Jennifer Erickson recently explored Vietnam with Niteo Tours. Here’s a story of the service day that was incorporated into this customized tour.
The taxi van climbed the one-lane road into the clouds. Peering out the window over the edge of the mountainous terrain, I had a mixed collection of emotions as our small group ascended to the Hmong village.
I was curious about the day’s planned events and had a sense of anticipation and eagerness. Our task was simple, yet grand–provide a craft, songs, and games for children, as well as a nutritious lunch to replace their typical diet of rice for a day.
I had traveled to Vietnam to learn and experience a culture far from my own Midwestern context, as well as to see God’s vision and heart for the world. Today would stretch me as we were serving these little ones with material provision, but were not allowed to provide spiritual sustenance. Prayer was the gift offered for them and left behind in hope for future gospel sojourners.
Situated on the edge of a hill, the school was 2 buildings with 5 classrooms and a playground area with modest climbing structures. The teachers were busy chopping the groceries we brought (chickens, onions, greens) for a stew that would be served over noodles.
Village dogs lingered at the fences, hopeful for a dumping of broth to lick or a chicken foot to gnaw. Students in the classrooms focused on student-led lessons while the teachers labored to prepare the meal.
“Good morning, teacher. Very pleased to meet you. Thank you for coming,” the classroom voices rang out.
That was the extent of the English they knew, and we did not speak any Hmong or Vietnamese.
Since our translator was working with the teachers to prepare the meal, we relied on smiles, example and demonstration to share our time. Armed with square beads covered in letters, we worked to provide each child with his/her name in beads, and helped them create paper beads as well, to assemble a name necklace.
Each child wrote his/her name on a paper for us, with beautiful penmanship and pride. I noticed that none of the “name” papers were left behind, but carefully tucked into pockets as a treasure.
Making the paper beads was true teamwork as the children rolled the paper and we applied glue to complete the bead. Stringing them on the cord finished the project and they happily pulled the necklaces over their heads to wear. Each child seemed genuinely proud to have their name spelled out in beads–perhaps their first-ever personalized possession.
We played relay games in the courtyard and sang English-language kid/dance songs for fun (Baby Shark, anyone?) but as soon as the teachers called for lunch, they ran to queue the lunch line. Buckets of noodles and stew replaced our craft projects and the school fell silent as they ate until the food was gone.
Connecting with the poorest of the poor in a mountain village high and isolated from the modern world is now part of my story. The descent from the school on the narrow, winding road was uneventful, thankfully. The clouds quickly obscured the view. Gone, but certainly not forgotten. Precious children, perhaps blessed by strangers today, and hopefully sleeping soundly with full tummies.
Traveling is a way to learn more of God’s story and to expand my story. I’m thankful I have a chapter written in Vietnam!