Viet Nam




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Copyright © 2001 by Matt Kronberg, Mike Peterson, Jedd Medefind, and Trey Sklar.
Published in association with Yates & Yates, Literary Agents, Orange, California.
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Contents
Preface vii
Introduction
: First Seeds of an Adventure ix

Part I: Mexico
1. 3,000 Miles in Ten Days 1

Part II: Guatemala
2. A Lesson in Generosity: Guatemala City, Guatemala 21
3. The Four Amigos! Together in Guatemala City 34
4. Into the Highlands: Uspantan, Guatemala 47
5. A Scathing Letter and Some Sweet Sorrow: Leaving Guatemala 61

Part III: Russia and Beyond
6. The Wounded Bear: Moscow, Russia 71
7. The Secret Police: Orekhovo-Zuyevo, Russia 75
8. Scarred Hands and Iron Doors: Serpukhov, Russia 92
9. Village at the Edge of the World: Loly, Russia 102
10. Heart of the Gulag Region: Yemva, Russia 117
11. Waltzing through the West: From Moscow to the Mediterranean Sea 139

Part IV: Egypt
12. Land of the Pharaohs: Cairo, Egypt 153

Part V: South Africa
13. Beauty and Strife 171
14. The Mountain Kingdom: Maseru, Kingdom of the Lesotho 176
15. The Road to Durban 193

Part VI: India
16. Rajas, Rice, and Rickshaws 215
17. A Change of Plans: Chirala, India 238
18. Sisters of Charity: Calcutta, India 249

Part VII: Bangladesh
19. The End of Our Rope 261
20. 100,000 Rickshaws: Dhaka, Bangladesh 285

Part VIII: Thailand
21. From Mosquito Nets to Marble Tile: Bangkok, Thailand 301

Part IX: Vietnam
22. Notes from the Underground 329

Conclusion: The Adventure Begins 358

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Viet Nam

- twenty-two -

Notes from the Underground


Last night, Matt suggested we ask very directly in prayer that God do grand, visible things during this trip. I will pray specifically for Vietnam, a place I have little desire to see, where we will be for only nine days with few specific plans and almost no knowledge of culture or language. It will indeed take God’s action to produce anything remarkable there, for right now I can’t imagine much happening besides getting the Bibles in. Lord, please reveal Your work.

-Jedd’s reflections from November 8 (in Guatemala)


The wheels of our 737 collided with the landing strip, sending a jolt through the plane and leaving in their path two streaks of sizzling rubber. Haze hovered above the concrete all around us. Rotting on the far end of the tarmac lay the hulks of old U.S. military planes, captured following the American evacuation from the Vietnam War.
“Saigon,” said Trey, shaking his head. “It is hard to believe my dad flew into this same airport so many times as a soldier.”
“Just think about all those young guys,” mused Mike. “They were about our age, some a lot younger, living normal American lives and then all of a sudden they got taken and plunked down in this crazy place with a gun and a license to kill. If we had been born a little earlier, it would have been us.”
“I wonder how I would have reacted to it all.”

Trey’s Reflections-April 16
It is almost surreal thinking about the countless American young men who stepped down from planes, just as we are about to, into the same steamy air. My dad was one of them. Unlike us, those soldiers had no choice in the matter. I wonder what they thought as they stepped out of America into a world of carnage, temptation, and mortal combat. It must have been terrible, pulse-pumping, wild, mind-changing. I know many of his friends never left alive.

As the “fasten seat belts” lights dimmed, we stood up and grabbed our carry-ons from the overhead bins. They were heavier than normal, full of contraband Bibles. Between his thumb and forefinger, Jedd twisted a section of his beard. We all were a little nervous.
“How are you feeling, Matt?” Jedd asked.
“I guess a little scared. It’s good to know so many people are praying for us right now. What do you think will happen if we get caught?”
“It shouldn’t be too bad. They will probably hold us and question us for a while, but eventually they will have to let us go.”
“What do you think are the chances of them catching us?”
“Less than half of the people who try to smuggle Bibles in actually make it through.”
“Well, then we better be praying.”

Holy Contraband


Although relatively modern, the terminal was not air-conditioned. Sweat trickled down Mike’s spine and left streaks on the back of his shirt. Soldiers, dressed in the ugly green so popular with Communists around the world, looked us over without interest. We moved toward the large x-ray machines through which all incoming luggage had to pass. Small crowds of officials gathered behind each machine, watching the x-ray monitors like TV-starved children.
“I guess it’s now or never,” breathed Trey. “Lord, blind their eyes.”
His heart seemed to expand as it pounded. It pushed against his lungs and made it hard to breathe. We sauntered toward separate lines, one by one tossing our bags onto the conveyor belt, offering our best unsuspicious smiles, trying to look both nonchalant and hurried.
What is a normal look for a person going through customs? wondered Jedd. As many times as I’ve done it in the past six months, I can’t remember. He started to whistle, but thought better of it.
Trey’s bag went through first. Glancing at the monitors the officials were watching, we could make out the shapes of countless books packed among Trey’s clothes. The watchers, though, did not even look up at him. Matt was next, then Jedd.
As Mike’s bag finally passed through, two soldiers emerged from a doorway on the other side of the room and marched toward us, faces stern.
They’ve got him, thought Matt, his body tensing.
Mike turned his eyes toward the floor as the soldiers moved toward him. He held his breath. The men brushed by him without stopping. They continued on to the next counter. Trey’s shoulders drooped and we all let out our breaths. We were in.

Matt’s Reflections-April 16
Coming through customs was nerve-racking . . . but we made it! I am so thankful so many of our friends from home who were praying for us.
I am astonished that Trey made it through. Even though he is the most savvy traveler of us, he mistakenly ended up standing in the “Items to Declare” lane-where everyone’s bags are opened-no matter what. Even so, we watched him walk right past the unseeing guards!
Strangely enough, mixed in with the fear today was a deep confidence that all would be well, even if the authorities did catch us. That is a wonderful thing about times when I am totally seeking to live for God: It is not that I can assume nothing bad or painful will happen-God made no such promise. But I do know that there will be eternal purpose and redeeming goodness even in the worst that befalls us. That doesn’t keep me from fearing sometimes, but it gives me a confidence to take risks I could never otherwise take.


We were a bit surprised by how Western the city of Saigon appeared. Our guidebook explained that the city had been shaped and built, in large part, by foreign powers. A colonial French government ruled Saigon from 1859 until 1954, and large numbers of American soldiers passed through the city from the early 1960s until 1975. Paint on most buildings was peeling and the stucco cracked, but the streets seemed generally clean and well planned. Leafy trees, their thick trunks painted white, abounded along sidewalks and in the many parks. The grass that grew up in open lots and through cracks in the sidewalks added to the pleasant greenness of the city.
Even so, there were plenty of things to remind us that we were in a foreign land. Grimy canals ran throughout the city, and shanty homes piled to several levels grew haphazardly above the mucky water. Although there did not seem to be many beggars, people seemed to enjoy squatting along walkways for hours at a time, talking or just sitting. Soup sellers walked the streets, bearing pairs of large, steaming buckets hung from bamboo sticks that crossed their shoulders. Mingling with the traffic sounds was the ever-present buzz of insects.
We were even more taken aback by the noticeable presence of churches. Some were small, cross-topped buildings of brick; others were grand affairs with bells and steeples rising a hundred feet into the air. We did not know what to think.
“I had heard the underground church is so persecuted here. I sure didn’t expect to find churches everywhere,” remarked Jedd as a van taxi carried us through town. “You can’t help wondering if things are not as bad as they say.”
“Especially after taking the risk to smuggle all those Bibles in,” added Matt. “Maybe they don’t need them so much after all.”
Once safe in our hotel room, we stacked 160 Bibles in our closet and locked it.
John, the American businessman we met in Bangkok, had recommended the hotel as clean and reasonably priced. He would be residing there during part of our stay as well.
“Well,” asked Trey, sitting down on the bed, “should we try to get ahold of our contact?”
“Let’s do it,” replied Mike.
Matt pulled back the curtains a few inches and peered down at the street below. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Bicycles and scooters dominated the road. Men zipped here and there in dark slacks and untucked cotton shirts; women wore their single-piece silk dresses or loose trousers with silk tops. Many covered their heads with round straw hats. For riding, some women also donned elbow-length silk gloves and covered their faces with bandannas. The fact that everyone wore sandals made the scene seem quite relaxed.
Trey opened his organizer and took out the number of our Vietnamese contact. We did not know much about him. He had simply been recommended to us by Jack at the Thailand Bible League.
“Should we call from here?” asked Matt. “The line might be tapped.”
“I’ve heard that a lot of hotel phones are,” answered Trey, “but the guy in Thailand said just to be very general when we call. We can set up a meeting place and go from there.”
Trey picked up the receiver and dialed -a beeping, then the sound of a phone company recording. “Uh-oh, guys,” said Trey.
“What?” questioned Mike.
Trey shook his head and redialed. The result was the same. “I think the number has been disconnected.”
“I wonder if he moved,” suggested Matt.
“Or was moved,” stated Jedd. “This isn’t good. That guy was our only solid contact.”
Matt reminded the others, “I have the number of that friend of the missionary we spent time with in Thailand. I think her name is Suzanne. She probably has plenty of contacts in the underground church.”
Trey’s attempt to reach Suzanne, however, proved futile as well; she would be out of the country “for several weeks.” Within a couple of hours after entering the country, our small well of contacts had run dry.
“We’ve got 160 Bibles into Vietnam and no one to give them to,” stated Mike flatly.
Trey was still upbeat. “God will work something out.”
Matt nodded. “Why don’t we pray about it and then get some lunch. I’m hungry.”
We all asked God to work in our situation. Jedd finished, “We know Your people here could really use these Bibles, Father, but we really don’t know how to find them. Please bring us into contact with people who need these . . .”
Matt was locking the door to our room when a voice boomed in the hallway. “Jedd, Trey! Hey, guys. Looks like you made it in all right.” It was John, the businessman we had met in Bangkok. “Everything work out well with the hotel? I told them that you would probably be coming.” He grasped each of our hands in turn.
We thanked John for suggesting the hotel and conveyed the day’s happenings, including the successful border-crossing.
“That’s great,” John said. “I was praying for you guys.”
Trey explained, “The only problem is, our contacts have kind of fallen through. We are not sure if we are going to be able to find people to give the Bibles to.”
An almost shocked look crossed John’s face. “Not find anyone to give your Bibles to? I know some people who would die for them!”
“Really?”
“Yes. I’ll set up a meeting here in your room tomorrow. They’ll be thrilled.”
“It’s that simple?”
“They know they can trust me, so yeah, it’s that simple.”
Mike cut in. “One thing we’re wondering about, John, is what is the deal with all the church buildings around here? We thought the only churches would be meeting in basements or attics or something.”
“Many of them do. The churches you see are official, state-okayed ones. With a few exceptions, they are not much more than places for people to get a little dead religion-very little of any real commitment to Jesus. Some of the pastors are still good men, but a lot of them work very closely with the government.”
“Hmm,” said Matt. “So the underground church still needs Bibles?”
“You better believe it!”

• • •

Along with the bicycles, motorcycles, and scooters, a rickshaw variation called a cyclo was always available for a dollar or two. The back half of a cyclo looked like a bicycle, but a two-person bench seat sat in front of the driver between two tires. Several drivers hopped from their lounging place in the passenger seats of their cyclos and approached us as we emerged from the hotel.
“Americans? Welcome, welcome!”
“You want cyclo? I give you good rate.”
“Where you want to go? I give you good tour of the city.”
“No thanks, guys,” Jedd said. “We are just walking over to the food places up the street.”
The men smiled good-naturedly. “Okay, but if you need ride, come to me,” said one.
It appeared we were in a more touristy part of Saigon. The rambling, clothesline-draped apartments did not dominate as they did in some of the residential parts of the city. Many of the buildings around us were hotels, small cafés, and shops.
As we headed up a café-lined street, a middle-aged man in an apron approached us. “Come in, come in, my friends. Vihn Ton’s Café has the best food in town.”
We nodded his way and smiled but said nothing.
He would not be easily put off. “Where are you young men from?”
“The United States,” replied Trey.
“Ah, yes. How you like Vietnam?”
“We just got here today but we . . .”
“Ah, you arrive today. Welcome to Vietnam. Welcome, welcome!”
“Thank you , but um . . . we want to look around a little before we get food.”
“Okay, but do not forget Vihn Ton’s Café. It is the best.”
As we strolled on, at least a half-dozen other proprietors gave us similar spiels. We eventually returned to Vihn Ton’s.
“Ah, my American friends have come back. Come in, come in. May I ask what city you from?”
“We just graduated from school in Santa Barbara.”
“Oh, I have heard of Santa Barbara. You know Chicago? I have cousin who lives in Chicago. Here, I go get you menus.”
Mike glanced after him. “The people here are pretty cool-friendly, but not ingratiating. In every country we’ve been to, people try to sell stuff to travelers, but most of the people here also seem genuinely welcoming and interested in you as a person.”
Matt nodded. “It is a neat mixture of East and West here, too-adventurous, but still with some amenities.”

• • •

The café, like most in Vietnam, had no wall on the street side. Several large fans toward the rear kept the heat from being oppressive. Throughout the meal, street vendors wandered in among the tables, offering everything from head massages to Xeroxed copies of the Lonely Planet travelers’ guide for Vietnam.
We were finishing the last of our noodles when, approaching our table from the street, came the eighth vendor of the evening, a boy of twelve or thirteen. He carried a case containing a variety of trinkets we’d already seen plenty of: key chains made with machine-gun shells, imitation Rolexes, pocketknives, and American dog tags. Most interesting were the “Zippo” cigarette lighters, made to look like the ones American soldiers had used, each bearing the insignia of an individual unit-the screaming eagle of the 101st Airborne, the Big Red “1” of the First Armored, the tank and “Hell on Wheels” slogan of the Second Armored Cavalry. Most had personal mottoes and favorite thoughts scratched into the back of them like what the soldiers once had: “One bad ___ boy,” “Kill ’em all and sort ’em out on the other side,” and, “Another day in hell.”
As usual, the vendor boy approached Jedd first. “You want watch? Genuine Rolex. I give you good bargain.”
“No thank you. We do not want . . .”
“How about lighter. I have very good lighter.”
“No! Thank you, though, but we do not need one.”
We were still learning that we needed to be more firm than we felt comfortable being. Finally, the boy wandered off.
Mike shook his head. “Poor Jedd, the vendors always go to you first.”
“I guess they can just tell who the nice guy is.”
“They can just tell who the sucker is.”
“Don’t look now,” said Matt, “but here comes another one. I think he wants to shine our shoes.”
“Good thing we’re wearing sandals,” said Trey.

Jedd’s Reflections-April 16
I keep thinking about a section from the book The Brothers Karamazov, where a young man who had been born into privilege with many servants suddenly comes to question why they should wait on him rather than he upon them. To the modern mind, this seems an obvious question. Why should someone, just by virtue of being born a slave, have had no choice but to wait hand and foot on the one who happened to be born the child of a wealthy landowner?
What strikes me, though, is the similarity I see to my own situation. By virtue of the simple fact of the circumstances I was born into, I can basically “tell” people here to do whatever I want them to do. Granted, the system is now “voluntary” and based upon economics rather than race or pedigree, but still, my money essentially gives me the position of master.
I need to think more about what my response to this realization must be, but at the very least, I know the fact that I have been given this position demands of me humility, kindness, generosity, and even chosen role-reversal at times.


Priceless Books

At two the following afternoon, a knock came at the door of our hotel room. It was John with three Vietnamese men.
Once the door was locked behind them, he began. “Let me introduce you to some of my friends. This is Brother Phong. He has been a pastor for many years. He used to be a professor, but when the government found out he was a Christian, he was fired from his post within the week.”
A middle-aged man with a serious face stepped forward. “It is a pleasure to meet you,” he said in excellent English, shaking our hands.
“Brother Phong is a little weak right now. This past week he was taken in for questioning. They kept him awake for forty-eight hours, continuously drilling him about what his activities as a pastor were and who he’s involved with. They couldn’t get much out of him, so they let him go.”
Brother Phong nodded slightly, but not as if what had happened to him was of any great significance. It was as if John had said, “Brother Phong gave a speech to the Rotary Club this week.”
A younger man greeted us next, a wide, gentle smile creasing his face as he shook our hands. “It is very good to have you here,” he said quietly with a strong accent. Inky hair lay tousled across his broad forehead, eyes sharp and intense, but radiating kindness.
“This is Brother Tran. He oversees a large number of churches here in Saigon, spending a lot of time working with tribal peoples in the hill country. His flock is over fifteen thousand people.”
We were taken aback. The young man before us could not have been much older than us, yet he was responsible for shepherding thousands of believers.
John continued, “Tran’s parents were able to go to America many years ago. If Tran wanted, he could go himself. But he feels that he has been called to minister here, so he stays.” We knew this was quite remarkable in itself. It is rare to find a Vietnamese person who would not jump at the chance to go to America, but the young man before us sacrificed that opportunity daily for the kingdom of God.
John introduced the third man, a friend of Brother Tran’s, and then suggested we show the three what we had brought. Trey brought out a key and opened the closet.
The men stared transfixed at the stacks of Bibles.
“You . . . you brought all those in?” asked Phong, a smile breaking across his serious face. We nodded. “How did you do it?”
“We each packed forty of them in between all of our clothes and things,” explained Mike.
“And none of you were caught?” wondered Tran. “I can’t imagine!”
It brought us joy to see the excitement on the faces of these brothers. Their eyes gleamed like those of children on Christmas morning.
Tran continued, “Just this past week, one of my churches in the mountains was raided by the government. They took our musical instruments, hymnals, and all Bibles. Here are many, many more Bibles than we had before the government took them.”
We piled Bibles in duffel bags for Tran and Phong, fifty for each. For the next hour, they quizzed us on our travels and work throughout the world. Before going, Tran made a proposal, “Would you men perhaps consider leading a retreat conference for underground church leaders?”
We did not quite understand. “Retreat conference for underground church leaders?” questioned Mike. “You would want us to lead it?”
“Yes. I know many who would greatly value the opportunity to learn from men like you.”
“Would that be too dangerous for you?” asked Matt. “We’ve heard it is always a risk for Vietnamese Christians to meet with foreigners.”
“It is a risk, but it would be worth it to us. We are eager to learn. And also, there is a place on the coast that is not so dangerous. The government is less watchful in tourist places.”
Brother Tran finished, “We can discuss more later. One thing before we leave: I know you are planning to attend Brother Phong’s church on Sunday morning. Would you be willing to join our underground services Sunday night?”
“We would be glad to.”
“Good. I will send to pick you up at 6:00 P.M. on Sunday. And again, thank you very much for the Bibles. We appreciate them more than we can say.”

Trey’s Reflections-April 17
As I witnessed the excitement of our Vietnamese brothers at the Bibles we brought, I was struck by how often I take God’s Word for granted. They were gleeful, almost ecstatic. I sometimes see reading the Bible as a less-than-thrilling duty, and forget that its teachings are revolutionary enough to be forbidden by Vietnamese, Chinese, and many other government regimes.
I must never lose sight of what a wonderful thing it is that the God who set the stars in their places and carved the depths of the oceans desires to communicate with us. Whenever I choose, I can read His thoughts, gain His instruction, and learn His ways. What a wonderful privilege! May I never see the Bible just as another book, but as a life-changing opportunity to grow in relationship with God.


That night, after confession and reconciliation, we wandered down to an old pool hall just up the street from our hotel. Cracks crisscrossed the turquoise walls and the tables were worn and battered, but the atmosphere was lively. A young crowd, both foreign and Vietnamese, talked, joked, and played pool in the smoke-filled room. It felt the way it must have for the young American GIs. The Rolling Stones, Steppenwolf, and the Byrds blasted from large speakers that hung in the corners.
A Vietnamese girl with long sable hair slipped up behind Mike and put her hands on his shoulders. “What’s your name?” she asked, smiling demurely.
Mike moved a step away. “Mike. What’s yours?”
“My name is Tea. You like ‘girlfriend’ tonight?”
“No thanks. We just came here to play pool.”
“No?” She seemed a bit surprised. “Let me know if you want.”

• • •

“That was Brother Phong,” said Matt, hanging up the phone. “I guess he talked with some of the leaders in the underground church. They would like to do the retreat, but don’t think it would be best at this time.”
“Why not?” questioned Trey.
“Next week is the celebration of the Communist Revolution. It sounds like during that time the government really steps up their work against the Church. If the wrong people learned about our retreat, it could be a prime target for a big hit.”
“That is disappointing,” said Mike. “I’ll admit, though, that I was nervous about leading a retreat for leaders in the underground church. I mean, what could we do for them.”
“Yeah, maybe it is best that it was canceled; although I was excited about the opportunity to spend time with them.”
“Maybe something else will come up.”

A Shifting World


Sunday morning we attended a church pastored by Brother Phong. Interestingly enough, although his congregation is not registered with the government and is therefore “underground,” they met in a regular church building after the “official” government-allowed service.
Phong explained, “The pastor of this church is a friend of ours. It is a great risk for him to allow us to meet in his building because the government could use it as a reason to shut him down. It is a credit to his faith that he is willing to accept that risk.”
We were still trying to figure out the interplay between the overt church, the underground church, and the government. We were beginning to see that the government did not strike at every little instance of Christianity. Government officials choose their battles carefully, preferring to wage a broad, crushing campaign of fear and repression rather than to spend all their efforts on constant attacks. At times they used raids, violence, and prison stays, but this seemed to be on a somewhat limited basis. Apparently, they knew they could never completely quench the fire; they just wanted to keep it beneath the surface.
The church service was similar to that of a more charismatic American church-a good deal of singing, a few people speaking in tongues here and there. A group of recent converts made their confession of faith before the congregation. The message, an exhortation to give all to Christ, was given by a visiting pastor from Malaysia.
After the service, we had lunch with Pastor Phong and the Malaysian pastor and several others.
“You see,” the Malaysian pastor explained to Matt, motioning with his chopsticks, “we are coming to understand that the focus of our faith must always be on our relationship with Jesus Christ-coming to know Him and serve Him more intimately. The other things we have focused on, even the good things, have often kept our focus from the most important thing. But I feel that as we are making that relationship our first priority, all of the other things fall into place.”
A smile crossed Matt’s face. “It’s exciting to hear you say that. We feel that God has been teaching us the same thing.”
“It seems the Lord is helping people all over the world to understand this truth. It has had a profound impact on my church in Malaysia. As we center our faith around our relationship with Jesus, great things happen.”
“If you are pastoring a church in Malaysia, what brought you to Vietnam?”
“There are dozens of people from my church all over Asia and even in the Middle East and Australia. Some are long-term missionaries. Others do it like me-we make several visits a year to one or two locations.”
“So is your primary purpose evangelism?”
“Not exactly. Our first goal is to empower local congregations to be what God has called them to be. We work with pastors and the leadership of the church to help them to teach and minister to the people of their church. We want the local people to actually be doing the ministry; we just encourage and help equip them.”

Matt’s Reflections-April 19
Americans are often surprised when we learn that Westerners are not the only ones sending out missionaries. God’s church, though, is vibrant in many countries throughout the world, maybe much more so than in the United States.
In some ways it makes me sad to see America losing its place as the center of world Christianity. At the same time, it is also exciting. The situation seems a bit like what happened in the fourth century. At that time, Rome was the center of world Christianity, but it was falling to barbarian raiders. Many thought Christianity would disappear, but St. Augustine knew that God would keep His church alive and well no matter what happened to the “Christian” Roman Empire. Sure enough, the barbarians became the settled people of Europe and for countless centuries served as the new center of world Christianity. As Europe’s torch flickered, America picked it up, and now it seems that we may be passing it on to nations some might consider the “barbarians” of our day.
Through it all, the Church lives on . . .


Life beneath the Surface


A call came to our room at 6:00 P.M. “Mr. Sklar, sir, there are some men here to see you.”
“Thank you. We will be right down.”
In the lobby we quietly greeted Tran and two of his friends, then hurried out onto the street.
“Two of you get on behind these men on the motorcycles,” Tran explained. “You other two, come with me in the car.”
In a blink, Mike and Trey were speeding off down the street in an old white Hyundai. Jedd and Matt climbed behind the two young men on their motorcycles and shot off in the opposite direction.
The wind blowing over Jedd’s and Matt’s faces was refreshing in the sticky night. Moving considerably faster than the traffic, the driver wove through the sea of two-wheeled vehicles, the lights of shops and apartments gleaming crisp and bright from a distance, but blurring as they shot past.
Over his shoulder, the driver called to Jedd, “Are you comfortable enough?”
“Just fine. It’s a beautiful night.”
“Good. We forgot to ask you earlier: Will you preach tonight?”
“Uh . . . sure. I would be glad to.” Jedd had to smile at the shortness of notice.
They were still enjoying the ride when the bikes turned suddenly from the main road into a narrow alleyway not wide enough for a Yugo.
“We must make sure no one is following us,” the man explained.
“Is that a real danger?”
“Possibly. It is also important that we not drive past the police station. If they saw you riding with us, they might be suspicious.”
After maneuvering through a maze of alleyways, the road ended at a narrow gate. The two pairs of riders dismounted and hurried through it, then turned from the dark passage into a doorway.
A narrow room, forty feet long and little more than an arm-span wide, appeared to have been constructed as an afterthought to the two buildings on either side of it, as if an alley had been roofed and closed at both ends. Rows of tiny chairs, six across, filled the room from front to back, a rough podium standing ready at the front below the cross that hung on the wall.
Despite several rotating fans whirring from the walls, the room was extremely hot. Even with a fan blowing directly on him, sweat began to bead on Jedd’s forehead. In groups of two and three, the believers appeared. Each shook Matt’s and Jedd’s hands warmly before taking their seats. According to the man who drove Matt, a hospital for cancer patients operated nearby; the smiles of several attendees came from wearied faces who seemed to be losing the battle against the disease. Last to enter was a mother leading a bald girl of eight or nine who clutched a ragged teddy bear.

• • •

Trey and Mike arrived at their destination following a similarly twisty-curvy ride. When the car finally lurched to a halt in front of a tall brick building, two men emerged, pulled Mike and Trey from the vehicle, and swept them inside without a word. Trey lost count of how many flights of stairs they had climbed by the time they reached a room that appeared to be the top floor. The stairs led no farther. The room, however, was dark and empty.
“What’s that sound?” asked Mike, tilting his head.
Trey peered around in the darkness. “I can’t quite tell. It sounds like singing.”
“Over here,” directed one of the men. “Everyone is already in.”
The man called out in Vietnamese, and a moment later a section seemed to drop out of the ceiling, spilling light. It took Mike a moment to realize that what had descended was a stair ladder. The man nodded and Mike placed his foot on the lowest rung. As his head emerged into the attic, Mike glanced around. A naked bulb hung from the ceiling, which angled down to connect with the floor. All windows were covered with blankets. Perhaps thirty or forty people sat on the floor. They smiled down at Mike as he climbed up and into their church. When everyone was in the room and the trapdoor pulled shut, Tran introduced the special guests.
“These are Tran’s friends who brought the Bibles!” announced someone in English, creating a general hubbub. Mike and Trey faced a deluge of well-wishes and pats on the back as they moved to an open space of floor.
Then the singing struck up again.

Mike’s Reflections-April 19
What a thrill to get to worship and share words with the underground church. I have heard it said regarding the Church in persecuted lands that the hotter the fire, the finer the gold. The warmth and the fervor of these believers certainly suggest that this is the case here. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so unworthy to speak.
I think I’m also beginning to understand the Communist government’s relationship to the Church a little better. They don’t fear religion in the sense that I thought they did. In fact, they seem quite satisfied that people whose faith involves only Sunday morning services will never have an impact worth worrying about. What seems to terrify the government are churches where they spend time in the Bible daily, pray regularly, and where their lives are tied together in a committed community.
In a way, Marx was right. Religion that consists of only tradition, ritual, and positive sentiments is indeed little more than a drug for the masses. It rarely changes anything. However, even a small community of men and women who have truly decided to follow Jesus is enough to make tyrants tremble.


Joshuas and Calebs

We had just gotten back from breakfast when Tran strode into our room, his face barely containing his smile.
“Some of the leaders have changed their minds! They feel that God wants them to go on the retreat!”
“Are you still sure this is a good idea?” questioned Matt.
“Certain!” responded Tran, his eyes gleaming. “Besides, now it is too late to change our minds. The people who will be attending the conference are already on their way. They left on a bus at five-thirty this morning.”
“How are we going to get there?” queried Trey.
“We will take a boat down the river to the ocean. It will take less time than the bus.”
“Why didn’t we just go with everyone else?”
“It’s not wise for you to travel with them. People could be suspicious.”
“When do we need to leave?”
“Soon. Let’s pray for the conference before we go . . .”

• • •

Our boat reached the port of Tyon-Fahg by late morning. A small tourist city had built up around the harbor, but only a thin line of restaurants and hotels followed as a taxi carried us up the coast. Our road divided the dry, rolling hills from long stretches of empty beach.
“I never imagined places like this in Vietnam,” Matt said.
“My dad says the beaches all along the coast are beautiful,” noted Trey.
Tran interjected, “There is a hotel here that is owned by the army. If it is not full of soldiers, you can stay there. The police are not so likely to think to bother any of us if you are staying with the army.”
“Where will you stay?”
“Not far from you in a different hotel.”
“And where will we have our meetings?”
“There is a building that is safe. We can rent it out for very little cost.”

• • •

Tran began the first session of the conference with prayer in Vietnamese, translated for us: “Dear Lord, we thank You for the privilege of these days we have together. May You bless our time, Father, and challenge and teach us through our American friends who will be speaking Your words. Please protect us and keep us safe from those who would wish to harm us. In the name of Your Son, Jesus, we pray. Amen.”
A guitarist started playing, and worship began. Some of the tunes were familiar, translations of hymns and worship songs from the West; others were uniquely Asian. In any style or language, there is something wonderful about a heart lifted to God in song. Once again, we were reminded of the rich tapestry of music that likely will be woven in heaven from all the nations of the world.
Tran had told us we would be sharing with leaders of the underground church. We were surprised to note that many of the young men and women seated on the black-and-white-tiled floor around us were close to our own age. While we had observed people of all ages involved with the underground church, we were beginning to see that much of its energy and direction came from individuals in their late teens and twenties. Just like in the early church, God was using young people to carry out His work.

Trey’s Reflections-April 20
It is exciting to realize that God often uses young people as His “green berets” when He has important work to do. Paul told Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example . . .” (1 Tim. 4:12). That call is to us as well.
It is amazing to think that when Jesus left the earth, He entrusted His message and the staggering task of taking it “to the ends of the earth” to young people probably in their teens and early twenties. I’m not sure that I would have done it that way, but it worked. Those young men and women turned the world upside down. If we will seek wholeheartedly to know God and do His will-young as we are-God will do remarkable things through us as well.


Throughout the retreat’s eight sessions, we built from the text of Colossians 2:2: “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united
in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.”
The young leaders did appear greatly “encouraged in heart” as we shared stories of their brothers and sisters from all around the world who loved them and would some day celebrate with them in heaven. We spent an entire session telling them about the people we had visited, and they prayed earnestly for each of them at the close of the session.

Mike’s Reflections-April 20
I see it as a great privilege to encourage these believers. It is also fun just to hang out with them. We played a bunch of Frisbee and soccer and other games at the beach this afternoon. They thought it was so funny that Jedd and Matt were so tall. When we were playing keep-away, they’d laugh and laugh and say, “Giants, giants!” as the guys tried to climb up Jedd’s back to get the Frisbee.
Tonight we ate at a simple, thatch-covered seaside restaurant. As we talked and ate fried clams, boiled mussels, squid, fresh coconuts, and lots of rice, I realized, I truly love these people. A childlikeness glows from each one of them; an eagerness to extend love to us and also to grow nearer to Jesus. They are always ready with face-splitting smiles, but in worship and prayer they are as fervent as any people I’ve ever met.


That evening, the group hired several vans for a drive up the coast. We stopped in a small parking lot on a quiet hillside. Everyone got out to explore a bit. Jedd joined Tran at a railing that overlooked the Vietnamese coastline. Lanterns of fishing boats flickered as they bobbed in the waves below.
“Do you miss your family, Tran?” Jedd asked.
Tran was silent for a moment before replying. “When I am very busy, sometimes I forget, but usually I miss them. I miss them very much.”
“Are any of your relatives still in Vietnam?”
“My sister is in Vietnam, but she lives in the north. I do not see her much. Sometimes I ache for loneliness.”
“You have many good friends in Saigon, don’t you?”
“I have many people who love me and who I love, but maybe not so many that are close to me like my family. Because I have churches to help everywhere, I often travel. Sometimes I feel very alone. At times, I felt so alone I did not know how to stand it. But then God said to me, almost as if I heard a voice, ‘I am your Father, Tran.’ It brought tears to my eyes.”
A faint breeze came up as Tran stared out over the ocean. Jedd could see that his eyes were moist.
“It is obvious that much fruit has come from your sacrifice, Tran.”
Tran turned to Jedd, and it seemed to him that in an instant the sadness in Tran’s eyes was replaced by fire.
“I believe that is true, Jedd! I pray that I will be a Joshua and Caleb of a new generation. In the past generation, not a large number came to Jesus. If we do not live differently, how will we win this nation for Jesus?”
“I will be faithful to pray for you, Tran, that you really will be a Joshua and Caleb.”
“And I will pray for you, Jedd. I will pray that you also will be a Joshua and Caleb for your generation.”
Before we left, the group of believers presented us with plaques in thanks for our sharing with them. The message emblazoned on the marble was simple, and since they now hang in our homes, they serve as a continual reminder: “Pray for Vietnam.”

Jedd’s Reflections-April 21
Tran is incredible. I admire him and love him.
I feel we are learning so much more from these Vietnamese believers than they are from us, even though we are the ones speaking at this retreat. Their love for Jesus and deep commitment and willingness to sacrifice humble me. (Just the fact that they all got up this morning at 5:00 a.m. for prayer together reminds me how weak my commitment to prayer often is.)
I’ve been a Christian all my life, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Christianity as fully as they do. It seems as if they have become Jesus’ apprentices in learning how to live, just the way someone in Renaissance Italy could have become Michelangelo’s apprentice in sculpting. Salomón and Mery, Steve Barrett, Anil and Annie, and many of the others we’ve met on this trip are this way, too. They really seek to pattern their lives as He taught. They see Him as the true expert on every aspect of life. I guess that’s what becoming Jesus’ disciple should always mean.
Most of us American Christians would probably say that’s what we do, too. But I know that in my own life, at least, I’ve often seen Jesus only as a nice Savior who gets me into heaven. I’ve read the Bible and prayed not so much to grow closer to Him or to learn how to live, but because I’ve felt that I need to if I want to be a good Christian.
If Jesus is who He claimed to be, though, He is the Master of life! From what I’ve seen in those who really seek to follow Him, living as He taught leads to the epic life I want so badly-not necessarily life without trials, but one full of purpose even in the ordinary moments of everyday life.


Tea and Steve

The night we returned to Saigon, Jedd and Mike headed out to play some pool. In front of the little pool hall, a young woman stood provocatively in a blue silk dress. It was Tea, the prostitute we had talked with several times the previous week.
“Hello, Tea,” Mike called out. “How are you?”
“Okay.” She gave a slight grimace. “My stomach not feel so well tonight.”
“You’re sick?”
She nodded, pouting slightly.
“Why don’t you go home and sleep?”
“I can’t. I have work.”
We entered the pool hall and were soon engaged in games on different tables. After his first game, Mike handed his cue to a young Vietnamese man. “Go ahead and take over for me. I need to go do something.”
“Where you going, Mike?” Jedd called out, trying to line up a shot at the eightball.
Mike waited until Jedd took his shot, then explained, “I’m going back to the hotel room to get some money for Tea-so she can go home and sleep.”
“You mind waiting for a second?”
Mike watched while Jedd finished his game and then the two moved back out to the street.
“Are you feeling any better, Tea?” asked Mike.
“No. My stomach still hurt.”
“Hmm. How much do you usually make in a night?”
“Twenty or thirty thousand dong.”
That would be about fifteen to twenty dollars, several times what most day laborers made. Mike and Jedd walked back to the hotel room and grabbed a few American bills and a Bible.
Back at the pool hall, though, Tea was gone. Jedd bit his lip. “Shoot. I wonder if she got picked up.”
“Let’s go look at that corner café just up the street. Sometimes she hangs out there.”
Sure enough, Tea was standing on the sidewalk in front of the café.
“Tea, if we give you fifteen dollars, will you go home and sleep?” asked Mike.
Tea seemed surprised and a bit suspicious. “What you want?”
A young American man who had been watching the interaction from a table in the café suddenly rose from his seat and walked toward them. As he stormed by, he muttered, “Stay the ____ away from me!”
“What was wrong with him?” wondered Mike.
Jedd shook his head. “I have no idea.”
Mike turned back to Tea. “We want you to go home and rest. Will you do that if we give you fifteen dollars?”
“Why?”
“We care about you, Tea. You need to sleep. You are sick.”
“But . . .” Slowly the mystified look on her face began to melt. In its place grew the smile of a little girl who has been helped by a stranger. “Yes. I go home and sleep.”
“We also have this for you,” said Jedd, producing a Vietnamese Bible. “If you have a chance, read it. It is the best book ever written.”
She nodded, taking the Bible. Mike and Jedd slowly moved off down the street. “Do you think she’ll go home?” Jedd asked.
“I hope so.”

• • •

Tran joined us for dinner the following evening. As we sipped on bowls of spicy soup, the conversation turned from the events of the retreat to the broader situation facing the underground church.
“What you must understand,” Tran explained, setting down his spoon, “is that the Vietnamese government wants to be seen by the West as open and tolerant.”
“So they do token things to make it seem like they are accepting of religion?” asked Matt.
“Yes, like last year they even allowed some Bibles to be printed in Vietnam.”
“Really! So why are Bibles so difficult to get?”
“Because they allow only a small number to be printed and do not let all of them be distributed. Then, they take them away from us any chance they get.”
“Would you say that things are better than they used to be?” questioned Mike.
“In some ways, yes. Now there are much fewer direct attacks and less bodily persecution, but still it happens often, especially in the north part of country.”
“But they still are trying to crush the Church?”
“Oh yes. Very much so. I could tell you many stories.”
“We would be interested to hear,” requested Matt.
Tran nodded. “There was a very nice old man who the doctors diagnosed with cancer, saying he had less than a year to live. When government health workers visited his house and saw a Bible, they said he must renounce his faith if he did not want to lose the assistance the government always gives to people like him who are sick. He refused. So they cut off his medicine, rice, and living allowance.”
“That is terrible,” said Mike, shaking his head.
“It is common. Another woman I know was a hero for her work with the Vietcong during the war against America. The government built her a beautiful house to thank her for her bravery. But, when they learned that she was now a Christian, they said she could not live in the house unless she publicly declared herself atheist.”
“What did she do?”
“Nothing. She now lives in a tiny apartment.”
“It sounds like they get you just where it hurts.”
“That is often how it happens. For example, poor Christian parents are charged more for school fees than their rich, atheist neighbors, often forcing them to choose between their faith and their child’s education.”
“That’s rough,” mused Mike. “It is a lot easier to make sacrifices that affect only yourself than to make them for people you love.”
“Very true. That is why the government works as it does. When storms of hail destroyed homes of village hill people, government agents asked who was a Christian before they handed out aid. Atheists were given hotel rooms and funds to rebuild their homes. Christians received nothing, and many still live in shacks . . .”

Mike’s Reflections-April 23
The way the government works against the Church here is insidious. Yes, there are death threats, lengthy imprisonments, and mind-numbing interrogations, but the bulk of the attack is below the surface, a surface that includes plenty of nice, sedate, Sunday-morning-only churches. There may be fewer overt attacks than in the past, but what goes on now seems almost more difficult to resist than direct persecution. What terrible decisions, choosing between your faith and the well-being of your spouse, your children, or even your cancer treatment.

“I’m going out for a little walk,” said Jedd later that night.
“It’s after midnight,” stated Matt, looking up from his book.
“Yeah, I just feel like it.”
Outside, the air was warm and comfortable, the road, silent and empty. Cyclo drivers lounged on the sidewalk, talking and laughing. One called out to Jedd, “You need ride?”
“No thanks.”
The man smiled. “You walk too much. Cyclo give your legs rest.” His friends laughed.
Jedd turned up the main café street. The patrons were gone and the lights were all off. In the center of the street, a group of Vietnamese men sat in a circle on boxes and packing crates, gambling with dice. A young girl rode back and forth on an old bicycle with her little sister perched on the handlebars. Young boys played marbles along the gutter while cooks and merchants hunched over bowls of soup in front of their closed shops, discussing the day’s business, a few already laying out bamboo mats and settling down to sleep on the sidewalk.
“Hey!” a feminine voice called out.
Jedd turned to see a girl in front of a dark café. It was Tea. Next to her was the young man who had acted so upset the previous night at the café when Jedd and Mike had given Tea money. He spoke up, “Come over here, I’d like to talk to you.”
Jedd approached the pair. “I’m Steve,” said the young man, offering his hand. “I wanted to apologize for last night, you know, what I said and stuff.”
“No problem,” replied Jedd, not sure how to respond.
“See, I’ve hung out in Vietnam for a while now, and Tea and I are pretty good friends. I try to look out for her. I don’t want her to do any of that kind of work, you know? I thought she was taking a ‘job’ from you guys and I was angry.”
“We could tell,” said Jedd with a smile.
“Anyway, I wanted to thank you for what you did. I was mad, but finally I found Tea and she told me why you gave her money. Tea has had a lot of stomach trouble. I think it is because she drinks too much. She used your money to get some medicine from a doctor. I’m sure it’ll help. She feels better already, don’t you, Tea?”
Tea smiled and nodded.
“That was pretty cool that you gave her a Bible, too.”
“Our pleasure. We think it is the most important thing anyone could read.”
“Unfortunately, Tea can’t read very well, but I’m trying to teach her. I think people in her family will read it, though.”
“That’s great.”
“Why don’t you have a seat,” said Steve, indicating a few café chairs that remained on the sidewalk. “What can I get you to drink?”
For the next hour, Jedd, Tea, and the young American talked about life and Vietnam and work and our trip. It was after 1:00 A.M. when Jedd finally headed back to the hotel. Most of the shopkeepers now lay fast asleep, lying on mats in front of their businesses. The cyclo drivers were folded awkwardly in the passenger seats of their three-wheeled bikes, sleeping as well. One lifted an eyebrow as Jedd walked past him, “Good night, American.”
“Good night, cyclo man.”

Brother Hong

Matt rounded the corner and peered across the street at the café. A Vietnamese man stood against the wall to the left of the entrance. Every few seconds he glanced up the street, then down it. He appeared to be in his late twenties, with sinewy arms connected to shoulders that seemed surprisingly broad for a Vietnamese man. Matt made as if to walk past the man, but offered a “good evening” as he neared.
“Good evening,” came the reply. The man stared at Matt’s face for a moment before continuing, “You are Matt?”
“Yes. Are you Brother Hong?”
The man nodded and indicated the café. “Let’s go inside.”
Once seated, Matt waited in silence. Brother Hong turned his head slowly as he peered at the other diners. He blinked twice, almost sleepily, like a jungle cat, relaxed but always alert. Seeing nothing to arouse his suspicion, he began softly, “Thank you for meeting me. I was wanting to talk to you when I heard about you.” His English was quite clear despite being a bit broken.
“I’m glad we could,” answered Matt. “It’s a privilege to talk with you also.”
“I hear you brought Bibles to some of the pastors.”
“We did.”
“Thank you. We need all we can get.”
“You are a pastor also?”
“Yes. I work mostly with tribal people in the mountains. That is where I am from. I have heard you are traveling very much.”
For a time, Matt explained our travels and work throughout the world. Hong was excited to hear reports of the Church in other lands. “We do not always hear of our brothers and sisters in other countries,” he explained. “We can sometimes feel we are small and being crushed.”
Matt looked at him with understanding. “It is good for believers to know about their family in other parts of the world. I want to tell people in America about you here in Vietnam. There are a lot of people there who pray for you, but not many who really know what your lives are like here.”
“We still value their prayers.”
“I would be interested to . . .” Matt paused as he caught sight of Jedd entering the café. “Jedd, over here.”
Jedd joined the pair at the small table and Matt introduced him to Hong. Before they could continue, a waitress approached to take their order. It was not until steaming bowls of soup had been set on the table that Matt was able to repeat his query. “I would be interested to hear your story, Hong, to hear about your life.”
Hong nodded, glanced around once more, then began, “During Vietnam’s war with Cambodia, my family and I ended up in a refugee camp on the Cambodian border. Missionaries who worked with the refugees told me about Jesus. I became very passionate about Him, and I poured myself into the Bible during the years I spent in that camp. When the war was over, I moved to Saigon. I liked it here, but after a time I felt called to go up to the village I had grown up in to share Jesus with my people. I was excited that God had called me to something. Soon after I arrived, though, I began to have doubts. The first two months in my village seemed totally useless. I thought, Why did God call me here if He is not going to do anything? I wondered if God would ever use me at all.
“But then, in one morning, eight people came to Jesus. Over the next two and a half months, thirty people in my village believed in Jesus, including my parents. I was so excited. There were also many signs and healings from the Holy Spirit.”
Hong paused, and Matt turned to Jedd for a moment. “It is interesting that Hong says that about signs and healings confirming his ministry. Tran said the same thing about his ministry here in Saigon. He felt like the miracles confirmed his ministry to the other pastors of the underground church.”
Jedd replied, “I feel like I understand so little of that realm. There are so many miracle-fakers in the U.S., you almost come to assume the only way God can heal today is through medicine. Maybe He chooses to heal in more overt ways in places where they don’t have it.”
Matt nodded thoughtfully, then turned back to Hong. “Sorry, didn’t mean to cut you off there.”
Hong smiled and continued. “Things went very good in my village for a while, but then the government officials learned what I was doing. They took me in and questioned me for a long time.”
“What did they want?” asked Matt.
“Two things. First, to get me to renounce the name of Jesus. Second, they wanted me to tell them the names of all the people who had become Christians in my village.”
“What happened?”
“I would not tell them anything, so they put me in prison. The first ten days I spent in a cell with two other men. I told them about Jesus, and both of them accepted Him.”
“Wow,” remarked Matt under his breath.
“So they moved me to another cell with another man. He was a government informant, and he tried to get information out of me. When this did not work, they put me in solitary confinement.”
“What was it like?” asked Jedd.
“It was a very small room that was always totally black and the floor was always wet. Every few days they took me out and questioned me, telling me about all the possibilities I was missing out on in life, like an education and a job and marriage, offering to set me free immediately if I would inform on the other church members.
“This was a very difficult time for me and I . . . I . . .” Hong stopped for a moment and swallowed hard. A wave of emotion seemed to have washed over him before he was aware it was coming. He looked at the table for a moment, set his jaw, and then looked up at Matt and Jedd again.
“They just left me in there for a long time. I could not talk to anyone, read anything, even see anything. I felt like my head was turning to mush in that empty black cell. My peers were growing in knowledge, but my mind was rotting. I cried sometimes and began to pray always. God started to bring Scriptures I had read in the refugee camp to my mind. Even though I felt like I was losing my ability to think, the words kept coming to me, ‘It is better to enter heaven blind than to go into hell with both eyes.’ I made my decision. If my mind became dull, that would have to be okay. It would be better than to turn on God’s people.
“The next time they questioned me, I said, ‘I am in your hands. I cannot hand over the innocent. You must judge for yourself if I am guilty.’
“They put me back in my cell. The days stretched on forever. My sentence was five years. I had one small bowl of rice for breakfast and one for dinner. I often felt lonely, crushed. But many other times the Lord gave me great comfort. There were times when the Spirit moved me to pray in tongues and worship the Lord with words I did not know.
“Then one day, the commander of the prison came to my cell. He took me to his office and said to me, ‘I am setting you free. You are more innocent than anyone in your generation.’”
Jedd leaned forward. “And they let you go, just like that?”
“Yes. So I returned to my village, where I have worked ever since.”
“You have not had any more trouble with the government?”
“I have had some. Sometimes they take me in to interrogate me, and once they put me in prison for a little while again, but the work always continues . . .”

• • •

Our departure was scheduled for the following afternoon. Tran came by as we were packing the last of our things.
“You are ready to go?” he asked.
Mike nodded. “Yes. But we have some things for you before we leave.” He offered Tran a duffel bag that contained the last of the Bibles. Tran grinned as he peered inside.
“Also, do you think you would be able to use these?” Mike said, producing several Christian books we had read in the past few months: Lewis’s Mere Christianity, J. I. Packer’s Knowing God, and The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis.
“Books like these are sometimes more difficult to get than Bibles,” Tran said with appreciation. “I can make copies of these and get them into the hands of many believers.”
Finally, Trey brought out an envelope. “This money, Tran, is to help you in your ministry. Use it however you feel is best.”
Tran shook his head. “From the first to the last,” he said, “you have been a blessing to us. Many pray you may return.”
“Thank you,” Trey responded, “but you and the church here have been much more of a blessing to us.”
Tran hugged each of us in turn, then helped us carry our bags out to the curb in front of the hotel. He bargained with the small crowd of taxi drivers until only one remained, and we loaded our backpacks into the trunk of a small car.
“To the airport,” he said to the driver before sticking his head in the rear window. “Good-bye, my brothers. I look forward to our next meeting, whenever that may be. You will be in my prayers . . .” The car rumbled to a start and began rolling down the street. “. . . And do not forget: Pray for Vietnam!”

______________________________________




Conclusion

The Adventure Begins


We must not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.

-T. S. ELIOT


Jedd turned over and glanced at the clock on the nightstand. 3:17 A.M. Two hours lying there and sleep still eluded him.
Kind of funny, he thought. This is the softest bed I’ve had in seven months, and I still can’t sleep a wink.
In Hong Kong, instead of connecting immediately to Los Angeles, we had arranged a layover so we could spend a few days with Matt’s aunt and uncle who lived just inside mainland China. Their home felt like America. Although we did make a brief sojourn into Guangzhou (the city once known as Canton), we could generate little desire to do much touring. Aunt Loretta and Uncle Hank seemed to sense this. They happily allowed us to do little but lounge around the house, relaxing and playing games with Matt’s two young cousins, Heidi and Tanya.
Jedd let out a sigh and pushed back the bedcovers. He stepped gingerly over Matt and Trey, who appeared to be sleeping quite soundly on the floor. The faint buzz of a television emanated from the living room.
“You’re still up, Mike?”
“Yeah. Couldn’t sleep.”
“Me either. It is kind of funny; I think I’m just too excited about going home tomorrow.”
“I’m definitely ready.”
“Are you excited about seeing Brittney?”
“I’ve never missed anyone this much in my life.”
“Uh-oh, Mike. Before we know it, you’re going to go get married on us.”
Mike grinned. “The way I’m feeling now, I just may.” He thought for a moment, then asked, “What about you? You going to ride up to Russia’s northland on a white horse anytime soon?”
“You mean Lena?” Jedd smiled faintly.
“Do you think about her much?”
“I guess I do. Even when we were there in Russia, I knew it was all kind of silly and that the feeling would fade. It has . . . at least, it’s mellowed. Whether or not I ever get married, I know God’s got other things for me. I guess there will always be something in the memory, though.”
“Yeah, I bet there will.” He allowed a respectful silence, then broke into a faint smirk. “Well, I’m going to be kissing a real girl tomorrow.”
“If no one is there for me, I may have to kiss Brittney, too.”
“One of those customs ladies might be willing to give you a smooch if you really need it.”
“Yeah, well, smooch or no smooch, I’ll be happy to be home. It’ll be great to see my family. My mom’s cancer treatment is all over and she’s doing really well.” Jedd glanced at the TV screen for a moment. “What’s this movie you’re watching?”
“I’m not sure of its name. Pretty intense, set on a college campus. There are all these groups struggling for power, different goals, some good and some evil. They all want influence and respect but call the constant fight for power ‘the game’ . . . we’re all playing the game.”
“Sounds like life as it is.”
“I know. It’s weird how much I’ve changed. I remember wanting to make it to the top so bad. I didn’t think too much about why; I guess I just wanted to play, too. It really is refreshing to feel like we can live outside ‘the game’ if we keep living like we want to.”
“I hope we don’t get sucked back in when we get back into more normal lives.”
“I guess that’s always a danger, but I don’t think we will. We’ve got a pretty clear sense of how meaningless it all is.”
“I agree. Well, are you going to watch the rest of this?”
“Yeah. I’ll sleep on the plane tomorrow.”
“I never sleep on planes. I’m going to go lie down again.”
“All right. See you in the morning.”
“Twenty-six hours ’til America.”
“Yep. We’re going home.”

• • •

Our ferryboat plowed through steel-gray waters. Matt and Trey leaned against the aft railing, watching the Chinese mainland disappear. A fierce wind pushed their hair out in front of their heads and made a snapping sound with the Communist banner that flew from the back of the boat.
“Your hair is sure getting long, Trey,” said Matt, raising his voice to be heard above the wind.
“I know. I never let it get much longer than a crew cut growing up. Now I can put it in my mouth.” Trey pulled a strand down in front of his face and held it in his teeth to prove his point.
“With as little as we’ve showered, that must taste really good.”
“It’s okay. Kind of salty.”
Matt smiled and turned his gaze back to the churning wake. “So what are you looking forward to, Trey?”
“Pizza Hut.”
“Me, too, but not as much as you, I think. Anything else?”
“Nothing that much,” said Trey with a grin. “How about you?”
“I will definitely like having a little more pattern in my life for a while. And it’ll be really good to see my family.”
A shadow crossed Trey’s face for a moment. “I think my mom and my brother will be moving back to the U.S. pretty soon. We have a lot to sort through, but it will be good to be together.”
Jedd and Mike emerged from a door a short way up the deck and joined Matt and Trey against the railing. Mike’s orange T-shirt, its neck stretched and frayed, seemed ready to blow off his body. “Cold out here,” he remarked.
“I felt a few raindrops a minute ago,” said Matt. The swollen clouds overhead appeared ready to lose their cargo at any time.
“We’re just a plane ride away from sunny L.A.,” remarked Trey.
Jedd slapped his hands down on the railing. The others looked over at him, but he said nothing, only shook his head slowly.
“What?” said Trey.
“I’m just thinking, what an amazing adventure we got to be a part of.”
“You’re just realizing that now?”
“No. It is just that I feel like we had nothing to do with creating it or making it happen. I mean, obviously we worked and organized and stuff, but more than anything, I feel like we just got to go along for a wild ride.”
“I feel the same,” said Mike.
“It was faith, too, though,” suggested Matt. “Not that we deserved any of this or anything, but to end up in places like this, you have to go beyond what you feel totally comfortable with . . .”
“Or at least beyond what other people feel comfortable with you doing,” interjected Mike. “Faith makes it possible to rebel against the expectations of the crowd.”
“Rebellion isn’t a value in itself, though,” Jedd asserted.
“Right. I wasn’t saying that. Just thrashing against the system is every bit as stupid as blindly obeying it. Real faith is different; it’s the confidence in God that frees you to cut against the world’s ways and values. It’s rebellion, but it is guided by God and His Word. Sometimes you live in the boundaries and sometimes outside them.”
We fell silent for a moment, watching a rusty scow cross through our wake just fifty yards behind. In its raised, windowless cabin, the silhouette of a sailor hunched over a large steering wheel.
“That’d be kind of a fun job,” declared Trey.
“What, driving a scow?” Matt laughed. “That thing looks like it could sink at any moment.”
“It’d still be fun. Better than pushing papers.”
Mike stood up on the railing as he added another thought. “Whatever work we do when we get back, the big question now is whether or not the adventure is over.”
“That is the question,” agreed Matt.
Trey shook his head. “It’s not over.”
Mike glanced at him. “Why not?”
“Because-like we’ve been starting to see for the past couple months: What’s been the real adventure of this trip anyway? The travel has been fun, but the places and experiences weren’t the truly epic parts of the trip. What has made this all so great has been the other things . . . You know, growing deeper in our relationship with God and learning to love one another better, and getting to learn from and serve other people, too. That stuff is just as available to us at home as it is in any exotic location.”
Mike chuckled. “Trey’s always the optimist, but I do think you’re right.”
“I agree,” said Jedd. “If we really are serious about living out everything we’ve learned, our adventure is really just beginning. Epic life isn’t just going from one wild place to another. More than anything, I think, it’s . . .” He paused for a moment. “It’s living out ordinary life for eternal purposes.”
“We just have to commit to actually doing it,” stated Trey emphatically.
“That will be the challenge,” Matt agreed. “But at least we’ve got a good sense of how to start. Think about Salomón and Mery, or Steve, or the Claassens, or Anil and Annie, or Tran and Hong, or so many of the others. They try to live as Jesus called them to live every day. It obviously takes sacrifices, but the quality of relationships and the depth of purpose they live with . . . that’s real adventure. If we’re able to do the same, especially together, I know it will be epic life.”
“Look up there.” Jedd pointed, turning our gaze to the front of the boat.
A quarter mile ahead, a curtain of silver-gray hung between the clouds and the water. The realm beyond appeared dark, almost black.
“Here it comes,” declared Matt, pulling up his hood.
Trey paused for a moment. He glanced at the impending downpour, then at Mike, Matt, and Jedd. “Well, guys”-he smiled, the raindrops starting to pelt against his face-“our adventure is only beginning . . .”

 

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About the Authors

During college, Matt Kronberg worked with the homeless in Santa Barbara and spent summers as a counselor at a camp in the Sierra. He has a double major in Philosophy and Communication Studies and is now pursuing graduate studies at North Park Theological Seminary.

Jedd Medefind grew up with his three brothers on a small farm in California's Central Valley, thriving on sports, books, and the great outdoors. He now serves as chief of staff for Assemblyman Tim Leslie in the California State Legislature.

Mike Peterson would be your run-of-the-mill beach bum had he not carved out a niche in the world of commerce with his own small business. Even so, he's still rarely happier than when riding the waves or cutting through deep powder on a snowboard.

Trey Sklar's passion has always been for lands beyond, studying at the University of Zimbabwe and working with an international corporation in Moscow. Not surprisingly, he earned a degree in International Studies from Westmont College and hopes to live a ministry of hospitality-wherever he ends up.

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Contents
Introduction
: First Seeds of an Adventure ix

Part I: Mexico

Part II: Guatemala

Part III: Russia and Beyond

Part IV: Egypt

Part V: South Africa

Part VI: India

Part VII: Bangladesh

Part VIII: Thailand

Part IX: Vietnam

Conclusion: The Adventure Begins

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