What Vietnam taught me about God
November 11-13 we hold the http://www.globalfaithforum.org – there are leaders from all over the world, from many religions, from many domains of life from business to government – you name it. There will be many Vietamese here. Ambassador Phuong will be speaking. We are gathering to talk about faith, society, how we work together, what we agree on, what we disagree on, how we can move forward, how we can exchange ideas and talk about our faith without inciting the other, yet being true to our beliefs, convictions, and commands from our respective faith. I’m excited about it. People from all over and all ages and all walks of life are signing up – it may be the most diverse conference I’ve ever been a part of in terms of race, age, work, etc., but the one consistent factor is that everyone is global in mindset or trying to be.
It’s funny how one seed planted can give birth to a whole tree with lots of branches and leaves. I seriously doubt I would view the world as I do, or be as open to others in relationships as I am had it not been for NorthWood’s work in Vietnam.
1. Vietnam doesn’t need American Christianity – it needs it’s own version and the best thing I can do is model a Jesus follower, serve the people, naturally share m faith, but let them “create” their own expression. I was used to the old approach of doing your “religious work” apart from the culture, society, and gatekeepers of those societies. When I look back on it now – it was an “us against them” kind of outreach. It’s amazing how we create ministry in our image and conform it to our cultural bias and then impose that on others. We have learned the new entry points into cultures and societies through “marketplace” and other things – but what amazes me is that we still have an oft “religious colonialism” if not cultural superiority we take with us to the places we go. Sometimes marketplace is nothing less than a new system with an old program.
2. I had much to learn and receive from Vietnam – not just go and give. Some of the things I would have given them, would have been wrong. The Bible uses the word pilgrim – not missionaries. I’m not against missionaries – I love the ones I know and believe in them. I like the word pilgrim better. Pilgrim means someone who gives – and receives. Missionary is going to give. Pilgrim is about a journey, a life, and relationships. When I went to Vietnam initially, I didn’t go as a pilgrim in the least. I had my religious goods and wares and ideas and if everyone would do them as I said, then everything would be fine. I was wrong. Vietnamese people are deeply spiritual – not my faith necessarily – but very spiritual.
3. God creates people, cultures, and societies. A culture is neither good or bad – it’s just the way people are in a given place, where did all that creativity and diversity come from? Why would God create a unique world with unique people and not create unique cultures? We should respect them. A culture isn’t holy because God created a people, just like people aren’t holy because God created them – they have to find the root of truth deep within that culture that leads them to holiness – God, and in doing so a culture is “redeemed” – but that begs the question is any “culture” ever redeemed?
4. I can see the deficiencies in my culture through observing other cultures. No where is the family stronger than in Vietnam. Though they love their kids and are affectionate – I would say Vietnamese parents don’t cuddle, hug, and say “I love you” as much as American parents BUT in terms of families loving each other, being together, helping each other – there is no comparison, the family unit in the Vietnamese culture and context is far stronger than the anglo American context.
5. Vietnam knows how to forgive and move on. When I first went to Vietnam, and Hanoi is where our church works, I expected to be met with resentment. It never happened. You have to study Vietnamese history 2,000 years ago how China ruled them, then the French, then the American war. We were a tiny blip on the radar compared to the first two. This has made them adaptable to many different situations and patient waiting for the right moments.
6. You can follow God when it’s hard. I have been given the privilege to know many followers from Jesus in Vietnam – there was time when it was much more difficult then than it is now to follow Jesus. You have to understand the context, culture and history of Christianity in Vietnam for all of this to make sense – but to follow Jesus was not always an easy thing there – and isn’t always easy even today. But I have also watched as the government has begun to reach out to Christians and build bridges in many different ways. Faith in Vietnam is far more free, and becoming more open than it is in some other parts of the world I am in.
I’m writing a book with one of the top leaders in Vietnam – we are each giving observations of one another’s cultures, challenging each other and trying to build bridges. I have no doubt our nations will be strong allies – but what I’m excited about the most, are the individual friendships that I see taking place. We each understand globalization in different ways – and we can each compliment each other in multiple ways. I’ve come to love Pho – and eat it here now in Keller, Texas where I live. I hope one day to open up a “Texas Chicken Fried Steak” resaurant in Hanoi with cream gravy and crispy french fries and blackberry cobbler smothered in Homemade Vanilla Blue Bell Ice Cream – what is that – some Vietnamese is asking? Well for now, you’ll have to come see me and let me show you! That’s why one night at the http://www.globalfaithforum.org we are serving Blue Bell for everyone!
When our church was being built here in Keller, Texas -the chairs in the worship center said “made in Vietnam” – the bed I sleep in says “made in Vietnam” – my understanding of cultures, and openness to the world was all “made in Vietnam.” And, in many ways even my faith – once taken outside it’s natural western container – wound up being “made in Vietnam” because it’s one thing to give answers to your own tribe that make sense – it’s quite another thing to give answers to others asking questions outside your tribe – sometimes your answers aren’t as good as you think they are!
A friend sent me this article and it is a good read – just passing it on.
Ted Widmer is the Beatrice and Julio Mario Santo Domingo director and librarian of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.
Bob is the founder, senior leader, and chief spokesman for Glocal.net . His primary focus is to connect leaders and estabish relationships to explore transformation. Follow Bob on Twitter at @bobrobertsjr.