You would think you were in Ho Chi Minh City, not Brisbane. Families slurping on pho noodles at colourful stalls and women joking loudly in Vietnamese as they walk past a multistorey building aptly named Saigon Plaza. Welcome to Inala, the vibrant and somewhat notorious suburb which the largest Vietnamese community in Queensland, Australia call home.
Hope Brisbane (Willawong campus) is situated just 5.5 km away from Inala. How could we reach the Vietnamese with the gospel? Many Vietnamese are wary of coming to church for fear of the gospel being rammed down their throats. Filled with a deep burden for the souls of this people group, ethnic Vietnamese, Ruth and Peter Truong started an English class in 2017 at their home to reach out to the unchurched Vietnamese in Inala. Since then, more than 30 Vietnamese people have been part of the English class ministry of Hands of Hope (Hands of Hope is the community arm of Hope Brisbane).
Aged ranging from 7 to 65, many came to classes with little or no English background. They found genuine friendship and hope, improving their English along the way. The boisterous camaraderie after English lessons and during special parties we threw for them was a testament to that. We invited them to many church and life group events. Seeds of the gospel were sown in their hearts that we pray will result in salvation and discipleship.
Deep friendships resulted among students and teachers. We shared our dreams, joys, struggles and faith with each other (albeit often through interpreters). The following poem expresses how many Vietnamese students have felt in their adopted country:
Dear teacher, I remember well the day I first met you
You said I would learn English well, you said that you just knew
Hope welled in me – could I one day be truly happy here?
When all I knew from the time I came was sheer despair and fear?
It’s so hard, so very hard – I don’t know what they’re saying!
If this goes on for very long I don’t think that I’m staying
But I stay put, I have no choice - no matter how they treat me
I can’t go back, I’ve turned my back on war and hostility
Your God seems so kind, like you, teacher! - one day I may know Him
I can see He gives you peace although the future looks grim
Do you think He’ll love me, even when I’m bad?
Will He cheer me up like you do, when I’m down and sad?
Tell me more about Him if He’s anything like you
For you taught me even when I didn’t have a clue
What you were saying that first day I sat in that big class
I pretended that I did, but I lied, alas!
Things began to look up as I learned more and more
Speaking English soon became less and less a chore
You said I was improving, that really made my day
Hours slaving at my homework had begun to pay
Now I hold my head up high, they all know what I’m saying
My son speaks perfect English now, even when he’s playing
Our lives and livelihoods have changed so much for the better
I’ve made so many more friends, my joy could not be greater!
The classes soon became too big and the parties after class too loud for Peter and Ruth’s home. From 2018, classes were held twice a month at Unidus (the Willawong campus of Hope Brisbane). We even had a special class for children whose parents were learning English and had no one to babysit them. The parents graciously consented to let us teach their children about God and the Bible.
In March 2020, our merry little English class community was rocked but not wrecked by COVID-19. State restrictions meant that we were no longer able to meet at Unidus. Not to be outdone or beaten by the situation, students and teachers quickly adapted to modern technology. We conducted lessons via Zoom and WhatsApp instead, a practice which continues until this day. This became a blessing in disguise, as new students who lived far away from Unidus are able to the online classes. We even have a student from Vietnam who is currently joining our intermediate class via Zoom.
We praise the Lord for His love and compassion for the alien and stranger community (Psalm 146:9, Deuteronomy 10:19, Leviticus 27:19, Zechariah 7:9-10) It is such an honour and privilege to be able to express His love to the Vietnamese through our English class ministry. Seeing the students’ eyes light up with hope and gratitude is a reward for us teachers. But wait, there’s even more – the joy of seeing them coming to Christ if we persevere and never give up.
Psalm 96:3 (NIV) Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
1 Peter 3:15 (NIV) But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to answer everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
Galatians 6:9 (NIV) Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.