“It’s raining!” exclaimed 10-year old Foh as he tapped my hand and pointed me to the window behind. For what seems like an ordinary (read: obvious) comment, the boy had turned to his teacher volunteer, uttered strings of Vietnamese then plucked up courage to break the ice with the puzzled stranger in front of him with a simple and unpretentious attempt.
ACTS Vietnam Mission 2016 to the Selasian Sisters convent at Tam Ha was held from 4 to 8 June 2016. Over the short span of 4 days at the convent, the 13-members team, headed by Elizabeth and Ming Heng, painted a mural on the wall, educated the children on “teething troubles” and healthy dental care habits, distributed love parcels (aka welfare packs) to the beneficiaries, led the children in music & dance, sports & games, art & crafts and imparted them bite-sized knowledge in fun and engaging ways.
A typical day at the convent starts with Vietnamese breakfast by the kind Selasian Sisters in their humble dining room. Meal times were always a gastronomic adventure as I have lost count of the times I’ve asked, “What’s this sauce for?”, “How do I eat this?” etc. After breakfast, a group will proceed to continue their work on the mural while the rest of us will get ready for the day’s programme with the children. The programme usually kicks off with mass activities in the hall such as music & dance and dental education sessions. After which, the children will split into 2 classes, according to their age group, to do activities related to topics on the life cycle of a butterfly and fun facts on animals. Time in the afternoon was set aside for active sports & games including the classic favourite, musical chairs. At dusk, the team gathers for a short feedback and reflection session on the day’s work before adjourning to dinner.
Mission aside, the team was lucky to truly experience the Vietnamese way of life as 2 teacher volunteers hosted the team of us at their respective houses for dinner. Amidst the hearty feast, Vietnamese-English chatter and cosy fellowship, I’ve experienced the overflowing hospitality and generosity of our Vietnamese hosts. Here’s a toast to our gracious hosts, “Mot, Hai, Ba, YO!” (Vietnamese way of saying cheers!)
ACTS Vietnam Mission 2016 had been an eye-opening experience for me in many aspects. For one, I’ve learned that flexibility and adaptability in the execution of programme is of paramount importance for a mission trip like this. There were many times when things did not go according to plan and we had to make last minute changes to the programme - we were able to pull it through together as a team.
I’ve also learned that language barrier is an inherent challenge that comes with mission trips overseas where their conversational language is one other than the ones that we know of. Hence, it helps to arrange for a translator, use plenty of visual aids and actions to supplement your lessons. And if all else fails, communicate your intentions with a sense of sincerity as it somehow, in a subtle way, gets across to others.
Seed of confidence
The interaction with the children was undeniably the highlight of my time during the mission. For every child I’ve interacted with, welcomed me into their world through their tiny lenses of purity and possibilities. Despite having little, they were chatty, always happy and very active. And here I am, frustrated over insignificant happenings like substandard food, crowded trains and whatnots. I’ve taken so many things for granted.
Prior to this trip, I’ve never thought much about what a mission trip really entails. Moreover, I thought to myself “what can we really do in 4 days?” And so, I adopted a simple and slightly selfish mind-set, I would say, to take the chance to escape the realities of life for a while in a foreign land with a group where I didn’t know anyone. By God’s loving grace, He has gifted me with an amazing team where teamwork, friendship and the joy of serving God flows so naturally. He has also opened my eyes to so many answers on top of the ones I was looking for.
On our last day in the convent, in a thank you speech by a student, she said to us, “Thank you for planting in us the seed of confidence”. That struck me as an answer to my initial doubt on the mission. We may be there for a really short time and that they may not remember all that we have imparted but we’ve sown in them a seed of confidence and a special memory to share, just by being present.
The mission had also set me thinking on how else I could contribute to help the children develop into who they want to be. We are all created in His image and likeness to do his will, both my fellow team members and the children alike. Hence, I believe we all have something special to bring to the world and to help develop other people as well. This too, resonates with the fundamental objective of ACTS – a call to share.
Crawling back to reality
Life post-mission for me was harder than I imagined. Trying to hang on to the freshly baked perspective to life and my renewed faith in God, the experience has given me, is indeed an uphill task. However, I’m more ready than ever, both mentally and spiritually to face the challenges that come my way. Although the mission trip is over, the mission of God continues in our lives.
Thanks to little Foh and all the other children who have truly warmed my heart by befriending me in my language, I would never look out of the window and see a rainy day the same ever again.
Till the next trip!
The Salesian Sisters saw the need for education, human promotion and development of youth, especially of children and young women, particularly in the area of women and youth education, primary education and skills training. Read more at their website >