REI-Vietnam News

A “Tender and Joyful Experience”

by Lily Lauer |

Image: A “Tender and Joyful Experience”
Brenda & Dave Trifon & their gracious host

Dave is the CEO of the Trifon’s boutique investment advisory firm, KOINONIA FINANCIAL, where he manages funds for hundreds of individuals as well as a number of corporate 401K retirement plans. He serves on the advisory board for an International Trust Company and is a member of the Chairman’s Club for LPL Financial (Top 3% production out of over 13,000 LPL representatives). Brenda, a semi-retired professor of Human Development and Family Studies, also works with the family firm where she manages human resources, marketing and event planning. Brenda has a small consulting practice and owned her own pre-school for a number of years. A published author and recognized speaker, Brenda is a member of the Jean Piaget Society.


The Trifons are no strangers to service. Over the years they have volunteered to rebuild local lower income family homes and work with women’s shelters etc. in their home state of Texas. They have served in prisons locally and internationally, helped build a hospital in Baja Mexico, served children in Guatemala, taught and served in Botswana Africa, taught in Russia and China, and taught and developed leaders in Cuba and India. David served in Bella Vista Prison in Medellin, Colombia where members of the notorious Pablo Escobar gang were incarcerated and international visitors were subject to kidnapping for ransom by the Communist FARC rebels.

Dave with Students

Brenda shared that they have “never been treated as well as they were in Vietnam.” She found the Vietnamese students to be respectful, appreciative and loving in a way that she hadn’t experienced in her years of teaching at the college level. Students would linger to talk after the conclusion of lectures and Brenda and Dave felt they were really able to connect with them. The Trifons are both very approachable and the fact that Brenda loves to inject fun into her lectures helps build a bridge to deeper relationships with her students. To illustrate the idea that women entrepreneurs must keep many balls afloat simultaneously, Brenda tossed balloons to the students which they batted around the room to keep them from falling to the ground. The students laughed and cheered as if they were “at a soccer game and their team was winning.” The students will surely remember the point Brenda was attempting to make as “balloon volleyball” isn’t a lecture technique that is often employed.


The Trifons were able to witness the effects and reap the benefits of the efforts of previous REI-Vietnam volunteers who have sewn into our Vietnamese friends both professionally and personally over the years. Dave, especially, was moved by how deep and genuine relationships with professors and students were -- from the start. The banner that read, “We Love REI,” that welcomed the team to Hanoi University was more than just a polite gesture – “it went way beyond that,” said Dave. The business team’s arrival was eagerly anticipated and the Trifons felt “extremely” welcomed and appreciated more so than any country they had previously visited. The Vietnamese appeared to have the expectation that the visit and lectures were going to go well. The program went beyond expectations and the students and faculties were joyful. The Trifons sensed a genuineness in relationships that was confirmed by honest feedback from both professors and students.

The boys

Another unexpected feature of the trip was how organized it was. Brenda said people would just “appear” to take them places. The team “never experienced more than ten minutes of wondering what came next” on the schedule before someone would show up to escort them to their next engagement. They were especially impressed with Madame Lien, our wonderful REI Representative for Vietnam Relations, and her assistant, Nga.

Business Team

If one were to read the qualifications and experience of our business team professionals, such as John Scruton-Wilson, Cheryl Meredith, Del Goehner, or Gail Schowe, one may have cause to feel intimidated! But as the Trifons (no slouches themselves) found out, our business team members are as humble and fun as they are true experts in their fields. The Trifons “loved” their colleagues and enjoyed the ease in which everyone related to one another.

For fun, the team toured the Mekong Delta. John Scruton-Wilson, who has traveled to Vietnam seven times with REI-VN, served as a tour guide and Dave thinks he may have missed his calling. John also commandeered the boat on which they were traveling and confidently guided the team to their next destination. David said, “Stand down John Kerry -- there is a new Anglo river boat captain on the Mekong Delta.”


For Dave, visiting Coconut Island in the Mekong Delta was like “going back 50 years.” It was Dave’s second trip to Vietnam; his first was 45 years ago as an officer in the US Air Force. He participated in setting up aerial ports all over Vietnam. Dave’s brother, who passed away last winter from the effects of Agent Orange, had spent time in the Mekong Delta during his tour in Vietnam. Dave was able to find commonality with a Hanoi Vietnamese professor after sharing about his brother. The professor related his perspective on Agent Orange; the birth defects it caused and how his own father died from the effects of the war. Both agreed they were happy their two countries have reconciled, consider each other allies and have granted favored nation trading partner status to each other.

David mentioned to the professor that he had read a 2002 Vietnam poll that revealed that over 72% of the Vietnam population had a favorable view of the USA. The professor was quick to say that the percentage was even higher today. David was overjoyed that Vietnam was “friendly, lush and green again.” The trip was definitely redemptive for him.

Due to his previous experience in Vietnam, Dave describes his visit to Hanoi this spring as “surreal.” He was joyful to go back to Vietnam on a peaceful mission. Brenda describes this trip as “definitely worth it” and a “joyful and tender experience.” The Trifons “definitely want to go on more international trips and share the love that is in them with people of other lands.”

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