HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam – Even at midnight, the city isn’t silent. The night air is punctuated with the honking of horns and the music of karaoke bars. Even the scream of power tools from high-rise construction sites continues well into the night.
Ho Chi Minh City is preparing to become an Asian superpower.
“That’s going to be the new financial district,” said Linh*, a tour guide at the Bitexco Financial Tower, pointing to an empty grassy field on the other side of the Saigon River. “In 15 years, that will all be high-rise buildings.”
Vietnam bears scars from its rocky history, but progress shows throughout Ho Chi Minh City. Designer-brand companies like Chanel and Gucci have storefronts along some of its busiest streets. Skyscrapers under construction stretch into the clouds. Previously held back by the tenacious grip of tradition, the city is reaching toward the future.
A Vietnamese man stretches against the evening landscape. Even as Ho Chi Minh City is slowly westernized, the city’s residents hold to their traditions.
“People are moving forward and leaving the past behind,” says Trang*, a leader of a Vietnamese church.
It’s not just the economy that’s changing. The gospel is more accessible than ever before through media; a wide range of churches gather to worship; and believers are sharing their faith. Progress is slow, but still, it’s progress.
Among the older generation, many hold to their Buddhist beliefs, visiting Buddhist temples and avidly practicing ancestor worship.
“You cannot stop the flow of a river,” says Huy*, a second-generation believer living in Ho Chi Minh City who works to prepare materials for Vietnamese Christians to grow in their faith. Huy and other believers are helping the “river” – or the gospel message – find creative ways to spread through the country.
One such way is by reaching young people. As Ho Chi Minh City grows, more young people come to study and work. Roughly 70 percent of the population of Vietnam is in the 18-to-65 demographic, with the majority in the 18-to-30 range. The student and young worker population is exploding, especially in cities where opportunities to study and work abound.
“When they come here, their focus would be … to study hard and work hard,” Trang says. “Religion is their unfelt need. They are trying to maximize their opportunities in the city to gain more of what they think is the first priority.”
People like Linh and Nhu* came to Ho Chi Minh City and found work there.
Linh, the tour guide, spends her limited free time with friends. “I don’t like to go to bars,” she says. “Most people go there to show off their expensive clothes and how much money they have. I have more fun just sitting in the park with my friends. We just drink coffee, sit on our motorbikes and talk.”
Nhu became a believer while working abroad and now works at a small coffee shop in the city. When she’s not on the job, she looks for opportunities to share the gospel. Every day, Nhu goes to a public park where many Vietnamese young people like Linh hang out. She boldly goes from person to person, sharing the gospel.
Many reject the message, but sometimes, people listen, and Nhu’s heart is encouraged.
“I have a deep love for her,” Nhu says, speaking of a new friend, Khanh*, she met in the park one morning. “She hasn’t believed yet, but her heart is soft. She is open and wants to talk about it.”
Nhu continues to pray for the new friends she meets like Khanh. She also prays for opportunities to share with other people in Ho Chi Minh City like Linh.
“I have to share Christ,” Nhu says. “He changed my life.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ivy O’Neill is a writer with the International Mission Board based in Southeast Asia. For more stories like this, visit www.asiastories.com.)