Recently I had the great privilege of interviewing Dennis Pringle after his trip to Vietnam with Hope’s Promise. I wrote the following article for the Hope’s Promise news-magazine. I’ve known Dennis since I was three years old, and he’s one of my heroes of faith, which made it that much sweeter of an opportunity:
A Hope’s Promise Connection Team’s Visit
By Colleen Briggs
The first time Dennis Pringle walked the terrain of Vietnam in 1968 & ’69, he wore combat boots and Army fatigues. Hiking a mountain trail, he narrowly missed a land-mine. Hunkered down in a rainy pre-dawn trench, a bullet hit his buddy in the arm. His own splintered shovel shaft, sticking up from the trench, revealed just how close he came to never taking another step.
In early 2015, Dennis prepared to return to Vietnam with a Hope’s Promise (HP) Connection team. Together they memorized Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation…”
His daughter sent him this message, “As you begin the trek to Vietnam, we will walk beside you in prayer. We can’t wait to hear the Sole to Soul Stories upon your return…”
As a former solider, Dennis wrestled with trepidation about how he would be received. Upon arrival in-country, Thanh, HP Vietnam Country Coordinator, told him, “Don’t worry. People love you.” Then Thanh introduced him to an older gentleman who reached out with both hands to clutch Dennis’s and nodded his head respectfully. Through Thanh’s translation, he thanked Dennis and the US for sending soldiers to fight and die for his people.
“The burden was gone. It was healing,” Dennis says simply. And just like that, his heart was set free to follow his feet: no longer walking in combat, but in service to the Lord.
First, the team visited an HP LEADS (Leadership through Education, Accountability, Determination, and Spiritual Growth) group, one of three in Vietnam serving a total of ninety impoverished children of all faiths. Frisbees and the “hokie pokie” quickly broke the ice. With wordless Gospel books, the team shared about Jesus with students and curious neighborhood children.
During a visit to Home of Hope (HoH) #1, they helped nine formerly-orphaned teenage boys decorate “life book” covers. Dennis noticed Bang quietly staring out a window and asked, “What do you like?” Bang, who previously lead his brothers on keyboard in a glorious rendition of How Great Thou Art, lit up. “Keyboard!” he replied.
Overcome with emotion, Dennis recalls that after Bang constructed a keyboard image for his cover, “he wrote, ‘Jesus loves me.’”
After visiting another LEADS group, Thanh suddenly said, “Gotta go. There’s a guy outside watching us.”
Later that evening, the team relaxed on a coffee shop patio with two Vietnamese pastors, enthralled by stories of persecution, persistence, and a church growing and blossoming. Suddenly a nearby patron loudly reprimanded, “You can’t talk like that! I will call the police!”
Early the next morning, Dennis peeked out from his room. Four men dressed in black watched from a short distance.
As the team unloaded supplies later that day at HoH #4, they passed out candy to a group of kids walking by. The kids joined the team and HoH family in the yard, laughing and playing, until a woman came screaming down the street. The kids were late for school. Next, the police arrived.
They asked Thanh, “Who are these people?”
Thanh replied, “They are friends coming to play with the children.”
The officers left.
Just before lunch, the team’s Buddhist bus driver told Thanh he saw something different in them and the Vietnamese Christians; and he wanted it. He beamed as he prayed to receive Christ.
Later in the afternoon, the police returned and commanded the team, “Follow us to the station.”
But before the officials arrived, a team member worked hard to fill 150 water balloons. So they requested a bit more time to “finish their activities.” A few minutes later, even the police were laughing.
At the station, a high ranking official collected their passports and questioned Thanh for a couple hours. Finally, he told them they could go, but they may not be given visas if they tried to visit Vietnam again.
Later, Thanh told the team, “Don’t worry, the incident report will never leave the building.”
When they debriefed, each member noted supernatural peace during the entire incident.
During the trip, the team visited a church service lead by the HoH #3 house-father, also a pastor. Images flashed through Dennis’ mind as he worshiped alongside Vietnamese believers: church-based LEADS groups, family-based homes for orphans parented by Christians, pastors leading persecuted but joy-filled congregations. And suddenly everything crystallized: the same God who protected his steps as a young soldier is powerfully alive and active in Vietnam.
Where once he walked for war, the Good News of Jesus Christ could not be suppressed any more than the healing marching into his own heart.