Merry Christmas from ScholarLeaders! Amid ongoing hardships and uncertainties, and despite lockdowns and physical separations, we join the worldwide Body of Christ in celebrating Emmanuel, our God who is with us. This week, Saralen Tran in Vietnam reminds us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Light who shines in the darkness.
Shaped like an elongated “s,” the Socialist Republic of Vietnam forms the eastern and southern borders of the Southeast Asian peninsula. Though a Communist country, Vietnam allows for freedom of worship in its constitution. Nevertheless, religious organizations are subject to government control and Christian converts, especially from among ethnic minorities, face persecution from local authorities. According to 2018 data, 74% of Vietnam’s 96 million people are irreligious, while 15% practice Buddhism, 8% are Christians (mostly Catholic), and 3% adhere to modern Vietnamese religions like Hoahaoism and Caodaism. In late October, Typhoon Molave struck central Vietnam, causing deadly landslides that have killed dozens and buried entire villages.
Saralen is pursuing a PhD in Educational Studies at Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary (Philippines). Her research will develop effective educational strategies for training theology students from ethnic minority groups in Vietnam, where ethnic minorities will represent over 80% of Vietnam’s Christian population by 2030. Since 2013, Saralen has served as a lecturer at Hanoi Bible College, where 85% of the student population is Hmong.
Saralen shares the following devotional and prayer requests:
Hope in the Darkness
On October 29, we received bad news. A landslide in Quang Nam Province had killed a friend, his wife, and two of their five children. We had prayed with this friend to accept Jesus as his Savior when he was working in Malaysia. We remember hearing, with much joy, that God was using him in incredible ways after his return to Vietnam. By the time our friend was taken to the Father, he had been faithfully serving the Lord in his home village.
We don’t know why this tragedy happened. The crisis seems too unendurable for his three remaining children, who are now left parentless and terrified. This traumatizing event could take away all the hope in their lives!
A few days later, my husband Thuy came home exhausted after a work trip. He had been working hard to get governmental approval for a relief operation in a central province. He was frustrated when everything was canceled at the last minute. He couldn’t bear his resentment, knowing that the local typhoon victims would be left without access to emergency aid. We were grieving, too.
Christmas is not an official public holiday in Vietnam. Many people think it is only for Christians to celebrate. We usually begin our family Christmas rituals early in November by putting up decorations and scheduling Christmas parties.
On the first Saturday of November, everything was ready for Christmas decorating, but we did not feel like we could enjoy it this year. That morning, I had spent my quiet time on my blooming balcony, sipping a mug of hot ginger tea and wearing a cardigan to keep my body warm from the wind. Such pleasant moments would always bring me comfort, but not on that day.
I felt bad about my sufficiency and contentment, as I thought of those who were suffering from hunger and losses caused by the floods and landslides in Vietnam’s central regions. My heart was heavy as I pondered, “Is it all right to celebrate amid these discouraging circumstances?”
These words from Isaiah then came to mind: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2 NIV).
Sometimes, we only perceive darkness in our unexpected situations. While enduring discomforts, we only pay attention to our suffering. Instead of looking to Jesus, the only reason to celebrate, we narrow our focus on failures and losses. In that sphere of darkness, we rely on our own moral judgments. We forget that Jesus comes for people like all of us, who struggle in many different ways. When we do not see Christ as a light, we cannot see hope.
I realized that we could ask questions in a different way. Instead of asking whether we should throw a party while others go hungry, we could ask how we might celebrate Christ in people’s lives, while acknowledging their suffering.
Indeed, Jesus is working in their midst and there is hope in this difficult year. We don’t know what God will do for my friend’s family and church. We don’t know what greater provision God will make for those typhoon victims. The only thing we know is that Jesus Christ is always the Light, both here and everywhere, for all of us. Jesus is the focus of our celebration, not anything else.
The year 2020 completes our first decade of life and ministry in Hanoi, and inaugurates another journey of learning. We are always thankful for the abundance of God’s table and comfort for such a time as this year.
Please uphold us in prayer as I prepare to leave my fulltime job at a Christian international organization.
Also, pray for wisdom so that I can clearly defend my thesis proposal in 2021 at Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary. My research focuses on contextualized theological training for ethnic minorities in North Vietnam. By exploring historical, cultural, and language factors that enhance the academic success of ethnic minority students at Hanoi Bible College, I hope to develop a more effective model of theological education for the Christian and Missionary Alliance in North Vietnam.