Expanded Hearts

IMG_6547 3.jpg

In the two days we were home after our 2.5 week California tour and before we left for Vietnam, this sweet little gathering of “bleeding hearts” caught my eye as we walked through our neighborhood. It speaks to me of how the heart multiplies with love. I’m writing this as we journey home from spending just under two weeks in Vietnam, and this rings so true. Our hearts were so full of love and gratitude before we left on this trip, it was hard to imagine how it could continue expanding. 

But it has. We return with hearts bursting with love, gratitude, and compassion for the wonderful people we’ve been interacting with during this trip, and we marvel, because all of this points to the heart of God . . . which is limitless. How hope-giving that His love is infinite and that though we are finite, growth in Christlikeness will result in expanded hearts.

Paul and I are basking in the afterglow of 12 amazing days in Vietnam, at hour 30 of a 39-hour trip. :). Blessed, we are, that our hosts, Sonny and Christy Vu, indulged us with Business Class so we’d be “rested” after our travel. Such a gift! It does make a difference!!

Our first ministry trip to Vietnam was last year, and was contained in Ho Chi Minh City (with a brief sightseeing trip to Da Nang and Hội An). This second annual trip began in Hanoi and another whole world was opened to us. It’s like the difference between New England and the South: the people, culture, climate, and sights are all very different. We noticed it immediately by the reserved response of the Hanoians who attended the conferences, and it was further amplified by the one-on-one counseling sessions we had. 

But how exhilarating to speak to people who had never heard of the gospel or of God’s design for relationships!! They were so open—and many responded with statements like, “We’ve never heard anything like this!” Numerous ones expressed “aha!” insights, and openness to hear more. We sensed God moving among us. It was very energizing.

We spoke through simultaneous translation—which makes it very natural to speak as we normally do, except that we did not expressly use references from scripture. The composition of the audience (using the greater culture’s statistics) was < .01% Christian, 75% Buddhist, and 24% Catholic. So since it was not a “religious” event, we presented the truth of scripture without directly citing scripture. We did interject, “If you had a Christian worldview . . .” intermittently, to give some context. Then there were our books . . . Speaking of which, with major events in two cities this year, it was prohibitive to bring enough books with us to make available, so about 3 weeks before the trip, Sonny “solved” the problem by asking us to send him the native files for printing them, and by the time we arrived, 800 books had been printed there in Vietnam. Problem solved!!

It’s amazing to us how many books sold, especially considering the fact that they are printed in English! There is definitely a hunger for insights into marriage, family, and relationships.

After the conferences all day Saturday, we did one-to-one counseling Sunday and Monday: eight appointments each day. Our first appointment Sunday at 8 am was with a single young woman who had been at the conference all day Saturday. She lives 100 km from where we were meeting, and started her journey at 5 am (taking two different buses) to make it on time. We fell in love with her. Between Saturday and Sunday’s input, she decided to end the relationship she was developing with a man from California who was expecting her to move there to marry him. Though very hard for her to “end” her first love, she believed it was the right decision. Pray for her as she walks through this pain. Our prayer is that she’ll discover the very author of love through this.

Our flight took us from Boston to Toronto to Seoul, Korea, where the familiar DUNKIN’ signs greeted us. On to Hanoi, where we were met by Sonny and Christy’s assistants, Carmen and Troy. They got us checked in to the Hanoi Hilton.

Our flight took us from Boston to Toronto to Seoul, Korea, where the familiar DUNKIN’ signs greeted us. On to Hanoi, where we were met by Sonny and Christy’s assistants, Carmen and Troy. They got us checked in to the Hanoi Hilton.

Friday was “adjustment” day and we explored Hanoi by foot, taking in the smells, sights, and sounds.

Friday was “adjustment” day and we explored Hanoi by foot, taking in the smells, sights, and sounds.

We had lunch with a Vietnamese couple from San Diego (whose daughter was a roommate of Christy’s in years past). They happened to be in Hanoi at that time and we enjoyed getting to know them!

We had lunch with a Vietnamese couple from San Diego (whose daughter was a roommate of Christy’s in years past). They happened to be in Hanoi at that time and we enjoyed getting to know them!

The conference Saturday was held in a huge wedding reception hall and Troy and Carmen did a great job tending to all the details. Sonny and Christy are introducing the conference and us in the first frame; Troy is selling books for which there was high interest; and we’re pictured with a few of the conferees who lingered after it was over.

The conference Saturday was held in a huge wedding reception hall and Troy and Carmen did a great job tending to all the details. Sonny and Christy are introducing the conference and us in the first frame; Troy is selling books for which there was high interest; and we’re pictured with a few of the conferees who lingered after it was over.

A few more glimpses of life in Hanoi. The upper right photo is of the “shared workspace” in which we met for counseling. The bottom left is me with my new friend Hanh and the last photo is Hanoi at night. Lots of lights!

A few more glimpses of life in Hanoi. The upper right photo is of the “shared workspace” in which we met for counseling. The bottom left is me with my new friend Hanh and the last photo is Hanoi at night. Lots of lights!

Tuesday and Wednesday were vacation days, and we were treated to a 23-hour cruise in HaLong Bay. We took a seaplane to get there from Hanoi, a 45-minute trip vs a 4-hour drive, and it seemed like a really great idea until about 15 minutes from landing, when out of nowhere, a monsoon arrived. We went from clear skies to very stormy conditions in minutes and fortunately our very seasoned and experienced pilot maneuvered through the storm to land safely on the bay. “I never would’ve flown in these conditions had I known” were Pilot James’s words after we water landed. He then apologized for aborting the scheduled 15-minute aerial tour of the bay. We forgave him. :). It was definitely a white-knuckled trip and we were very thankful for the happy ending.

All was perfect as we boarded the seaplane in Hanoi.

All was perfect as we boarded the seaplane in Hanoi.

Clear skies, great visibility.

Clear skies, great visibility.

About 15 minutes from landing, the weather deteriorated within minutes and visibility became almost non-existent.

About 15 minutes from landing, the weather deteriorated within minutes and visibility became almost non-existent.

Pilot James masterfully set the seaplane down in the bay, much to our relief.

Pilot James masterfully set the seaplane down in the bay, much to our relief.

And the next day, when we got our 15-minute aerial tour as we flew back to Hanoi, we saw what we had missed. Spectacular!!

And the next day, when we got our 15-minute aerial tour as we flew back to Hanoi, we saw what we had missed. Spectacular!!

There aren’t words to describe the magical nature of this hidden gem…more than 2000 islands of various sizes and shapes dot the huge bay, which has a maximum depth of 25 meters. We were mesmerized!!

There aren’t words to describe the magical nature of this hidden gem…more than 2000 islands of various sizes and shapes dot the huge bay, which has a maximum depth of 25 meters. We were mesmerized!!

The cruise was super fun. Only 15 passengers, all from Australia except us and one couple from Scotland, and we had a blast discovering this unique and beautiful place. We visited a cultured pearl farm, kayaked, hiked through a massive cave filled with stalactites and stalagmites, had a lesson in making fresh spring rolls, did TaiChi at 6 am on the upper deck, hiked to the top of an island (and were rewarded with a swim in the refreshing water afterwards), and enjoyed yummy meals and delightful interaction with the other cruisers. We were especially drawn to two young ladies from Australia, both in their early 30’s, who were seeking advice on how to navigate relationships. Both were fairly disillusioned with the longterm boyfriends they had and asked, “How do you find the right guy and how do you know when you’ve found him?”

So glad you asked! We had a spirited conversation with them and they were delighted when we offered to leave copies of our books for them in Ho Chi Minh City for them to pick up when they made it south. We hope to keep in touch with them.

Our time in HaLong Bay was full of delight and beauty. We found it refreshing and renewing and 24 hours after arriving, we flew to Ho Chi Minh City for five more days of ministry.

Our time in HaLong Bay was full of delight and beauty. We found it refreshing and renewing and 24 hours after arriving, we flew to Ho Chi Minh City for five more days of ministry.

HCM City is busy!! Crossing streets safely is a major accomplishment with the hordes of motor scooters (the primary mode of transportation) interspersed with taxis and private cars speeding along. We arrived late Wednesday night (the 15th) and spent Thursday and Friday counseling. After taking a taxi the first morning from our hotel to the Shared Space office building, we surmised correctly that it would be faster to walk than to slug through traffic, so that we did. We killed two birds with one stone: getting to the office and getting our exercise!!

A small sampling of the very congested streets in HCM City . . . everyone rides scooters!

A small sampling of the very congested streets in HCM City . . . everyone rides scooters!

Saturday was the conference day, duplicating what we did in Hanoi. The morning started at 9 and was to end at 12, but "Q & A” via text kept going till almost 1, which we found thrilling. So many good questions were asked, reflecting both their hunger and their engagement. It was a very energetic, involved group of about 250. The afternoon session was on relationships and geared more towards singles, but many marrieds attended as well. It also went very well and we were so very thankful to sense that God was truly with us.

Written by one of the attendees on her Facebook wall:

🌸 “Workshop by Dr. Paul Friesen and Dr. Virginia Friesen with the mission to help couples build sustainable marriage and create happy relationships to share.

This morning's workshop was great with lots of useful information. There are both headphones for people who don't know English, and teabreak.

There are 1 sessions left to prepare for a happy marriage this afternoon. Of course the content is suitable for both married couples! 🙂

And if you're not ready to get married, then why not take the time to collect more knowledge about getting "that person" into life?

If we want to be chosen as an ideal partner then we need to have the qualities to be a great life partner first."

That night, we had the privilege of speaking to a packed room of students involved with IFES at the local university!! IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, an arm of IVCF) is alive and well in HCM City and within hours of posting the seminar on relationships, the room (capacity 80) was “sold out.” What a great night we had with General Secretary Thu and staff workers Hahn and Ahn, who hosted the evening. Most surprising was having as many men as women in attendance! We went through the “Four C’s” with them and talked about Biblical principles related to relationships before entertaining questions, of which there was a steady stream. It was delightful to speak to a Christian audience and to use scripture openly.

The first three photos are of the Saturday seminars, and the last one is of the IFES gathering. It was a full day, but oh, so good.

The first three photos are of the Saturday seminars, and the last one is of the IFES gathering. It was a full day, but oh, so good.

The black writing reflects the input from the IFES students. The similarities of what people around the world want relationally points to the truth that we are image bearers of God.

The black writing reflects the input from the IFES students. The similarities of what people around the world want relationally points to the truth that we are image bearers of God.

After a good night sleep, Sunday came! We had the privilege of again teaching at the Thu Thiem International Church and, as was true last year, we were deeply touched to worship with people from all around the world who love Jesus. We immediately felt at “home” with this Body of Christ . . . only He could unify us in spite of our many differences. It was a foretaste of heaven.

After the service, we had a yummy Thai lunch with Christy and Sonny and then spent a couple of hours with a small group of about 20 who came to the Vu’s home with questions on family and marriage. Great interaction with very sincere and dear folks was had, which continued into a light supper of “getting to know you” time. Small world experience: Jonathan and Ashley Moreno, who serve in leadership for the church, are friends with Jack and Holly Easterby, who have served for the past 6 years on the staff of the New England Patriots as “Life Coach.” Jack and Holly’s impact on the spiritual development of the team has been profound (and sadly for us in New England, they have relocated to Houston to take on a big position there). How crazy is that?? We are so thankful for the Morenos and others who are faithfully serving Jesus in Vietnam.

The first photo is of the team who made the Sunday morning service happen; next is Sonny and Christy introducing us; the next is the small group that met at the Vu’s house late afternoon, and the final photo . . . a sampling of the Thai lunch we had. Yum!!

The first photo is of the team who made the Sunday morning service happen; next is Sonny and Christy introducing us; the next is the small group that met at the Vu’s house late afternoon, and the final photo . . . a sampling of the Thai lunch we had. Yum!!

Monday came far too quickly for our hearts, as it was our last day in Vietnam. Counseling took up 6 hours of the day, but I managed to sneak in some spa treatments, thanks to another new friend, Bell, who escorted me to a lovely place. I felt very pampered.

Final sunrise over the city . . . and moon set through the tower . . . My friend Bell took me to the spa . . . and my toes are now ready for Hawaii!

Final sunrise over the city . . . and moon set through the tower . . . My friend Bell took me to the spa . . . and my toes are now ready for Hawaii!

Early morning Tuesday (about 35 hours ago as I write this) we returned to the airport to begin our journey home. With hearts full and overflowing, Paul and I have been reflecting on and sorting out this trip as we’ve flown home. We’re amazed by all of it: from Sonny and Christy having the vision and the resources to host such events in their country in response to the great need, to the eager reception of very foreign ideas and thoughts by attendees, to those who came for counseling (and we could only see a fraction of those who responded to the announcement of our availability), to the many kindnesses extended to us throughout our stay.

Most of all, we’re amazed by the faithfulness of God. He met us in so many tangible ways and filled us with hope that beyond the practical tools related to marriage and family, many will discover that He is the reason for the hope that is in us. 

So we return home with hearts ever expanded, and we find that amazing as well.

Good morning, Ho Chi Minh City!

Good morning, Ho Chi Minh City!

And good night.

And good night.