From East Germany to Serving in Vietnam
An Interview with Ilse Van Goth
On Monday, December 10, 2018, the Bucket Ministry had the opportunity to sit down with Ilse Van Goth, who went with TBM to serve in Vietnam. Ilse owns her own international business and has traveled to 50 countries throughout her life, but this was her first time to Vietnam. Although it was TBM’s first time in a communist country, Ilse was no stranger to the situation. Ilse grew up in the former East Germany. She grew up knowing God and was baptized in East Germany, although it had to be done in secret because they couldn’t do so openly. “I was used to praying often because we were living under such dire circumstances. My mother and other women would often pray, ‘Oh God, give us more food. Oh God, give us peace. And most of all, please have East Germany and West Germany come together again as a country.’” This prayer was prayed for many years. Eventually, Ilse and her family escaped to West Germany. “[We went so] we could openly show our faith in God. Even though we moved, when the times are bad, you find [people] in church or talking about it, but when times are good, the churches are empty. We kept our faith inside. We’re not very expressive of showing our faith-it’s the culture.”
Years later, on November 9, 1989, Ilse was in Berlin on a business trip. She and her colleagues heard that the Brandenburg Gate (part of the Berlin Wall) was opening up, and they happened to be right there. “It took a long time and a lot of prayers, but God is good and does things in his own timing.” The next day, Ilse and her colleagues went back to the wall. “My colleagues pushed me on top of the wall, and I just started making proclamations that this is God’s gift to us. While I was standing there, a young solider came to me with a gun and said quietly, ‘You must go down.’ I did, even though I didn’t want to. I was just praying for the goodness of God.”
In 2017, Ilse moved to Texas, where she met TBM founder in her life group at church. After she saw a TBM presentation, she was immediately drawn into it. “To me, it helps to visually see what they’re doing, not just tell me. It was very dramatic. I have travelled to countries on business where there were issues with clean water-Malawi, Mexico, Eastern Russia, Ukraine, Turkey. There was always issues with real clean water.” Ilse smiled as she told me that while she was in Yalta, she was trying to find some bottled water. She walked into a store and saw an unlabeled bottle of a clear substance on the shelf. She bought the bottle, but quickly found out it was not water, but instead pure vodka. “I took a sip and I thought I was on fire… These are the issues they have. You cannot drink any water there. And people are sick, especially in Africa, where I worked for a while… When I saw [TBM], I thought, wow this is something that should have been done a long time ago. There are always wells being built, but they dry out and it’s not something that is containable. I read a lot about the filter online and talked to [TBM founder]. I thought this ministry would be a good fit for me because I was looking for something to do internationally where I can be of value.”
The first TBM trip she could go on was to Vietnam, a country she had not visited in the past. Visiting this communist country brought back some memories. Although she knew what to expect, she was still a little surprised by the stark difference between the countryside and the big city. She was confronted with memories of her past while in the countryside she saw the flags and the children in uniforms, which meant they were in the Young Pioneers. She had also worn these uniforms when she was growing up. “[They] show they’re being brought up as communists and being true to the leaders in Communism. But being in a big city like Ho Chi Minh, it wasn’t as visible, but you still always have to be very cautious with what statements you’re making to whoever you meet in a Communist country.”
But she loved being around the people. “[Our partners are] so humble, joyful, smart, committed, and open to anybody who walks in there. It really blew me away. I wish I could be a little bit like them. The people were just gracious and it was so natural to them, not forced!” She also loved greeting the villagers before the presentation. She would go out with a translator and talk with them. At one point she was with two ladies who were talking about her nose. After asking if there was something wrong with it, the translator said “no, they are just saying that your nose is so straight!” She found it very funny.
Ilse enjoyed watching the presentation as well and thought it was really well done. She loved how the presenter was able to connect to the people. “You cannot talk down to people, and he didn’t. He just connected with the people…. It was very powerful.” At the close of the presentation, TBM’s partners would call a few villagers into the church at a time to talk with a member of the church. They would ask the villagers if they had any questions about the filter, would provide them a coupon for anti-parasitic medicine, and would ask if they wanted to hear more about Christ. This is where Ilse really saw God. “It was when the people went into the church. They could have been spooked by the government being there and watching them, but they went inside anyways.”
Overall, Ilse loved going on mission with TBM, saying it was a terrific trip and that she hopes to go on another trip in the future. If you are interested in going with TBM in the future, here’s some words from Ilse: “This is hard work. When you go on a mission trip, it’s for work, it’s not just to experience a new culture or to go somewhere new. It’s to work hard. I think of the group we worked with in Vietnam. They were very hard working. One girl drilled over half the buckets! People need to be engaged when they go on trips. They need to do their best to just start working and not necessarily have to be told what to do. Just work!”
TBM would like to thank Ilse for taking the time to talk with us about her past and TBM. It was a true blessing to talk with her and to see how God has been with her through her life. Starting out as a young girl in Communist East Germany to owning her own business and travelling to 50 different countries and cultures to serving with the Bucket Ministry in a Communist country, Ilse is a very strong woman with such skill and personality that draws one to her. If you would like to hear more about Ilse’s past in East Germany, check out her book entitled Five Lives: The Spirit of Survival.