"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, April 30, 2017

Reflections Off the Beach in Da Nang

I had another childhood memory – something I hadn’t remembered in decades.  It just swept over me with warm fuzzies and a happy heart.

It happened last week, while I was watching the rhythm of the East Sea swirl around my feet, the gentle waves making a soft lapping sound.  We were at a senior missionary conference in Da Nang, Vietnam, and the early hour provided time for a visit to the beach.

And there they were – something I hadn’t seen in many years. Coquina shells.

Flickr.com courtesy of Glenn Marsch
The flash back took me to when I was a little girl, maybe 5 years old, maybe 7 – I’m not sure - living with my family in Venice, Florida off the Gulf Coast. My mother loved the beach. We found ourselves there frequently, and while she sat and enjoyed the sounds and breeze, we children would often track down coquinas. The live clam-like animals would be washed up in the surf and then burrow down quickly into the sand, leaving small holes and air bubbles to mark their location.

Quickly we’d dig down with our hands or plastic spades, find the little animal and scoop it up into bucket of sea water.  One by one, our bucket eventually would be full of coquinas. Mom would take them home, clean and rinse them, and make a coquina chowder with the mini version of clams. The memory made me feel close to her again. 

It was a pleasant memory on a pleasant trip to Da Nang, where all the senior missionaries of Vietnam assembled for several days of training, fellowship and much-needed renewal.

The house all of us stayed in.

The training meetings were full of insights, counsel and inspired direction.
When we weren't in training, we had time for several side trips - starting first with the beautiful beach. 

A cultural mix of old and new made the splendor even more wonderful.

Keeping her legs warm as this grandmother soaks in the peace of the ocean

Basket boats, or thung chai
These little boats were being used by the local fishermen, bringing in fresh seafood each morning, such as squid and octopus. The boats, called thung chai, were developed during the French colonial period. A tax was imposed on ownership of a boat, so the Vietnamese crafted these round "baskets", thus avoiding the boat tax. They are still used today throughout Central Vietnam. As are the larger fishing boats. Fishing is still a primary trade today.

And you'd better like seafood - because it is everywhere!

We also visited the Marble Mountains - Ngũ Hành Sơn - a group of hills jutting up from the land.  True to the name, the mountains are made of marble as well as limestone.  

Exploring the caves and sacred Buddhist shrines on the way up the mountain... 

Marble-carved Buddha within one of the caves

Dragon wall - all in marble.

Marble pagoda
The reward of climbing the 156 steep, slippery, uneven marble steps was this beautiful view.

Missionary conferences help us to "see the view" as it were, regarding the work that continues to move forward here in Vietnam. They help us see where we are in perspective of the Lord's work.

As senior missionaries, we don't always see each other very often. Our unique assignments take us to various parts of the country. Some work with Latter-day Saint Charities. Some work with finances and office logistics.  Some teach English and assist in local branches. And of course the mission president and his wife lead us along magnificently.

Hanoi Vietnam Mission senior missionaries, with the mission president and his wife.
All are engaged in the work of the Lord. The fellowship and comradery of the conference reminded us that we are never alone in this work, even when we are physically absent from one another.

So while we might from time to time only see one set of footsteps in the sand, when we reflect upon it, we discover that it is He whose footsteps we are seeing that continually moves this work forward. 

We are grateful to be engaged in this sacred work. Lives are being changed. The message of Jesus Christ here in Vietnam is healing hearts, cleansing souls, and moving mountains. One precious person at a time.

Sunrise reflection on the beach in Da Nang

Monday, April 17, 2017

Bringing Life to a New Building

Twenty empty chairs faced us in our little classroom on the 4th floor. It was the very first day of our Happy Family class in the brand new church building in District 6. And we were waiting to see who would show up.

Ho Chi Minh City is divided into political administrative districts.  The financial hub of the city is in District 1.  Stretching outward from there are numbered districts (1-12) as well as districts with such creative names as Bình Thạnh, Tân Bình, and Bình Tân, not to be confused by open markets with names like Bến Thành and Tân Định! (And when you pronounce them slightly wrong to the taxi driver, you are likely to end up in a completely different part of town than you expected!)

New District 6 Branch Building
With the membership growth of the Ton San Nhut Branch, the mission made plans to create a new branch of the church in a new area. 

District 6 was the fortunate choice. A building was located that would be suitable for the start up branch.

We had the opportunity of helping outfit the new building in preparation for English classes. It was virtually an empty shell, with echoing halls and blank walls.

The new building - empty and waiting

We spruced it up with a visitor’s area, large pictures of the Savior and His life, class room dry erase boards and tables on various levels of the building. But still it sat empty.

On January 22, 2017, the new District 6 Branch was created, the third branch in Ho Chi Minh City. Because the new building was not available to move into quite yet, the branch met on Sundays in the Ton San Nhut building in the afternoons.

The District 6 Branch's first sacrament meeting  - a fledgling group with big hearts and high enthusiasm!

And the chairs of the District 6 building sat empty, waiting in hollow rooms.

But after a couple of months, the building was finally ready. There was mounting excitement for the new budding branch.  On April 4, 2017 the District 6 Branch met in their new building for Sunday services for the first time. See how much they have already grown!

First Sacrament Meeting in the District 6 Building

Scroll forward to our first Happy Family Class just this past weekend. The twenty empty chairs sat waiting. 

Then several people from the community came. Then some more.  Then more! They were coming! 

First Happy Family Class in District 6 Building

Nowadays the building is bustling with activity. It is filled with church meetings, missionaries, English conversation classes, family history consulting, and classes on strengthening home and family. It is becoming a gathering place for the community.

But it’s not the classes, meetings, offices, furnishings, or facilities that makes it a great gathering place.

It is the people. It is always the people.
English Class in District 6 Building

 What is most important almost always 
involves the people around us. 
 -President Thomas S. Monson

We love serving in Ho Chi Minh City!