Friday, November 14, 2008

Chapter 1...The Invitation

Chapter 1…The Invitation to set sail...

“Welcome! Welcome to Vietnam!” the email began.
“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” I said aloud to the little mailstation.
I’d sent an inquiry about a job opening to an English center in Hanoi but I didn’t expect a reply, little less and a job offer. Now I was caught completely off guard.

Immediately I thought about writing back that my inquiry was just a joke…I really didn’t want to teach in Vietnam and wondered what even possessed me to send the inquiry in the first place. I had to find a polite way to turn down the job offer. This was a serious job offer and I had been applying for teaching jobs for over a year. The weight of this whole situation started to grow by the minute.

Leaving the desk, I went and lay down on my bed with my hands under my head and stared at the ceiling. I considered the facts. I had been out of a job for over a year and had teaching applications in at least 8 different school districts. I had worked as a substitute teacher and taught summer school and had also survived by other sporadic part-time employment. In the past 18 months, my applications had only resulted in 4 interviews, at various school districts in northern California. No one wanted to take a chance on a 57-year-old teacher. None of the doors I’d knocked on opened except one…this one. And I hadn’t knocked very hard on this one. I had knocked softly and timidly. Was this an omen?

Realizing I had only read the first sentence of the email, I went back and read it completely several times. No mention of salary was given. I reminded myself that I still had options and choices…that I need not take the first job that came along. But what options did I have? I had two; take it or leave it! That’s like telling a starving man, when a meager plate of food is in front of him, that there are two items on the menu; take it or leave it.

I believe in God. I believe in prayer but I’ve never prayed for material things, like money, a job, or financial prosperity. I have prayed for faith, patience and spiritual and emotional longsuffering and endurance. I believe in a God who has a plan for each person but also gives each individual the intelligence and wisdom to make choices. And this was a time to make a choice.

Sitting at my desk, I pushed the little mailstation aside and listed two columns on a yellow legal pad. I titled the column on the left “Reasons to stay in the USA,” and on the right, “Reasons to go to Vietnam.”

After an hour or so, there were 15-20 reasons to stay in the USA and two reasons to go to Vietnam. As I scanned reasons to stay in the USA they centered on comfort and security. The two reasons to go were: (1) It may be the Will of God, and (2) adventure.

In Vietnam, I pictured myself living in a grass hut with a dirt floor with no running water. That certainly would be an adventure…but then I am not even slightly adventurous. My idea of adventure is taking a ride in the country and choosing a road I’ve never driven on before. And even then, when I drive on that unfamiliar road and I come to a fork in it, I always take the widest and most traveled alternative, the one most likely to get me back to the main highway. I stick to the familiar and shun the unfamiliar. I’m a creature of comfort and habit. I crossed out the word “adventure,” on the right side of the pad, leaving only one reason to go to Vietnam. Now the knee work would begin.

There comes a point in our life when all the intelligence and reason we posses are not enough. Microbiologists, looking thru the most powerful microscopes realize there are yet smaller particles to discern. Astronomers, looking thru the most powerful telescopes conclude there is still more out there in outer space to discover. Faith in God is the highest intelligence man will ever have…the greater the faith, the higher the intelligence.

Basically, my prayer centered on being willing for whatever God wanted. Although I felt very uncomfortable about going to Vietnam, I prayed to be willing for it if it was God’s will. My conscience, that still small voice within me, often comforts me when I am distressed and distresses me when I am comfortable. Although out of work, I had gotten too comfortable. And now came a very discomforting choice. A comfort zone, by its very nature, implies doing things out of habit and forming routines that eliminate choices. It is rarely easy to make a choice to leave one’s comfort zone.

An acquaintance of mine, a man named Rodney, had told me when he had learned that I was searching for a teaching job about his cousin who was teaching English in Vietnam. Rodney said that the school where his cousin worked needed teachers. He must have told me this at a moment I was desperate because I asked him for his cousin’s email address and had sent an inquiry to her weeks before and hadn’t heard a thing from her. It turns out she passed my email on to the director of the school, and it was the director who sent this welcoming invitation to me weeks after I had sent the initial inquiry.

Sitting down at the mailstation after a few hours’ reflection and prayer, I replied to the director’s offer. I emphasized that I was FIFTY-SEVEN! I emphasized that I would need COMFORTABLE LODGING. I also needed to know what the salary would be. I told him I would “consider” his offer after I had heard back from him.

The next day the director wrote back and said that I would make “about $400 a month,” BUT lodging would be provided and I could easily live on $400 a month in Vietnam. It was out of the question. I could make $400 in 2 days teaching in the US. I wrote a rough draft declining the offer and decided to sleep on it before sending it.

Only God knows what happens at night when we close our eyes in sleep. Perhaps dreams have a way of rearranging realities and priorities. When I awoke the next morning, my conscience wouldn’t allow me to reject the offer but my rational mind wouldn’t let me accept the offer. For the next week, there was a 3-way battle between my conscience, my rational mind and the sluggard within me who opted for comfort, routine, and ease.

The director wrote, after he hadn’t gotten my reply, that he needed to know right away so that he could hire someone else if I didn’t want the job. Now my back was to the wall. I prayed for guidance, even a sign one way or another but nothing happened except my conscience troubled me whenever I thought about flatly turning down the job. If I took the job, I might have peace but I might also have poverty. Then it hit me; I have poverty now! The only difference would be I’d have a job and have poverty too!

When Robert Frost took the road less traveled, it made all the difference. I was at a fork in the road and this time I chose the one that only time would tell made any difference. Reason said I would be sorry but my conscience said I would have peace if I chose to accept the job in Hanoi. Peace of mind is a sure compass for our soul. I accepted.

A week after I received the offer, I wrote a letter to the director, saying I would go. Once we make a choice in a difficult matter, there is an avalanche of evidence to the contrary…as well as a mountain of tasks to perform. I had to get a passport. I had to obtain a visa from the VN government. I had to purchase my own airline ticket. I had to get a physical.

Looking back over my journal for that period I marvel at the whole episode. One day I was writing about my financial fears and woes. The next day, I had read a portion of scripture where Jesus preached about God feeding the sparrows and meeting natural needs. For every fear there was a reassurance.

Once I had obtained my visa and passport, purchased my ticket and converted my meager savings into cash, I knew there was no backing out. The date for my departure was Aug. 20, 2003. It was a Wednesday night and I had said goodbye to my friends and what little family I had left.

My one and only sibling, my brother Danny, was taking care of our 87 year old mother in her home in Denver. My oldest son lived in Colorado Springs and my other son and his family lived close by me in Santa Clara, Calif. Both sons, as well as my mom, were not in favor of my move half way across the world but this was something I did, not to please others but for peace of mind.

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