12 Witnesses

Let these stones be a witness to what we have done here this day.

Vietnam 2009: Lessons Learned

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I intend for this to be the last post specifically on the trip from March 2009.  If you haven’t seen all of the posts and pics, you can find them listed on the Vietnam page.

Really good lessons learned that will shape us over the next decade as we continue to engage those who the Lord has set before us.  Some simple.  Some profound.

Book your own travel.  9 hour layovers happen when the travel agent makes sure you run through the airline that gets her the best kick back.

Get in shape.  For so many reasons, being unhealthy runs counter to spread of the Gospel.  People don’t respect obesity around the world.  Obesity hurts your ability to do very strenuous things, like travel the globe and hike up a mountain in North Vietnam to examine a water source and filtration system.  By God’s grace, I had made a shift prior to my attempt at the latter this year, but that stands in stark contrast to my experience last year.

Tighten your focus.  We did many things this year and all of them were good.  there was nothing that was not worthy of our time and attention.  Nevertheless, our goal necessitates building relationships and jumping from one project to another keeps us from giving the time that is necessary for us to do that.  As a result, good things will have to go so that the best things flourish.

The church is the missionary.  I am the church.  The denominationalism that spread throughout America has created a sense of laziness among our church members.  One of the many reasons that churches across America are dying is that they are not engaged beyond sending a dose of money for someone else to do the hard work.  Supporting people remaining on the ground is a good thing.  Going there yourself is also good, and a much more healthy thing for the individual and the collective.  Both are necessary.

Vietnam 2009: Lao Chai School

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I have several posts written and will be stting them to drop over the next couple of days as we travel home.  Thanks for your constant prayers.

Lao Chai School

On Tuesday morning, our team went to Lao Chai School to install another computer lab.  This lab was paid for by a team from Northwood (I think) that was to come and install it last November, but the weather prevented them from making it.  I was confused as to how the weather could be that bad, but then I found that we had to hike with the equipment over rocky terrain with a creek running across it for about half a mile.  That was hard with good weather and, apparently, it had snowed there in November.

Lao Chai – not to be confused with Lao Cai province or city – is a tourist destination.  People hike there from SaPa through the mountains and the people that live there are the Mong.  Different than the Hmong, but pronounced similarly to the American ear.

The tourism is a double edged sword.  On the one hand it provides some boost to the local economy, which is very necessary.  On the other hand, it objectifies everyone in each other’s eyes.

To the tourists, the Mong people exist as an object of curiosity and entertainment.  They take pictures of them living their lives and to the tourist, the Mong exist for their personal fascination.

To the Mong, outsiders exist only to buy their handicrafts and to support them financially, so all outsiders exist only to support them.

The obvious problem is that all of this creates barriers to relationship and real conversation.  The children in the school are used to outsiders coming through and taking their pictures while they take class and then leaving.  As a result, they are very shy when people show up from outside and want to begin building a real relationship and help them only to help them.

People who want to bless them and ask nothing in return are completely new.  They really don’t know what to do with us.

The school there is an elementary school and they oversee the four other schools in the region.  I suppose that they are so far back in the mountains, we never saw them.

My wife, the teaching expert from America (visiting professor at the University of Hanoi – more on that later) said that she found tremendous teaching skills in the classrooms here – far better than San Sa Ho.  She said that there was one teacher teaching complex math to second graders using differentiation that was particularly impressive.  Bonnie said she would have hired her to teach in America immediately.

I suppose the undercurrent of that statement is that this teacher she found on the backside of a mountain in Vietnam in the shadow of the China border was better than some (many?) of the highly paid (in comparison to Vietnamese standards), highly educated teachers in one of Oklahoma’s premier school districts.

Here are my pics (all of them).  You can see more of them at flickr or my photoblog.

Click on a thumbnail for a bigger picture.

Vietnam 2009: At the Forefront

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Forefront TeamForefront Church out of Virginia has paved the way for many churches as they engage communities in the mountains around SaPa.  They are the ones who originally engaged Ta Phin and the school there to create a clean water source, computer lab and now they are paving the school yard there.

We worked with them on Monday afternoon, but, of course, I forgot my camera.  We helped move dirt and rocks, dug ditches and were generally amazed.  We are still learning from them how to engage these communities.  Here are some of their ideas that have stuck:

Everyone that comes over from their team buys the exact same t-shirt with their logo on it and wears it over their work clothes every day.  This way the people come to recognize them and who they are, even if it is their first time to Vietnam.

They employ local people to help build the projects they are working on.  This stimulates the local economy and improves quality of life and gives the members of the community ownership in the success and preservation of the project.

They work alongside the locals to build whatever project they are working on.  This amazes the people because the impression they have been left with previously is that the foriegners come in, drop money on them, take pictures and leave never to return.  Obviously, they get the impression that certain people really care about them and certain people don’t.

They’ve adopted one particular community and focused on it to the point where they desire to exhaustively serve that people group.  This has built a steady relationship and thrown open doors around the area with communities that are desirous of a similar relationship with us and other GVI partner churches.

They’ve not paid for everything, but found local partners to participate and join their water project, which has created a sense of ownership and protection of the water line, in particular.  The community even has a person who’s job it is to maintain and secure the water line leading to the community.

Vietnam 2009: Gone, Baby, Gone

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Leaving today for Vietnam.  We do have some retired church members who are also neighbors who will keep an eye on our house, for all those who are worried that I am announcing our absence to the world.

We fly to DFW, LA, TaiPei and Hanoi.  Aftter a shower, change of clothes, meal and a stretch of the legs, we board a sleeper car train to SaPa.  When we get off the train, we start the work at San Sa Ho school.  It takes about 36 hours to get to Hanoi and we’ll be in Sapa about 18 hours after that.

Last year I blogged regularly our trip, but the internet connectivity has changed.  As I am able to update, upload pictures, etc. I will.  Keep checking back.

You can surf through a list of articles on the Vietnam page.

Vietnam 2009

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Friday, March 13, Skelly will send a team of 10 Servant Messengers to Vietnam.  I’ll be sharing some of what we intend to do while serving the people of Vietnam.  If you would like to read about our trip to Vietnam from last year go to the Vietnam page to find the links.

Also, you can look at pictures in my Photoblog of Vietnam March 2008 or Flickr set of the same pics.

Phriday foto 04-11-08

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Since I gave you a Phriday foto a day early and it wasn’t even really my pic, I’ll give you one that is.

This is a Hmong Girl tending the fire at a restaurant in Sapa, Lao Cai, Vietnam. I took it on our last night in Sapa when we dined with another church who was there working with the Red Dao People at Ta Phin.

Hmong girl at the fireplace

You can find more of my pictures at my photoblog.

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