Tag Archives: Hien Truong

Seasons change: a New Year’s reflection

Vietnamese New Yearby Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

I hate the cold.  I mean, really hate the cold.  Sure, snow is beautiful resting on the barn roof or lightly coating the hedge, but when it’s on my car, the road, or me, enough is enough.

I’ve found myself this winter dreaming about moving to Hawaii.  I’ve never been to Hawaii, but on TV it looks like the sun is always shining and a gentle ocean breeze always keeps it at a comfortable temperature for flip-flops and shorts.  They don’t have winter in Hawaii. That sounds just about perfect to me.

I can’t imagine life in C.S. Lewis’ fictional land of Narnia, held captive by an evil queen’s spell, always winter (and never Christmas).  It was an unchanging reality, the way it had always been and the way it always would be.  I wonder how they must have felt when they saw their home beginning to thaw, when green grass began to emerge from the melting snow, rivers began rushing, trees began blooming, and the chill in the air was replaced by a breeze that smelled of soil and warmth.

And then, how must they have felt their first winter after the land’s rightful king, Aslan, won back the kingdom?  Did the first snowflake send a chill up their spines?  Did the first winter’s frost send them into a panic—oh, no, not this again?  Because Aslan didn’t bring eternal spring to replace the eternal winter; instead, he put the world right, returning Narnia to the rhythm of seasons.

Last Sunday, I joined the Vietnamese Gospel congregation in Allentown, Pa. for their annual Tet (New Year) celebration.  Among Scripture readings and songs welcoming the rain and possibilities of a new year, Pastor Hien and his wife Nga performed a song called, “Only Jesus Brings the Spring.”  I was struck by this simple statement of faith, a reminder that Jesus, through whom the world was created, set our seasons in motion.

And how wonderful that the Vietnamese Tet occurred the Sunday before Lent this year!  Lent (which means “spring” or, literally, the “lengthening of days”), begins with ashes and ends with lilies, a reminder that this season will pass and a new, glorious season is on its way, a season that only Jesus can bring.

Seasons and change aren’t necessarily a bad thing.  On a very fundamental level, they remind us that whatever we’re going through, however challenging our life is, whatever seems impossible or insurmountable, this, too, shall pass.  Just as the people of Narnia heard the trickle of melting snow and murmured in awe, “Aslan is on the move!” we, too, see signs of change in our lives and know that Jesus is lengthening our days, bringing spring to our winter, offering the promise of resurrection and the hope of a world that one day will be made right again.

Seasons change.  Continual spring or summer could end up feeling as confining as the snow and cold of winter.  Just as winter prepares the land for the fruitfulness of planting and harvest, the challenging seasons of our lives shape our character and prepare us for what’s coming next.  Seasons of rest prepare us for seasons of action.  Seasons of learning prepare us for seasons of teaching.  Seasons of pain prepare us for seasons of strength.

Seasons change.  This Lent, I’m giving up my longing for Hawaii and looking ahead to the promise of a spring that only Jesus can bring.

Allentown Mennonites gather for Tet worship celebration

The Mennonite Church USA congregations in Pennsylvania’s third largest city hadn’t to anyone’s recollection gathered for worship together until Sunday, January 29, at the Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church.  The four diverse communities—Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church, Whitehall Mennonite Church and Ripple all associated with Franconia Conference and Christ Fellowship, an Eastern District Conference congregation—met together to celebrate Tet (Vietnamese New Year) through an eclectic multilingual worship that featured singing in three languages, Scripture reading in six languages, and storytelling from each congregation on the theme of God’s abundance in a time of scarcity.

Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church pastor Hien Truong welcomed those gathered, explaining, “Vietnamese New Year is a marking of springtime.  It’s a time of new growth and a special time of asking forgiveness and moving into new ways of building relationships.”  While planned by a team from the four congregations, the gathered worship took on a Vietnamese flair with scripture blessings distributed to adults and traditional li xi gifts ($2 bills in red envelopes) for children.  Afterward, the congregations enjoyed a carry-in meal that was held together around Vietnamese New Year foods.

According to Rose Bender, pastor at Whitehall Mennonite who also helped plan the gathered worship, “The worship service was such a joyous occasion for me because of the great diversity of God’s kingdom that was represented.  It was a foreshadowing of heaven—all nations, all tribes—declaring God’s glory! . . .  I am so excited to see what God is doing in the Lehigh Valley—and encouraged by four small congregations coming together and proclaiming God’s bounty as we face a new year.”