by Phạm Thế Bảo,
2015-2016 IVEP Participant, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
I have been a member of Bình Tân Mennonite Church for almost ten years. Before that, I grew up in the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Việt Nam, which my family has been a part of since my grandparents joined. I heard about the Mennonite church from my aunt, and I eventually joined their Children’s mission, and then their church. Over time I’ve learned more about the history of Mennonites globally and in Việt Nam.
In 2014, pastors in the church gave me a brochure describing MCC and introducing the IVEP program. I was really confused by it, because I didn’t know anything about volunteering, working and serving abroad, or experiencing new cultures.
Still, I was curious, and everything began from that brochure. I made a decision to join the program after only a couple days of thinking. I had a year to prepare. I was supported by pastors and elders in the church and MCC staff in Hà Nội. They were so kind and helped me with my application for the program and for getting a U.S. visa. Getting a U.S. visa was not easy for me and for Vietnamese people in general, especially because at that time MCC had only recently reconnected to my church, and the government didn’t know about the IVEP program.
I am so thankful for the MCC staff at that time. They helped me a lot to learn about western culture, first with three days of orientation in Hà Nội and then seven days in Akron. The hardest thing I faced in my transition was English. It took a couple months for me to be able to speak smoothly; at first my host parents often couldn’t understand my accent, and they helped to correct my pronunciation, and I continued learning so that we could understand each other more day by day.
I will always admire how MCC connected the IVEP participants from more than 20 countries during our week-long orientation in Akron. We had time to share stories, learn culture and language, and connect deeply with one another just days after meeting for the first time. At first the only thing we knew we had in common was our faith, but MCC helped us to quickly connect and become like brothers and sisters. In addition to bonding with the other IVEP participants, by working in my assignment MCC gave me a chance to work with many great people in Ten Thousand Villages. It was a very beautiful time and a good experience.
Even though I learned quickly while in IVEP and it was a very positive experience, that didn’t mean I didn’t face challenges. Due to the age and cultural distance with my host dad, sometimes we’d argue and misunderstand one another. He would often get stressed and be unhappy even due to very small things at home. In the end, however, we formed a lot of good memories together, and I learned a lot from him. For example, he taught me how to do an Irish Dance, how to sing folk songs, and to love going to concerts every month. I grew so much by learning and experiencing a new culture. Two final things I learned were how to cook well for myself when I live abroad and to love to travel.
Unfortunately, there are no IVEPers from Việt Nam at the moment. I hope MCC can continue to make IVEP a part of Việt Nam’s story. There are always young people in the Mennonite churches here who would be great candidates for MCC. Down the road I would love to see MCC broaden its work in southern Việt Nam and with Mennonite churches in Việt Nam, there is so much we can do by building each other up.