28 April 2009

Timely reflections on venturing forth

This weekend I attended my fourth EMU graduation and remembered my own walk across that platform two years ago. Given the changes that seem to be taking shape on the horizon of my own life, I feel justified in claiming some of the wisdom and encouragement imparted to this year's graduates as my own.

During the Commencement Address, Joyce Bontrager Lehman quoted a passage that while usually attributed to Goethe is actually only a very loose 1835 translation of Faust. Regardless of who wrote them, I found these words incredibly relevant to my current situation. She reminded the graduates, "Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back-- Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now."

Now, I'll readily admit that I've always had a soft spot for profound thoughts and platitudes from authors whom I've never actually read, but this one is feels different. In the past weeks, as this dream of Vietnam has moved closer to becoming reality, I've experienced a fair share of hesitancy. The questions of the unknown have haunted me and I have contemplated simply giving up. While sharing these concerns with a dear friend, she surprised me by saying that one of the reasons she so admires my desire to do this is because she knows that if she was in my position, she would let her fear of those unknowns keep her from trying at all. It was at that moment that I committed to this venture. Seeing the faith that others have in my abilities enabled me to see that this is possible.

And, like Goethe said, it appears Providence is moving too. The most recent updates from Vietnam seem to indicate that my position will be approved. Each day it seems that greater possibilities are opening up for the taking. Yes, the unknown remains and I have no doubt that there will be many moments where this endeavor seems utterly impossible. But now that I've committed myself to it, I can begin to live in the reality of that anticipation.

23 April 2009


There is little doubt that there are certain experiences in each person’s life that have life-long impact. For me, many of those experiences took place two years ago when I spent two weeks at An Giang University in Long Xuyen Vietnam. The previous two years had established a relationship with some of the students through online dialogue and discussion groups. However, it wasn’t until my arrival in Vietnam that those relationships moved beyond the realm of the abstract into reality. Those days were spent eating pho at roadside restaurants with new acquaintances who feel like old friends and envisioning new ways for American and Vietnamese students to connect through shared experiences, both online and in person. I marveled at the spirit of optimism and hope for the future while simultaneously fearing the destruction of an entire way of life as the country rapidly enters the global economic stage. A Reciprocal hosting opportunity arose as Hue and Thong returned to study at SPI and experience live in the Shenandoah Valley. Even after the month-long experience of Vietnam and hosting during Summer Peacebuilding Institute was over, the relationships that formed and the lessons learned continue to shape my life.

Most succinctly, my desire to return to Vietnam and work with the IC3 curriculum is a desire to live it. On my first trip, I learned more than I had ever dreamed about the Vietnamese and myself. But, that understanding is incomplete and I feel an intense need to return. “They say you come to Vietnam and understand a lot in a few minutes. The rest has got to be lived. (Graham Greene’s The Quiet American.)” I want to live it.

I am returning to Vietnam because I want the next generation of Vietnamese students to continue learning inter-culturally. I have experienced the passion with which the faculty teaches the curriculum and the results within the students they teach. I have benefited from this program and I do not want it to wither away when there is so much potential for good. For the past several years, MCC has placed a volunteer at AGU to work with the IC3 curriculum. Regardless of the withdrawal of MCC support, IC3 remains an important part of the AGU curriculum. My return to Vietnam stems from a desire to see this partnership continue in the midst of economically uncertain times. With the current economic situation as it is, it is tempting to cease support of programs that seem expendable. I would argue; however, that programs that encourage the development of a deeper understanding of the other, as well as oneself are far from expendable.

In addition, I see my return to Vietnam as the purest possible expression of my Christian faith. Relationship is the first step toward understanding not only someone else, but also oneself. Intentionally cultivating relationships and developing empathy for and with people is what I believe my faith calls me to. As a follower of Christ, it is important that I seek to emulate the ways in which he lived, and that was in relationship with those who were very different from himself. Yet, while walking with them, he illustrated that it is not differences that identify us, but rather a shared humanity.