Chúc Mừng Năm Mới

No, there’s nothing wrong with your eyes. Chúc mừng năm mới is Happy New Year in Vietnamese. It’s about the only Vietnamese I remember anymore. And to think I used to preach part of my sermons in Vietnamese!

I almost missed Tet this year. If it wasn’t for Google putting up Google logo-art for the Chinese New Year, I would have missed it completely. It’s weird living in a community with such a lack of diversity.

There was a Vietnamese congregation in the last church I served. Once a month we had joint services. The sermon was preached in both Vietnamese and English. Afterward, we’d share lunch. Those Vietnamese church ladies could cook!

The Vietnamese congregation was vibrant and growing. The Vietnamese pastor and I worked together on many programs. We had an after-school program for the kids because so many of the families had both parents working two jobs. The church became the extended family. I was never really sure who was related to who because all of the families were so close and cared for one another.

I often taught an English-as-second language class that was always filled with new immigrants. Our citizenship classes were also very popular. There were usually about 10 Vietnamese who became U.S. citizens every month. We’d all trek down to the Shark Tank (the arena for the San Jose Sharks hockey team) for the swearing-in and then walk back to the church for a little celebration.

About 9 months into our joint venture, I realized that over 100 Vietnamese had become citizens! It didn’t look like the volume of Vietnamese in our English and citizenship classes was letting up anytime soon. Every week, the Vietnamese pastor was asking me about resources for yet another new family coming from Vietnam. He always told me they were part of his family from Vietnam.

We were having lunch together one day, planning our upcoming Tet celebration. I asked him exactly how many people were in his family. It seemed he was related to the entire country of Vietnam! He laughed and said he really only had his wife and young daughter. All the others were killed during the Vietnam war.

When I asked him about all of these families he was sponsoring from Vietnam, he told me about his 15 years in a prison camp. The conditions were beyond brutal. He had been a pastor prior to being captured and continued his calling, caring for a new flock. All of the men in his camp had lost their families. They were thrown together under these horrific conditions, sharing their meager rations, helping each other during the hard labor, tending each others’ wounds after a torturing session. Most of all, they secretly prayed together, hanging on to a sliver of hope, that they would live long enough to be released.

Loc Vo made a personal vow to keep his “congregation” together. Now they were gradually being reunited in a new country, in a real church, building new lives, starting new families. The scars were still there, but God’s grace and an accepting community was a healing balm and a new beginning.

That year, the Tet celebration had a much richer meaning for me. As I shared my red envelopes with members of my sister congregation, I knew it represented more than the traditional good luck to them. Each New Year was a gift.

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