Blessings and Pitfalls

by Eliza Billingham

 The college team in Vietnam--Eliza is in the front row, second from left.

The college team in Vietnam--Eliza is in the front row, second from left.

Two years ago, Thao was a student at the summer english camp when College Church first sent a team of college students to Hanoi, Vietnam. She has aged out of the camp since then, but because she developed such a meaningful relationship with her teacher and is so curious about Christianity, we keep connected with her in Hanoi. I met Thao last year and was excited to get to see her again when I returned to to the camp this year. She keeps in touch with a couple of her teachers from Wheaton, has a Vietnamese Bible and, this year, started reading the Gospel of John.

There are two incredible blessings that are obvious when we discuss Christianity with Thao. First, she is the one who initiates intentional conversations about Christianity. In a communist country where the sharing of values between foreigners and nationals is somewhat suspicious and slightly risky in public, it is an extra gift that she asks the questions, and we try to answer them, often provoking more questions.

This year, Thao began our conversation, asking us to explain John 1:1 to her. What or who was the Word? The implications this had for time and if time was linear, and what it meant that the Word contained life? This revealed the second blessing. Thao is extremely intelligent. She thinks deeply and critically. Her questions are important ones, and after talking with her (her English is great, by the way), we feel like there is not much runoff—she really processes and appreciates what we discuss.

The John 1 conversation led to a conversation about the differences between physical and spiritual life and death, what it means to be separated from God, and how God has conquered death and offers life. But this great advantage of Thao is a great pitfall.

We don’t know how much she differentiates between Christianity and other interesting or foreign intellectual exercises. While we emphasize Christ’s exclusive authority on truth, she has not yet come to the conclusion that his life impacts hers. It is frustrating, but ultimately comforting, that we are not responsible for convicting her of truth. We pray that the Lord will convict her of his truth and his sovereignty in her life. Also, we’re praying that she finds or is found by national believers.

Thao rightly expressed discontentment that our face-to-face conversations about the gospel and her questions happen once a year. Technology is somewhat helpful in extending these conversations, but it is no substitute for a community of Vietnamese Christians who can be a more constant resource. We have taken steps to connect her to long-term workers in Hanoi, but our greatest desire is for nationals to find and disciple nationals. In Hanoi, a city of more than 7.5 million people, there is one government-registered Protestant church and an unknown number of unregistered house churches, so it takes an incredible amount of initiative to find a community of believers. We pray that Thao would become aware and involved in one such community. We know that God is good and delights in making himself known. We thank him that he was in Hanoi before we were and stays behind when we leave, and lets us see a fraction of what he is doing for his glory in southeast Asia.