By Dan Ho
Jesus told the parable to a large crowd that gathered. In the story, a farmer scattered seed. As he scattered the seed, some fell on the footpath, some among rocks, some among thorns, and some on fertile soil. The result was that only the seed on the fertile soil produced a harvest.
In the gospels, we have both the parable and Jesus’ explanation of what the parable meant. Jesus explained that the seed is God’s word. The footpath, the rocky soil, the thorny soil, and good soil represent different responses people have to hearing God’s word. Jesus represented the farmer. When the people listened to Jesus, the readiness of their hearts determined whether God’s word would take root in them or not. Only the ones who heard God’s word, understood it, accepted it, and began to act accordingly became converted and produced good works.
Looking back at my life at different points in time, I can see examples of these different responses to God’s word in my life. Growing up in a family with the tradition that believes in worshipping idols and ancestors, I did not accept any other religion. God had sent many Christian ministers to speak God’s word to me.
At first, I would not listen and nothing took root. Later, I was like the footpath. I listened but the devil came and stole the Word as soon as I heard it. Then I was like the rocky ground. God’s word sprouted, but doubt would take over, and the seedling wilted. Finally, the word took root, grew, but then the thorns of life choked out the growing plant. Worries, riches, and the pleasures of life prevented growth to maturity.
But with God everything is possible. The ground can change. Rain can soften hard ground. On the surface, the ground can look hard and dry, but underneath the surface there is good soil. The ground can be covered with rocks and thorns, but ground can be cultivated, turning up good soil and removing the weeds.
As Paul said to the Corinthian church: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6 NIV). God has placed not one, but many different people like Paul and Apollos into my life. The seed of Christ was regularly planted and replanted into my heart and mind until it took root. Then it needed watering and God’s nurture for it to grow up.
In the parable, we read about the seeds that fell on the fertile soil and produced a great harvest. But how long did it take to produce? What happened in between planting and harvest? It took a lot of time and hard work by the farmer to care for the field.
In my case, it took time and work by different people to nourish me toward maturity. I accepted Christ and got baptized in 1992. After many different storms of life, I fully committed my life to God in 2009. The same year, I enrolled in STEP, a leadership and ministry training program of LMC. While attending STEP, I began to travel to North Carolina as part of the ministry outreach of Upper Darby Mennonite Fellowship and the Vietnamese Mennonite Church. That ministry involvement was part of my field education assignment for STEP.
There is a small community of Vietnamese people living in Camden Point and Columbia, North Carolina about 300 miles and 350 miles away, respectively. We have two main teams that take turns traveling there to preach and nurture believers. Some Christians from the Philadelphia area also moved to the area because of job opportunities. Some of the
local people also became new believers through our mission work. Since 2009, about 66 people accepted Christ. We continue to travel to North Carolina to train leaders.
During the first year of STEP, one of the assignments for each student was to work on his/her genealogy. That was when I awakened to the spiritual condition of many of my extended family who still lived in Vietnam. They still lived with the practices of worshiping idols and ancestors. That STEP assignment took me back to Vietnam in March 2010.
I returned to Vietnam to gather the information I needed for the STEP assignment and to bring the Good News of Jesus to my family who still lived there. At the time I returned, both of my grandfathers had already passed away. Both of my grandmothers were quite elderly, so I did not want to miss the opportunity of presenting Jesus to them. Because I was only at the beginning of my STEP studies and felt I was inexperienced in sharing the gospel, I asked God to send someone with experience leading people to Christ along with me. I prayed that God would send Pastor Tuyen Nguyen along with me. Pastor Tuyen was my STEP mentor and pastor at the Vietnamese Mennonite Church in Philadelphia.
About a week after my prayer, Pastor Tuyen approached me and asked if I would go to Vietnam with him. LMC leadership had asked him to travel to Vietnam and assist in the ordination of 26 new pastors. After hearing his invitation, I wanted to confirm that God was actually answering my specific prayer. “I will go if you travel with me to my hometown and pray for my family to receive Christ,” I responded. He immediately agreed!
Romans 10:9 says: “If you declare with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” That was how my family, my grandmothers, uncles, aunts, friends, and neighbors accepted Christ. A total of 72 people made a commitment to follow Jesus on that trip. Since that day, the believers continue to gather at different houses to worship God and study the Bible together. They are led by evangelist Huong Nguyen, Pastor Tuyen’s aunt.
Since then, Upper Darby Mennonite Fellowship sent many more groups to Vietnam with the support of the Vietnamese Mennonite Church and Church For The Needy. Members of other local churches here asked these teams to reach out to their families, relatives, and friends in different towns and cities in Vietnam. The number of believers has grown to about 2000 people and 11 congregations.
God’s work involves repetitive cycles of planting and watering. Plant and water, plant and water plant and water…. God wants each of us to be a farmer modeled after Jesus, the Master farmer. God gives us the Seed of Christ to be planted. Each of us is given a field to tend. Even though we might think that the eternal destiny of our families, relatives, friends, and neighbors are our responsibility, they really are not; God gives us the fields. God calls us to work the soil, plant the seed, and tend the crop, but God looks after the Word planted into people lives. When scattering the Seed, we can’t really control where it falls. We often do not know the condition of the soil, the openness a person has to God’s word. Some falls on the footpath, on the rocky ground, and on thorn-infested ground. But some falls on fertile soil, which produces a great harvest!
Pastor Danh Ho focuses much of his ministry at Upper Darby Mennonite Fellowship on outreach to Vietnamese people in Philadelphia, North Carolina, and Vietnam. He is a STEP graduate.