It was a misunderstanding, we discovered later. But at the time, just after a morning worship service, we thought we had been invited to an exorcism that evening.
So as the news passed to me, I bowed my head with two teammates, and we prayed.
Around us swirled the activity of a church parking lot, lined with rows of motorbikes and flowing with graceful women adorned in brightly colored ao dais. Near us, Thanh explained to other team members the intricacies of a water filtration system that now serves a surrounding community of two hundred people.
I thought of another place far way, a simple Kenyan breakfast, and a nun. As birds peacefully sang through windows louvered wide to reveal lush trees and bushes, I politely asked what her day would hold. She planned to go with a few other sisters to the home of a woman nearby, she said, to continue a days-long series of prayer sessions to cast out the neighbor’s demons. “Perhaps today will be the day,” she concluded as casually as if today might be the day she buys bread.
Ok, I thought, if God can equip a humble nun in Kenya for such a task, I’ll trust him to show up here.
“Amen,” we concluded.
We moved on to frisbee and conversations in the sun-drenched yard and to exploring a lunch of unfamiliar but delicious textures and flavors.
Hours later, we pulled away from the day’s last activity, visiting an educational sponsorship group of thirty kids, into a night settling deep. I had almost forgotten our churchyard notification and subsequent prayers. But our driver turned onto a side road and chugged up to a building with the front flung open wide to the street.
We crowded up into the bright, high-ceilinged room with a low narrow table, oval planes of glass on top of natural wood stumps, surrounded by mats. No wailing, gnashing of teeth, or distraught humans, at least as far as I could tell. Instead smiling Vietnamese, introduced as our driver’s parents, welcomed us with respectful nods and handshakes, then gestured for us to sit on the mats. Soon they delivered coconuts with straws to each member of our group, from oldest to youngest (at least as they perceived, which drew some teasing and merriment from team members later). The sweet creamy liquid soothed the day’s weariness.
After the Vietnamese joined us, our pastor friend, seated on my left, explained that our driver’s parents, the owners of the home, were Christians. But their neighbor, sitting to his left, “does not believe God.”
I fingered a simple cross around my neck, constructed with multi-colored pony beads strung on black string. God had amazed our team that afternoon, using the simple craft presentation to invite two high school girls and their fathers into a relationship with Him.
I lifted the necklace from my head and handed it to our pastor friend. “Perhaps you can use this to explain the Gospel to him.”
He nodded and began speaking to the man in Vietnamese, touching the beads one by one.
Yellow – the glory of a perfect, sinless God
I leaned to my teammate to my right. “Let’s pray.” Becky and I clasped hands and whispered, asking God to open this man’s heart, to allow him to hear and respond to the invitation of a Gospel so simple, so profound.
Black – the sin of humans that keeps us from entering God’s presence
Blue (at the center of the cross) – our sadness that we are unable to reach God, no matter how hard we try (and His sadness as well)
Red – the blood of Jesus, God’s son, shed to pay for all our sins and bridge the gap
White – how God sees us because of Jesus, forgiven and pure
Green – new life as we enjoy restored relationship with God
Our Vietnamese pastor friend turned and addressed the group. “This man wants to pray to receive God.”
Becky and I exchanged a look of wonder and delight.
As the pastor and the man prayed, the curtain of eternity slipped back for a moment, allowing us to glimpse beyond a Vietnamese living room, where we sat sipping coconut milk, into the land of Living Water.
Later, our van pulled back into dark dusty streets. I reflected that while there had been no overt evidence of demonic activity, God had allowed us to witness a transformation no less dramatic.
And yet I wondered, who had been changed more, the man or me?
I visualized the simple, child-craft cross I had left behind in the hands of the new believer. Stripped of its politicization, its cultural controversy, its misuse through history. Returned to its most basic, unalterable meaning, its “good news” – in the form of pony beads and string. Simply a love letter from a God who will stop at nothing to make provision for restoring relationship with His creation.