Missionaries in a Strange Land
A conversation with two young Mormons proselytizing in Saigon.
Life as a traveler has a way of introducing you to new and interesting people. Today on my daily walk I saw these two gentlemen riding around my house and I instantly had a suspicion they may be Mormons. I had heard they were here in Saigon, and Vietnam at large, but hadn’t seen any. There are no big temples denoting their presence or even small churches with the ever familiar emblem of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints.
It’s not everyday I see welcoming foreigners that pass by my door so I decided I would try and introduce myself. Yes, quiet ironically I sought out those men that others so commonly run from. Much to my pleasure they introduced themselves before I could introduce myself.
The first one to introduce himself was Eddie. A second generation Viet Kieu who found the church a few years ago. He grew up in Utah so I found it unsurprising that Mormonism is a direction his life took. I asked him how his family took his conversion to which he responded “like typical Asian parents.” I have a feeling I know what that means but I wish I had asked more. Unsurprisingly, with the religious fervor or most converts he volunteered to be a missionary. Vietnam must have been an obvious choice for his mission posting.
The second gentleman’s name was Dallin. Originally from Idaho he had done a year of college before deciding he wanted to be a missionary. Strangely he had been assigned to learn Vietnamese by the people in charge of assigning missions, but originally posted to Cambodia. This logic was lost on all three of us. He spent two months there before transferring here to Saigon. He was supposed to head back to Cambodia next week, but the world wide Covid-19 outbreak has caused him to extended his stay here in Vietnam for another three months.
I have to say I actually had an amazing conversation with these guys. We primarily talked about their difficulties and success as missionaries here in Vietnam. It seems they have around 30 different churches across the country. Way more than I suspected. They also have to spend much of their time explaining how they are not Protestants.
Eventually the conversation turned to faith and God. For those who know me it’s no surprise that I, not them, brought this up. I was curious as to how it has affected their life and what roles it plays in their work. Specifically I was interested in experiential knowledge vs faith. I was curious if they preached from a first hand knowledge of God or was it all based in faith.
It was Eddie who surprised me with his answer. He instantly pulled out his Book of Mormon, flipped to a page. It was a scrawled and worn book. Covered in highlights and yellow tabs. It was clearly read with the fervor of a yeshiva, or med school student. Passages had been underlined and phrases circled. The page he turned to was about this very question. To say the least I was impressed with his knowledge of cannon.
The passage spoke to a need for both faith and experiential knowledge. In short it argued that faith may guide one to have an experience with God, but then once has experienced God that is not enough. Just because we experience something doesn’t mean we intrinsically trust it.
It made me think about personal relationships and trust. How we may love someone and care about them but for it to be a partnership there must be trust. That it’s not a one man show, and sometimes our partners may ask us to trust them when we are scared.
I have zero intentions of converting but I am grateful for the time these young men spent to talk. I had been pondering this very question myself these last few days and it seems God decided to present the answer in the form of these two missionaries of another faith.
Wiley H. Jackson
Teacher, Writer, Adventurer
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