Andrew Ong is a teaching elder at Midtown Baptist Temple and also director of Friends of Internationals, an outreach group that works with international students from all over the world who come to Kansas City. Andrew led our trip to Cambodia and Vietnam and was greatly touched by his experience. Andrew shares a recap of the teams trip in the post below.
On June 2, 2017, we had 12 saints from MBT descend onto Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam followed by another week in the capital of Cambodia. The trip was full of firsts: for many it was their first time stepping foot in Asia, for some it was their first missions trip, many locals heard the gospel for the first time, and to our delight one of our team members was able to sing praise songs in her native language for the first time! Our team was also very international: we had members who are Chinese, Mexican, Vietnamese, Hong Kong, Malaysian and one who is half Korean. Most importantly, there were a handful of locals who accepted Christ as their Lord and Saviour!
Vision going full circle
One of the visions of Friends of Internationals (an international student ministry of Living Faith Fellowship) is to see students come to Christ, be discipled, and be envisioned to share the gospel to their native land. We saw the fruit of this vision when some of our team members who were saved as a result of FOI were able to return to their homelands with us and share the gospel! This happened even before our official trip and, of course, during:
Three of our team members went a few weeks early, covering ground in Hong Kong and China and sharing the gospel with family and friends
Two of our team members spent a week in Korea seeing their extended family for the first time
Phung and I spent extra time in Vietnam and Malaysia sharing truth with our families and friends
Investment in international students on this side of the pond matters
Sending your children to college is a stressful time for most parents, but sending them several thousand miles away is a whole new level. So when someone helps a new international student assimilate to this country, the student and especially their parents are forever grateful. When we were in Vietnam, three relationships came about because of the people we invested in while they were in the USA:
First, a Vietnamese student I picked up from an airport and befriended over the years. When he heard I was going to his home country, he was very excited and got his parents to meet with us. I met his family and I cannot even begin to describe their constant affection and gratefulness. They even serenaded us with an opera song accompanied by piano. The father brought us to one of his favorite restaurants and shared very personal stories.
Then, another Vietnamese student who got saved through our ministry directed us to her friends in the corporate world of Vietnam. They are also co-founders of two nonprofit organizations: one helping the poor in rural areas and another young students in Vietnam. Our meetup led to open doors to share the gospel. One of them even invited us to host a Conversational English event in her coffeehouse, and as a result we made many new relationships.
Then there is Phung, a Vietnamese student who came to our Bible studies years ago and as a result got saved and discipled. She became a key person in this trip, helping us plan and navigate her home country. This included meeting the owner and president of an international school that sends Vietnamese students to U.S. colleges every semester. The owner invited us to speak at her school, treated us to lunch and then dinner where she presented potential opportunities to teach at her school. During this trip we also got to know Phung’s family and were invited to her mother’s birthday party where we dined like royalty. Through many of our interactions and outreach by missionaries Doug and Bethany, her family grew fond of us and many of them got to hear the gospel.
There are close to 100 million people living in Vietnam, with 54 ethnic groups identified by the government. Of the population, 46% are under 35 years of age and more than 80% identify with no religion, although Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism sets their cultural background. The door to evangelical Christians is open again after being closed for more than 30 years since the north took over the country in 1975. While we were there, we saw people hungry for knowledge and spiritual things. We attended a park in the city and “magically” people will gather around you to hear you share. It reminds me of Paul in the synagogue of Thessalonica where he had an audience with whom he reasoned the things of God.
When we do not open our mouth, the good news will not be transmitted and people can end up being separated from God.
The key therefore is to speak the truth in love. When we do not open our mouth, the good news will not be transmitted and people can end up being separated from God. God is merciful: he used Balaam’s ass, so he can sure find ways to encourage and use us. One of our team members was new to evangelism and had no confidence to engage, so she decided to sleep on the park bench with a hat on her face. A Vietnamese man politely woke her up and they started interacting very naturally. That man made a profession of faith later that night and this team member’s faith grew bolder.
What you learn in ministry now matters for future mission trips and beyond
One of the key thing on cross cultural missions is to find ways to connect with people. This could be through group activities like Conversational English and/or personal evangelism. Some things we did were games, singing, and storytelling, but beyond these is the vision to see people like Jesus sees them. Matthew 9 describes how Jesus saw the multitude as sheep without a shepherd and was very concerned with their spiritual state. When we love people like Jesus does, a desire to know a person and navigate their culture follows. Like a passionate fisherman, you learn all about the fish and all you can think about is the fish. In Vietnam, our evangelism methods were similar to what we normally do through our ministry to internationals and that experience came in handy.
When we love people like Jesus does, a desire to know a person and navigate their culture follows.
The population of Cambodia is almost 16 million and more than 95% are Buddhist. Like Vietnam, Cambodia has gone through much political upheaval. One cannot talk about Cambodia without talking about the dark years of the 70s when Pol Pot had millions of his own people systematically executed. Young people who opened up during conversations shared how their parents regularly remind them of that time and how they should take advantage of their freedom to learn. The people of Cambodia are open to learn like the Vietnamese, and this mindset allows them to be open to learn spiritual things. In fact, Cambodia represents the 9th fastest growing nation where Christianity has the highest percentage growth rate per capita in the world (globalchristianity.org/globalcontext). God has been calling missionaries there, and more are still needed.
The Dream Team
A strong team makes a world of difference in a mission’s trip. We had in my opinion the dream team. Not because we are “all that” but because the members on our trip decided to be consecrated to the Lord. Even before the trip they were committed to fast and pray, seeking his favor and blessing for the people there. The team prepared themselves in their relationship with God and attended prayer and planning meetings with the goal of being fitly joined together. We had people ready to sing, play an instrument, share, lead, manage money, and give. They were submitted to each other and therefore we had unity that allowed God to pour out his blessing. Special honor is due to our beloved missionaries Doug and Bethany whose living example set the tone for the entire trip. (Dough and Bethany, if you read this post, big hugs and love.)
A parable of the great supper in Luke 14 best summarizes my thoughts of Vietnam and Cambodia. They represent a group of people who are willing to hear the gospel and be invited to the great supper. In just one week in each of the two countries, we witnessed people surrender their life to Christ and our team was touched to the core. Remember, Paul and his team turned the city of Thessalonica upside down by the grace of God in 3 weeks. Short missions trips are invaluable; we need to trust God for more and to do them right. And then we need to trust God to come back, perhaps for the longer term, to establish and comfort those with new-found faith.
Photos and video by Elijah Reneau, who was not only the tallest person in both Vietnam and Cambodia but was invited to stay in Cambodia to teach basketball.