It is such a privilege speaking here in front of everyone today. My name is Van Hong and I’ve been going to SCAC for a bit over 2 years, which is around the same time I first heard of Jesus. A little background about myself; For many people here that grew up in the church, I grew up in the temple. For about half of my life, I went to a Vietnamese Sunday school where I was part of a Buddhist youth group. Within those 13 years, I learned a great amount of Buddhist teachings and practices. One of the main practices for this religion was getting rid of all desires: emotional, physical and spiritual desires. By doing that, you are supposedly rid of all immoral temptations. The accumulation of your good deeds would also be a weight towards redeeming your fate.
My parents were essentially strong practicing Buddhists and enforced their beliefs on my two full-blood siblings and myself. Their strong perseverance during the Vietnam war, fleeing their home from government tyranny, starting with nothing after immigrating to the states to live the American dream, and practicing their religion led to relying on only themselves and family during times of adversity. Essentially, it was like putting up a mask and just powering through with whatever life throws at you. It wasn’t until I was in high school when our family was challenged with a traumatic incident that changed me. My older brother passed away during the summer of 11th grade from a drowning accident.
This led to a ton of guilt, pain, and shame for my parents, older sister, and I. Entering my junior year, I didn’t really know how to process this incident and was advised by my parents to put on my mask, act like “everything is okay”, suppress my emotions and continue persevering. Putting on this mask became a natural instinct for me as I continued on with my life, attend college, entered my gap years working and continued building my career.
After my brother, Mark passed away, I developed a void that was filled with discontentment. I became self-critical of my successes but especially my failures. Buddhism didn’t answer this void I felt, it made things more difficult because I couldn’t clear this void. I then began internalizing a lot of criticisms and failures. I fell ill easily whenever I got stressed. Work was always tiring, and I sustained a few injuries. I felt like I was in the body of a 60-year-old. I thought to myself “Is this all there is to life? What is my purpose and why am I here?” It was until I had a deep conversation with a friend that talked about her faith and allegiance to a man named Jesus Christ.
I began going to church with her, started learning about God, his creation and his desire to have a relationship with us. After weeks of going to church, worshipping God and listening/discussing the sermon, I felt a sense of hope for the first time in a long time. The void I felt started to fill and I wasn’t just happy but JOYFUL about life and for those around me. I was hesitant to what I was experiencing, so I began going to different churches by myself to “reassure” if this change wasn’t simply just because of my friend. It wasn’t until a few churches later where I stumbled upon SCAC.
During my time at SCAC, my faith solidified. I began learning more of the love Jesus has for us and how we are redeemed not through our acts, but through his blood. Ephesians 2 says: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Eph. 2:8-9
Once, being overwhelmed with so much emotion to know about this type of love, I started crying. These weren’t tears of anger or sorrow from my brother’s loss but tears of joy and grace, for in the house of God, I felt consoled and protected.
Over these past few years, I personally have heard from the Lord of his love for me and his encouragement for self-care. After struggling with criticism and rejection from my parents after sharing with them about my faith and searching for my identity for the past few years; Over this past week at Urbana, I’ve heard from Jesus reassurance that he loves me, that I am his son and he is with me.
And so brothers and sisters, I first want to thank everyone (Pastor Roy, Pastor Tung and those in my fellowship, community groups and Sunday schools) for being with me during my new walk. Our God is a glorious, beautiful and a victorious God. I still will miss my brother, and will continue struggle with my old self and upbringings. Jesus has done so much for me and all of us and I want to share him with those who haven’t heard of him. He has given me trust, clarity, wisdom and direction; Even though I don’t know what the future holds for me, I know that I want to honor God and advance his kingdom.
– Van Hong