Every morning God seems to tantalize our senses with yet another spectacular display of his creativity. The mountains of Sapa and what happened there were no different.

 

We took an overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, which lies on the China border,

 

Sapa train

 

Sapa train

In our cabin on the overnight train.

 

Then we drove from there through the picturesque Tram Tom Pass to Sapa. Up and down the mountains are staircases of rice terraces. Palettes of gold, green, and browns hinted at the rice harvest that was soon to come.

 

 

Sapa mountains

 

Sapa used to be mountain retreat for the French who wanted to escape the heat of Hanoi. Now most visitors come to experience a maze of hiking trails and explore mountain village life. An additional goal for our team this trip, though, was to explore possibilities for an optional service project we might offer Niteo Tours guests.

 

We set off early in the morning for a remote mountaintop village where our guide has developed a relationship with the villagers. We rented motorcycles and off we went, through cobblestone streets, down and around the mountain path, through ruts, past water buffalos, and a few quarreling pigs.

 

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Water buffalo crossing

 

We reached a rusty bridge, buckled and worn by heavy monsoon rains, parked the motorcycles, and then began walking up the mountain until we spotted a cluster of homes and a small wooden schoolhouse.

 

The chief of the village welcomed us into his home where we sat on low wooden benches and drank tea.

 

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Next we headed to the schoolhouse and led the kids in games, music, and a story. Watching a group of H’mong children do the Hokey Pokey was a hoot! I told them a story from C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, hoping to contribute to the groundwork for the day when God is shared with them more explicitly.

 

Carol and our guide, singing with the kids

Carol and our guide, singing with the kids

 

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Friends

 

The best part of the morning though was giving the school kids the gift of a few school supplies and a hearty lunch. Families here are very poor. A typical lunch is rice with a sprinkling of ginger or salt and a single chili pepper. Watching the kids slurp up a special lunch of noodles and meat was priceless.

 

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How about those noodles

 

I think we could have gone home right then and been perfectly happy. It’s a blessed thing to be able to give. But the gift giving wasn’t done. We turned the corner of the primary school and found that a table had been set for us. The chief, the school teachers, and other adults in the village invited us to share a lunch with them. And so we sat…

four Americans far from home,

communicating mostly through smile and gestures,

enjoying the hospitality of a H’mong community in the hills of Vietnam,

because of a Vietnamese guide who loves these people and has reached out to them.

That was a mountaintop experience.

 

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