. We just love working with them!

Moving into a new apartment, cleaning out the old.

The apartment is now all clean!! Branch builders and senior couples pitched in together.

So Happy Tết from all of us here! Some may wonder if miracles still happen in today's world. We know that the greatest miracle is the one that occurs in a person's heart when they discover the pearl of great price.  Well, here in Vietnam, miracles happen all the time.

The work moves forward like a stone cut out of the mountain.  Truly, hurrah for Israel!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Comes, Even in Vietnam

Tin-foil wrapped creches adorn private businesses on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. Tunes of spiritual Christmas hymns float through shopping centers. People occasionally even wish one another "Merry Christmas."

Traditions that are sometimes controversial in other parts of the world are readily available here in Vietnam, if you know where to look for them. 

Christmas celebrations are gaining popularity here, with each year seeing an increase in parties, celebrations, singing and programs. And shopping, of course. Children adorn little santa suits or santa dresses for those special school or church Christmas occasions. 

Still, many of the young people who came for our Christmas Eve program at our home had never been to a Christmas celebration before. It was a unique opportunity for us to share the reason we celebrate - that a babe born in Bethlehem many years ago is the King of creation and the Savior of souls.

Sharing the Christmas story

It is our joy to serve our Lord Jesus Christ by sharing Christmas traditions, song, stories, culture and love with these wonderful friends. Truly the Light of the World is filling hearts with values of faith, hope, trust and peace. And while our own hearts are miles away with our children, our hearts are filled to overflowing by the priceless gift of the greatest Gift, and the privilege that is ours to be in His service on this special day. What we end up accomplishing while on our mission may be very small - but who we are becoming inside is no small thing. 

Still, Christmas in Vietnam is not quite like anything we've experienced elsewhere. It's own unique traits make it a memorable experience indeed!

Christmas comes, even in Vietnam.

Sing to the tune of "My Favorite Things"

Tin foil wrapped crèches
And spray painted branches,      
Street vendor noodles
And sidewalks in patches
Bustling motos that drive with no fear
This is how Christmas is spent here this year!

Smiling new converts
In baptismal clothing,
Branch builders teaching
With faces now glowing.
Sharing the message of Christ far and near
This is how Christmas will last all the year!

When the dogs bark
When the bus honks
When sweat feels like glue,
You simply remember the Reason you're here -
And then you won't ever feel blue!

Elder Coffey showing temperatures from around the world to a street vendor friend.
Visiting with the people is what makes being here at Christmas so wonderful.

Feeding Christmas dinner to grateful branch builders on Christmas Day

Yule logs - Vietnamese style

Our guests Light up the World with what
 gift they will give in the coming year, carefully written
on little stars.

Blessings for Christmas 2017

It is a miracle to be born in these "latter days" when the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Today, God, our loving Heavenly Father, through His Son, Jesus Christ, continues to reveal truth to those who truly seek the Savior of the world. Sister Coffey and I are so blessed to be able to share this profound message with open hearts and minds. We owe everything to Them.

It is a miracle that we have been called to serve Him who's birth we celebrate on this special day. We love Him and are eternally grateful to Him for his matchless love for us.

Merry Christmas to all.

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.