Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in Vietnam is today a vibrant, tropical metropolis of almost nine million citizens. The population is growing at an average of nearly 90,000 per month as mostly young adults move from surrounding villages to the city for a chance at a better life.
The streets of HCMC buzz with motor scooters—workers whizzing to and from their places of employment, students in uniforms, whole families on a single scooter. It is a city pulsing with energy. Competition is fierce, and people work hard to support themselves and their families. Off the busy boulevards, bougainvillea blossoms burst into profusions of fucshia and purple, crepe myrtle flowers color the sidewalks, and flaming kepata trees line lanes of colonial structures and tall, narrow buildings.
Sister Thi Thu Ha, a petite young woman with a gentle smile, is one of the tens of thousands who have come to HCMC to seek her fortune. In her new home, she also found a new faith. From the time she was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the age of 21, she knew she wanted to be a full-time Church representative (called “branch builders” in Vietnam) and share the good news of the gospel with others.
In many developing countries, potential missionaries are given assistance to cover mission expenses but are nonetheless asked to work and save a significant amount. Typically, the specific amount to be saved is based on individual circumstances and is determined in consultation with a priesthood leader. After Sister Ha spoke with her priesthood leader, President Scott B. Smedley, then president of the Cambodia Phnom Penh Mission, which Vietnam is part of, she began working to save money. She worked hard and saved every Vietnamese dong she could.
After many months, she had put away the required amount, which was the equivalent of several months of an average wage. One day she borrowed her brother’s motor scooter to run some errands. Unfortunately, the scooter was stolen. She felt obligated to repay her brother for the loss, so she gave him all the mission money she had saved.
She began to work and save all over again. But she lost her job. Unable to find steady employment, she cleaned houses. It would take a long time to save the necessary amount. She fasted for two days and heard a “warm” voice in her mind that helped her feel that Heavenly Father would be very pleased if she could go on a mission. That experience gave her faith to be strong and to try to find another job. It also made her feel that she should help her brother have faith in Jesus Christ. She was assured that when her brother’s faith became strong, she would have an opportunity to serve her mission. This promise strengthened her, and she went out looking for a better job.
“She fasted for two days and heard a “warm” voice in her mind that helped her feel that Heavenly Father would be very pleased if she could go on a mission.”
She returned to her parents’ village to ask them to sign her application to serve full-time. Her father, who had been drinking, refused to grant her permission, beat her, and threatened her mother. But Sister Ha took courage, remembering the promise she had been given. She believed that she would serve full-time and that serving would protect her mother.
She returned to HCMC and found work there. After several more months, she again had the necessary money saved. This time, the cash was stolen from its hiding place. Undeterred, she kept praying, talking with her mother, and teaching her brother the gospel. One day, a kind woman felt inspired to give Sister Ha some money, which she used to pay for the physical examination for her mission.
A third time, she put all her efforts into working and saving. Once she had saved the required amount, the money was lost a third time. With her earlier answer to prayer in mind, she began saving yet again. She went back to her parents and pleaded with them to sign her papers, which they eventually did. She could also tell that her brother’s faith was growing stronger.
When she had saved about half the required amount, she scheduled an interview with the mission president, who was planning to visit HCMC. She told him how much she loved the Lord and how much she wanted to serve. During the interview, she gave him her application, the permission papers her parents had signed, and the results of the medical exam. She told him she had saved half the needed money and was working to save the rest. She would be ready to serve as soon as the Lord called her.
“Then you are very close,” the mission president said. “All you need to do is to save another $205.”
She put her face in her hands and wept. President Smedley asked the translator why she was crying. At that point, Sister Ha shared the story that she had been keeping in her heart, the story of her struggle to save and prepare for a mission. She was crying, she said, because she was grateful and happy. She knew that finally her dream to serve full-time was going to come true.
Sister Ha served a faithful mission in the Cambodia Phnom Penh Mission. She spent many months of that time serving as a branch builder in her native Vietnam, teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who came to the chapel wanting to know more about the Church. She has completed her mission honorably, and she now has steady employment that she enjoys at a pharmaceutical factory outside bustling Ho Chi Minh City. She is again serving in the Thao Dien Branch, where her gentle smile lights up the room and her testimony continues to strengthen others.