Nambodia Post 5 – The Cao Dei Temple

I have had a couple thoughts swirling around since my last post but the past couple of days have not lent themselves to organize them.

Here’s a little bit:

On Saturday, we spent an incredible day in Long Xuyen. We visited another pagoda, this time a Cao Dai Temple. Cao Dai is a fairly new eastern religion that combines Buddhism, Confucianism, the teachings of Jesus, and meshes them together for what they call this new, third period of existence. You can read more here.

The first thing that stuck out at me is the structure in front of the pagoda that had numerous swastikas. I know they are everywhere in the East, from temples to farms and it is a symbol for Buddhism and “good fortune” but I haven’t been able to shake the connotation that I bring to it.

Inside the pagoda is extremely colorful. Of the ones we have seen, it was the most spacious, cleanest, most colorful and there was a picture of Jesus in it. His face sat third under Buddha and Confucius. Whether it be Islam or wherever, Jesus tends to pop up in various places and I have always found that interesting.

I wish I had more time to import and post pictures but I am a couple posts behind and time is not on my side (But I was able to read NT Wright’s Last Word on the 6 hour boat ride to Cambodia. It was pretty cool to see the countryside from that way).

As far as the practical things go, aside it from being extremely hot, I’ve been feeling fine. And for the most part, everyone else is too. We are eating a lot and often, walking quite a bit, and we haven’t had any real bad moments as a group (but the night is young … ;-)

I hope to post soon on our worship service at the Protestant church, the talent show at the school, more of the conversations that we had with the students and our first day in Cambodia.  Tomorrow we visit the Killing Fields Memorial amongst a number of other memorials.

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers, grace to you.

Nambodia Post 4 – The only name we have in common is Brittany Spears

We spent yesterday driving to the An Giang University in Xuyen Long? It was about a 6 hour drive from Ho Chi Minh and like most developing countries, the road system is always a bit interesting. Our dorm room accomadations aren’t bad. Sort of like a 2 room, cabin-style double room with its own bathroom. The room s are bigger than our Ho Chi Minh hotels but mold is a bit of a problem here – so are mosquitos and geckos. We have nets for the mosquitos (and boots for the lizards – lol. JK – they’re great actually because they eat the mosquitos. Jeremy and I have been luring more of them into our room with granola bars, “Come eat the mosquitos. We have mold in the bathroom too.”)

Anyway, after we got a bit settled, we went out to eat with about 20 of the university students. As with most of these types of moments, the beginnings are always awkward and no one can say anything right, and you are looking around for the reset button. Then with the arrival of food, the miracle of actual conversation happens (trust me, it’s always after the food arrives, even back in the States).

A lot to say of course but here’s a couple of things I found interesting.

– They were all English majors. The thought of that in light of their parents’ war generation really intrigued me.

– It isn’t until you leave the States that you realize just how popular Brittany Spears and Taylor Swift really are. Back home, Taylor is cool, Brittany is uhh, well, you know. Here’s the thing though – if you were talking to someone 10 years younger than you from the other side of the world, which people would you both know? I know this is normal but I’m going to ask more of these types of questions in the next two days but I don’t think it’s a stretch for me to say that I do not know anyone from this part of the world. Jackie Chan and the “other guy” (Jet Li?). I think the only Asian person on my iPod was the dude from Hoobestank and that was so 2004. This really exposes a couple of things about being an American and I know we have the benefit of having a huge entertainmnet industry but it does make me wonder what it means when that’s the first name we come up with is Brittany (ahead of Obama, the Pope, and even Bono! Note that only one of these is American).

Much more to say but I need to run and it’s going to be a hot one. Today we are visited a pagoda temple here and taking in some other sights before our times of dialogue and tonight’s talent show.

‘Nambodia Post 3 Our Multi-relgious Experience


Today, our objective was to observe how cosmopolitan the religious climate was in the 4 major world religions in Ho Chi Minh. So we went to a mosque, a Buddhist temple, then to a Hindu one, and lastly to a Catholic church.

The mosque was pretty small, quiet and I am not sure anyone showed up for morning prayers which is sort of a shame because I like the idea of gathering for prayer. The iman was welcoming and we tried to engage in conversation but unfortunately, our language barrier proved to be too much. I think what I liked most about the mosque was how conveniently it was situated in the neighborhood. It was accessible and that would prove to be one of the themes of the day.

Next we headed to a Buddhist temple. It had numerous shrines and rooms and landings with more shrines and rooms and while it wasn’t large enough to get lost in, it was pretty big. There was a lot to take in, a lot of aesthetics, statues, flashing lights, candles, motion, etc. While it was great to be there, I never got settled and felt distracted. The room that I liked the most was off to the left of the main hall. Aside from a ringing a bell when a worshipper would enter, pray, and “cross themselves” (I could never figure out what sign the hands actually made), that was the only room that I could find some stillness in. It turned out that room had what was called the 12 scenes of hell in it. I found that interesting for several reasons, it was the least visited room, the quietest and until i was told that, it was the room that I liked the most. Not sure what that means exactly but I did give a pray of confession and praised the Lord for forgivness and walked away appreciating that the Buddhists shared the idea of separation from God (from my vantage point).

After enjoying lunch at “The Saigon Lunch Lady” as featured by Anthony Bourdain, grabbing some iced coffee and catching our breath for a little bit, we set out to the Hindu temple. It was considerably smaller and simpler than the Buddhist temple and I also found those who worked there to be more hospitable to us obvious foreigners. We were offered incense sticks and a couple people employed and non-employed engaged us in conversation. One worshipper explained to Jay and I that all are welcomed to pray to whomeever. Jay said that he prayed to Jesus and she said that was great. She went on to explaion that when praying, you should use 8 or 16 sticks of incense. Feeling very comfortable, I grabbed 7 sticks (because that number has more significance for me), removed my shoes, and spent a considerable time lighting them (I admit, it was a bit anti-climactic – lol). After finally getting them lit appropriately (such a newbie), and identifying 3 stations, I prayed to my Lord and I must say, it did not feel odd at all. In fact, as I was praying, I felt the insense sitcks moving a bit and so I slowed down my breathing and tried to still my body hoping that the rest of me would be stilled. That was beautiful. I prayed in three’s (normal things like my family, my ministry and different aspects of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – too awkward to really explain here). In leaving, i was grateful for that experience. I have prayed in the car, in movie theaters, in hospitals and have always sensed my God hearing those prayers, today did not feel any different. Also, I could not help but not think of Paul in Athens. So much more to say on that but I’m still processing.The last place we visited was this beautiful Catholic church. It was absolutely beautiful. It was in a nice part of the town and not only was it accessible but sitting on a city block by itself, it seemed dedicated. I have always loved the gothic architecture and all the stations inside such sanctuaries. It was quiet, dark, and very inviting for prayer and meditation. It was the perfect place to sit and reflect and converse with the Lord. I could not help but feel envious for not living in a city where this type of sanctuary was not available. Living next door to ours, I admit not feeling awed by the room (although it is a nice looking sanctuary for Proteastant churches built in the last 50 years but let’s face it, you just can’t compete with that gothic arhictecture). It’s probably part of the reason I almost always stop at St. Patricks Cathedral or the Grace Church (in the Village) in NYC.

Lastly, sitting in the church, I could not help but be grateful for all the different types of sanctuaries that God inhabits. It seemed very clear to me that the sign on the door could not keep His presence in or out and I found myself praying that all seeked would find. Jesus’ Gospel is for all and I was once again reminded from different angles of that essential truth today.
Tomorrow we go to Long Xuyen and begin our time of dialogue with the An Giang University students. Aside from the 6 hour bus ride, we are all pretty excited about this and these past two days of walking, observing and dialouging with each other has served us well. I think we are rested and prepared as we can be.


Nambodia Post 2 – Museum of War Remnants

Just got up – it’s about 6am (we are 11 hours ahead of you EST friends). Everything is good. So far, I have had no problems with sleep or with the food. After we arrived and checked into our hotel (small clean rooms), we went to the Museum of War Remnants.

It was a longwalk, very hot but we was worth going to. The museum was pretty intense, very sad and emotionally taxing. To say the least, there are lot of feelings there, very tragic pictures, horrible stories, a lot of hurt and hate expressions – hard to take in.

I remember visiting the Holocaust Museum in Israel and being so moved by it. But if I had to describe another aspect of what I was feeling, it was relief because I wasn’t the “oppresser” or the “oppressed”. Years later, I would visit the Holocaust Museum in Berlin and I felt much closer to the many Jews and minorities who suffered so severely.

Today, being an American visiting the Remnants Museum, was difficult. I am a very gratful American, but still, if you can separate yourself from your national alliance and be human, you cannot help but be overwhelmed by these stories. I probably won’t post the pictures, interested people can google the museum for themselves but seeing the effects of the Agent Orange, reading the stories of brutality, and feeling the pain causes you to be so alarmed by the world we live in. These places reveal the fallness and the evil within all of us.

I think walking away from the exhibits, I felt the enormity of our broken, sinful natures. Throughout human history, we have always succeeded in hurting each other. A lot more could be said here but to move the thought forward, I also felt the great importance of the Gospel. When Jesus teaches us to love our neighor as ourselves and to love our enemies, I see that as a fundamental key to all aspects of life, not just personal politeness in my local context.

Afterwards, we went to dinner at a real interesting place called Pho Bin. It was used as a front for the Vietcong. So downstairs noodles were fed to the American GI’s and upstairs, things like the TET Offesnive were planned. Unbelievable. We headed back to the hotel and had a small team meeting before endinng the first night. I was pretty tired by then so I went to sleep and for the most part, slept well and here I am.

I’m going to try and update the blog but wanted to say hey. Thanks for your prayers, thoughts and love, hope you are well too.