A mom and pop shop, quite literally

by Gary Carter (part of the New Beginnings series focusing on my observations as I make the Northwest my new home)

It should not come as a surprise that crossing the Columbia will still find a host of family run restaurants, scratch-making everything, all with an eye toward local or sustainability.

And for many in the Portland area, once you find your pho place, you are loyal and you dive into the intricacies of their dishes. Because in authentic Vietnamese food, the difference of a few miles from where the cook or owner hails can be seen and tasted in the food.

But in this age of authenticity, this return to farm-to-table, this time of value in good, rustic food; it is a bright spot to see a real mom and pop commit to their culture and cuisine.

In Vancouver, on the busy Mill Plain Boulevard, one family is doing it right. And when we say mom and pop, that’s literally what is going on here at Pho Thanh.

Ming Huynh Bui, and his wife Tuyet Lan, met as refugees, packed in boats fleeing Vietnam during the war in 1975. He had fought against the North Vietnamese, alongside the Americans, early in the war and was captured and sent to the “re-education camps.” Five years later, he was released and found himself behind the wheel of a boat headed for Thailand. She had found a way to get herself the same direction. After a church sponsor helped the couple get to America, they married and settled in California.

The couple had three daughters. Linda Bui is one of them. She said that her father Ming worked odd jobs, with mom usually staying home to take care of the girls. After 20 years of working in different factories, and after moving the family from California to Portland, they moved to Vancouver.

Linda explained that one day at lunch, about five years ago, father Ming was eating in a small cafe on Mill Plain Blvd. and had noticed the owner was having a particularly rough day. She exclaimed that she wished someone would just buy the place. He stepped up, made her and offer, and did just that.

“He came home and told us, ‘well, I bought you a restaurant,’“ Linda said.

Ming had only known Vietnamese cooking by proxy. It was his wife Tuyet who guarded the family recipes and kept the pots boiling. “My dad didn’t know who was going to run the place or anything,” Linda said. “But he was determined to make it work.”

Soon, Tuyet put Ming in charge of the broths and soup. And if you know anything of a pho restaurant, the broth is the life blood of the joint. It’s the point of pride.

Linda said their small cafe, Pho Thanh, struggled in the beginning, trying to figure out what days and hours to stay open, what ingredients customers preferred. But in the end, it was the dedication to the scratch-made soups and other staples that kept the customers coming back. Dedication is the key word here, as mom and pop Bui work every day of the week, at least 12 hours a day.

Ming just laughs off the hard work, instead showing off his large boiling cauldrons of beef and chicken stock. “This one, it goes for 12 hours. Then we add a little of this, and we add a little of that. Green onions. Fresh ginger … and this one, we let it go 16 hours, maybe more,” he says, beaming with pride. “There’s no skimping.”

If you want to check out the fresh pho, you can find the Bui family cooking every day at Pho Thanh Restaurant at 14201 SE Mill Plain Blvd #A in Vancouver, Washington. Phone: 360.892.4788.

Holiness and Gratitude

Bishop Grant Hagiya of the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area rallies with the  United Methodist Women and other United Methodist leaders in Wenatchee in support of immigrant and human rights. Photo by Paul Jeffrey, Wenatchee 2013.
Bishop Grant Hagiya of the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area rallies with the
United Methodist Women and other United Methodist leaders in Wenatchee in support of immigrant and human rights. Photo by Paul Jeffrey, Wenatchee 2013.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, gained the foundation of his faith at the knee of his mother Susanna who raised 19 children and taught them all to love God. Susanna was a loving, disciplined, and educated woman and she encouraged all her children to study, learn, and grow in faith. Her influence was such that both John Wesley and his brother Charles grew up to be priests.

There is no religion but social religion,
no holiness but social holiness.
– John Wesley.

John and Charles Wesley were, by tradition, Anglican. By their passion, they would come to be known as ‘Methodist.’ Methodism was a way of living that connected the believer to an inner and outer way of ‘holiness,’ a deep love for God and gratitude and joy for life.

Once in a letter to a questioner, Wesley explained ‘holiness’ as deeply connected to ‘cheerfulness’ ‘joy’ ‘peace’ ‘renewal’ ‘thankfulness’ ‘happiness’ ‘faith’ and ‘love.’ Holiness was a way of life, it was part of the everyday activities of the believer, eating, drinking, and in “everything you do” he said, “in every way give thanks.”

Importantly, ‘holiness’ to Wesley was a social rather than personal thing. He was not like the ancient hermits who lived alone to experience God. Instead, he believed that it is only in and among others that true holiness awakens and develops. To Wesley, ‘soul work’ is done in community, it happens in serving others, tending to the needs of others, and in belonging to a group of people that uplift, support and challenge one another to grow in love.

Another important aspect of ‘social holiness’ is the work of social justice. The phrase ‘social justice’ did not exist in Wesley’s time, but we see it none the less in much of his activity. Wesley believed God’s love and justice was available to all people, not just a select few.

He decried slavery, praised our earth and creation, preached to and greeted those outside the church walls, and worked tirelessly to heal, comfort, and elevate others. He visited the prisoner, feed the hungry, and cared for the sick. Social Justice is the fruit and work of social holiness.

Today we continue the work of ‘social holiness’ as John Wesley himself did. And as we do so, we count on our Christian community to challenge and uplift us. We love one another even as we welcome the stranger. We worship both within and outside the church, living our faith in our neighborhood by serving others with grace and gratitude.

We, in every way, seek to love each other, becoming a people focused on joy, cheerfulness, gratitude, and God’s renewing love.

As this was Wesley’s work, so it is our work, the work at here at Camas and for United Methodists the world over. What a gift it is, this faith of Grace. What a blessing it is to serve together as a people who belong to God.

Pastor Richenda


Trail Blazin’ … Part I

Trail Blazin’ … Part I
by Gary Carter

While the covered wagon was a big ol’ SUV, the trek along the Oregon Trail was just as rustic and filled with excitement and promise as that of the pioneers.

My little family and I packed up all our belongings, sold our home in Texas and gave away just about everything we couldn’t carry, and came to live among the evergreens of the Pacific Northwest during the summer of 2015.

“Come to the Northwest,” they said, “where the summers are cool and it rains.” Well, that was enticing enough as we in North Texas had just begun the tenth summer of a desperate drought where 110 degree days and 90 degree nights were the norm. I mean, it was so dry, cats coughed dustballs and tumbleweeds were too crackly to tumble.

For my little family, my wife Jan and two sons Bobby and Will, the move was highly anticipated as it was our first foray out of the confines of North Texas other than travel. We all suffered from wanderlust, to be sure, having visited all but a handful of these United States and Canada and such. But putting down roots, that’s a whole ‘nother ballgame.

Surprisingly, just after settling in the fine city of Camas, I instructed my youngin’s to “blend in.” Well, ya’ll are fixin’ to be surprised, but I believe our Texas accents gave us away. Everywhere. From the checker at Wal-Mart to the folks at the Water Department.

“You’re not from around here, are you?”

From what I gather, we’re not alone in that category in Camas. Seems the school district is bustin’ at the seams. There seems to be traffic congestion where there was nary a car back in the day. But like I keep saying, if you’ve got something good, people wanna share it.

Weeks before we settled on moving to Camas and putting down roots, it was a tweet I noticed by a local pastor at the Methodist Church. It was slightly political, and 100 percent genuine. There was thought and care put into what this woman was writing, and I was immediately drawn to her other writings. That drew me into Camas United Methodist Church and I knew my family would have to seek it out once we moved. Just a day after our covered wagon pulled into town, we were at a Sunday service listening to Pastor Richenda Fairhurst hold court.

The smiling faces and welcoming vibe was overwhelming. We had not felt that loving embrace in a long time. And for our family, it was time. We were transitioning to another chapter in our lives, after a time of difficult goodbyes and howdy-don’ts. We were looking for fertile ground for thought, for love, for inclusion, and for opportunity. My children sought more comfortable confines, pleasant scenery, and a wonderful sense of place. Me? I was seeking a home.

—- to be continued

covered wagon modern copy