Floating houses, fishing, and water economy on the Mekong River. PHOTO: VMI
By Christie R. House
August 25, 2021 | ATLANTA
The Vietnam Mission Initiative Consultation, held virtually August 9 and 10, 2021, brought together a diverse group of people to consider the challenges and opportunities facing The United Methodist Church in Vietnam, founded 23 years ago. Global Ministries, the North Carolina Conference, and Vietnam United Methodists hosted the gathering that drew 78 participants for an overview session to hear from Vietnamese United Methodists about their churches and ministries. Over 40 people, most having previous experience with the initiative, continued the conversation into a second night, listening intently to their Vietnamese partners.
The Vietnamese Mission Initiative (VMI) has navigated some difficult roads in the last few years. As the consultation took place, Vietnamese participants were under strict COVID-19 lock-downs, barely able to leave their homes. Yet, this did not diminish their enthusiasm for participating in the call with their U.S. partners.
A good mix of Vietnamese, Vietnamese American, staff of various denominational agencies – including Global Ministries, Higher Education and Ministry, Discipleship Ministries and United Methodist Communications – and U.S. participants, representing supporting conferences, congregations and In Mission Together partners, talked with each other in Zoom rooms during the event.
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, presiding bishop of the VMI and the North Carolina Annual Conference, opened the consultation with a Bible study from 1 Kings: 3.
“The words speak to us in this moment,” said Ward. “Solomon has come into leadership with the people, overwhelmed with the task before him. The Lord appears to him in a dream and asks, ‘what should I give you?’ Solomon responds: ‘Give your servant an understanding mind.’ As we think about the mission of our church in Vietnam, we also stand before God in humility. We ask God to give us wisdom in the way God is calling us to engage so that we may discern the next steps together.”
During the consultation, participants divided into several teams to discuss two topics: Effective Leaders/Healthy Congregations and Livelihood/Sustainable Support Structure. After the consultation, conversations will continue throughout the year on these two topics as Vietnamese and U.S. partners covenant to work together toward practical solutions.
The road ahead
President T.*, of The United Methodist Church in Vietnam, shared with participants a short history, present state and vision for the future of the church. In 2018, the church underwent a painful split across its membership precipitated by the retirement of the founding missionary. Half of VUMC congregations decided to create a new denomination. Those who remained with The United Methodist Church reorganized under President T.
President T. revealed that the pastors serve without salary, making bi-vocational living a necessity. “We are grateful to share about our situation in Vietnam. We hope people can understand and, in the future, connect with us through the Methodist church. We have pride and a beautiful future open for all of us.”
Today, VMI has a new Global Ministries country director, J. P.*, and his wife, T. P.*, coordinator of Christian Education, who arrived in country nine months ago. Before the country lock-down, the couple traveled to UMC churches and faith groups in different parts of the country.
“We are seeking to grow in the understanding of how the VMI is made up and nurture relationships with these amazing brothers and sisters,” J. P. explained.
“We visited a small congregation that is so remote, we traveled by car, then by ferry across a river, then on the back of scooter bikes on narrow roads leading to the church. We were so blessed by the faithfulness of the pastor to serve this small community through all the challenges; through her and this small congregation, the light of the gospel was beautifully evident.”
A third worker, K. C.* from Global Ministries, recently arrived in Vietnam to introduce a Community Health and Development (CHAD) program, an agricultural and development program that has been successful in the Cambodia Mission Initiative.
Strategies for the present
Despite the difficulties of the last two years, the Rev. Paul Kong, director of Global Ministries’ Asia Pacific Regional Office in Seoul, Korea, sees a silver lining in the leadership of the current VMI and the new country director.
“They are coming together to form a strategy. People are worried about support for the pastors and the need to draw people into the church, but the gospel is powerful. This is why we work on sustainability as an integral part of UMC mission initiatives.”
Roland Fernandes, general secretary of Global Ministries, encouraged all partners to continue to work together: “It was important to hear from President T. and other local pastors about what is happening in Vietnam. We will continue to work with the VMI on how to expand this mission. While we face many challenges, it is God’s work, and God will continue to sustain us.”
The Rev. Jaye White, North Carolina Conference director of Outreach Ministry and the In Mission Together coordinator for Vietnam, is the point person for congregations seeking to connect with the VMI. She is coordinating three upcoming virtual VMI mission trips. Registration information will be available soon for the following events. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
November 15 – Community Health and Agricultural Development (CHAD)