18 Aug 2013 by Adeline Lum CM-
On August 10, Tony Le came to the Abundant Life Vietnamese Church Camp held at MBS Kuang to give a sermon to the Vietnamese brothers and sister here in Malaysia. During lunch, we had the opportunity to interview brother Tony. For part 2 of the story, please click here.
While moral decisions are easier to make, amoral decisions inspired by the Holy Spirit are difficult. “Did you say that Lord? But it doesn’t make sense…It will be quite embarrassing,” our mind battles within. We often wrestle with the Lord when we hear a prompting of the heart to do something, especially when it is out of line with our original plans, desires, or wants.
But not for Tony Le, a Vietnamese who heard and obeyed the Lord in doing many things that we would often say no to based on our supposedly logic and reasoning. And through the most simple and meaningless act, the Lord opened door after door for Tony. Behind the door, Tony realized the Lord has already paved the way. Imagine if he had not opened it, how many opportunities would have been missed! And these opportunities are a sober reminder of how many opportunities we have missed for ignoring that tiny and still voice that rang in us.
1 Kings 19:11-13
And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and break in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?
This is a story of how a man of faith obeyed the Lord and how God has shown Himself faithful through his trust and obedience.
Follow Thy Tiny Voice
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
Since 1985, Tony was a researcher in a water chemical laboratory for four years before he was drafted into the military because his organization could no longer hold that job for him as a pastor’s son. Passing through the office corridor, he saw a notice of employment in Iraq. Ten thousand Vietnamese were employed at that time to build a dam near Mosul, the capital city of famous Nineveh governorate in northern Iraq where the book of Jonah was based on. Oblivious to the threats of extremely hard work condition in a foreign land, Tony applied without hesitation to Iraq because he saw that it as the land of the Bible…
“At that time, I didn’t think about anything but going to where the Biblical stories started. People would look at me and asked, ‘What are you going to do in Iraq?’” said Tony.
As a gutsy 24-year-old, he was contented with working as a tree planter in the harsh condition of the desert. He got the job and flew from his hometown in Saigon to the headquarters of the Water Resources Ministry in Hanoi, before leaving to Iraq; that was April 1989.
On the way to the Ministry guest house, Tony bought some cheap locally grown grapes which were pitiful-looking, tiny, and very sour though insects seem to love them. Tony scavenged for the last good fruits to eat and left the bad bunch on the table over night. The next morning, while going to the restroom to brush his teeth, he bumped into a recognizable man of stature and power; it was the vice minister of the Ministry.
While keeping his composure, lest any faulty words would rouse the disfavor of this man, Tony heard an unlikely voice of the Holy Spirit prompting him to give the left over grapes to the vice minister!
“How can I do that? Even when we treat a normal friend, we wouldn’t want to give those sour, forbidden grapes to them,” debated Tony with the Spirit.
But he finally relented because the Spirit’s voice was too strong and he dared not resist. Approaching that VIP room, he cleared his throat and knocked the closed door. A crisp voice beckoned him to come in and Tony stood before the vice minister who asked matter-of-factly, “Who are you?”
Holding his grapes up with one hand, Tony presented his grapes before the man with the most casual composure, “I don’t know if you like these grapes?” Pausing awhile at the grapes, the minister ended the awkward ordeal by inviting Tony into his room. They had a brief question-and-answer discussion of Tony’s background and future plans. With a strange look on his face, the minister tore a piece of paper from the edge of his notebook, scribbled something on it, folded the paper and asked Tony to present it to the Personnel Department of the ministry.
Exiting the brief and unexpected encounter, Tony opened the folded paper and read the scribbled words by the vice minister. It said, “This comrade has excellent expertise in chemistry and he is fluent in English and French. Please assign him appropriate jobs.” But Tony didn’t speak English at all at that time! When he passed the paper to the office, the Personnel Department Director scrutinized him from top to bottom. Who is this man that he could warrant such a recommendation from the vice minister? Well… he is the man who pleases God.
In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him.
Equipped for Thy Kingdom
Hence, from gardener to researcher, Tony was one of the only four chemists out of the ten thousand Vietnamese workers in Nineveh to work in the laboratory. Under the Lord’s hands, he escaped the hot blazing sun of the arid desert and the toxic gas from the dam foundation pit that killed 11 people the first week Tony was there! Although Tony fulfilled the vice minister’s recommendation of being a researcher, he was still illiterate in English. But the Lord honored the vice minister’s recommendation.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
The Sunday before flying to Iraq, Tony went to Hanoi Evangelical Church. After the morning service, he went to greet the Pastor and noticed a very old English Bible lying inconspicuously at a dark corner of the Pastor’s house. Tony enquired if he could get the Bible and he was immediately granted his request, since no one there know English to use that old King James Version! This Bible became Tony’s only English learning material in Iraq; every night returning to his cabin after 14 hours working and a quick dinner, he laid on his tiny bed with this Bible in one hand and his own Vietnamese Bible in other hand, reading one verse in English and then in Vietnamese. Just a month later, he could speak English fluently! The Bible also served as his geographic and archaeological book, using the ten colored maps as his faithful compass, he explored the land of Iraq like an explorer. After two months there, he could interprete and write Arabic words as well.
Because of his fluency in English and Vietnamese, many Vietnamese workers there turned to him as interpreter to talk to the Iraqi management because he would plead their case of requesting medical leaves and compensations in their place. From feelings of jealousy at the beginning, they turned to love and care for Tony. After working hours, he often sang ymns while playing keyboard in his room. Wearied workers of the desert would often hurtle around him to find comfort and peace from the melodies he played.
After twenty months, the Iraqi Management requested Tony to continue serving in an international hospital there, but the threat of war became serious and he was listed to depart in a perfect timing, two weeks before the bombing of Iraq started on 17 January 1991.
The seeds he sown in Iraq grew in Vietnam! Most of the desperate people closed to him in Iraq now became brothers and sisters in Christ, including some from special families. One that unexpectedly grew was a Vietnamese violinist who was rather quaint albeit his musical talents with an interest in improving his English. When Tony left Vietnam, this chap inherited Tony’s good old faithful King James Version Bible. But after one month, the violinist also returned to Vietnam, not to his hometown in Hanoi, but surprisingly to Tony’s hometown in Saigon. Tony introduced him to his father’s church and he became a disciple who is currently serving as a Gideon International representative for northern Vietnam. Who would have known? A seed sown fell onto a good soil and produced manifolds.
Serve Before Kings
When Tony returned to Vietnam, his good reputation as an interpreter-cum-researcher in Iraq fell on the ears of the director of the Institute of Water Resources who searched and hired Tony.
Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.
While he could converse fluently in English, working with engineers would require another level of English understanding. By faith, Tony borrowed a dictionary from the library and within one week, he taught himself each day 100 technical words. “It is not I who speak but the Lord helped me.” Within one year, he traveled and translated for experts from Sweden and Canada who came to help Vietnam for the water resources. He also did spontaneous translation in meetings and workshops in the television.
After working for the institute for a while, Tony saw an advertisement that international tour guides training courses opened for the first time in Vietnam. Tony registered his name for the entrance exam and acing it, he was introduced to a joint-venture hotel only three months later. Normally, a minimum one year training was needed to apply that job. Within two years, he was selected to be the international tour guide of Saigon Tourist, Vietnam’s top travel corporation in 1992. In the following year, he joined the pre-opening team of New World Hotel, the biggest hotel of Indochina then. Returned from Hong Kong in 1995 after managerial training, Tony was headhunted to open the first five-start resort in Vietnam, whereby he had the opportunity to travel worldwide to promote Vietnam as a tourist destination.
The Lord brought him to greater heights. After a decade, Tony founded the first international hotel management company of Vietnam with a German partner in 2005. Although it was a career milestone for Tony, the company faced many financial difficulties. It was also around this time he received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Before that, he served the Lord like a servant and he was satisfied with church ministries. But upon that baptism, the Holy Spirit changed his life; Tony was not longer satisfied with church ministry but he was charged with a new vision for the Kingdom of God. Jesus no longer called him servant but a friend, a friend of God like how God called Abraham.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
He felt a heavy burden for the salvation of people in Vietnam and started to pray by faith of wanting to worship for the Lord in public places like the stadium. A conductor of the traditional choir in his church at that time, Tony hoped that his choir would proclaim the gospel upon thousands and also pray together for the nations. So, the Lord answered his prayers. After two months in spiritual baptism, God sent him a prophet from Sri Lanka to minister in the marketplace. Although the prophet did not know Tony, he specifically wanted to pray for him after the classes. Laying his hands on Tony’s lips, the missionary proclaimed that these lips would lead not thousands, but ten of thousands to worship the Lord.
Hence, for every year from 2007 to 2009, the prophecy came true. With his traditional choir, he led worship of tens of thousands during Christmas and Easter every year in the football stadium right at the heart of Saigon – Ho Chi Minh City! Through his time of serving, Tony was still battling financial difficulty for his company. In 2007, he met the prophet again, in which Tony stepped forward for prayer for his company’s financial blessing. The prophet said, “The Lord has worked for you. Your finances will be much blessed.”
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