Minnesota Conference forms children-focused partnership with Vietnam

March 04, 2015

By: Christa Meland

The United Methodist Church has a growing presence in Vietnam—and the Minnesota Conference recently formed a partnership with United Methodist missionaries there in order to help foster an abundant life for Vietnamese children.

Many Vietnamese children come from broken homes and are in need of permanent or temporary care. Through the partnership, Minnesota United Methodists have an opportunity to help expand Grace Children’s Center in Ho Chi Minh City, a United Methodist ministry that is currently providing education and daycare for about 20 of these children.

A partnership between Minnesota and Vietnam was first discussed in June 2014 when more than 50 Minnesota United Methodists gathered to learn about the Southeast Asian country and explore possibilities. Then in January, a five-person team from the Minnesota Conference visited to assess needs and work out the details of the partnership. One of the things they learned: “The Vietnamese want to take care of their own,” said Rev. Lyndy Zabel, the conference’s director of missional impact, who led the team. But the needs are great, and the country is home to a staggering number of orphans.

Grace Children’s Center

Grace Children’s Center has just one volunteer staff member, a first- and second-grade teacher who volunteers her time to educate and care for Grace’s children, some of whom live there and others of whom spend their days there; the center’s children also learn to grow fruit, raise chickens and ducks, and make hats—all of which are sold to help support the center.

However, the center needs additional staff members and resources to be able to adequately care for its children. Minnesota United Methodists’ first opportunity to be in ministry with the people of Vietnam is by donating to the 2015 Love Offering. Sixty percent of that offering will go to Grace; funds will be used to pay off a $10,000 loan for the building, provide a salary for the first-and second-grade teacher, and hire several more staff members: a third- and fourth-grade teacher, a health care worker, a cook, and a Korean language tutor (Vietnam is home to many Korean immigrants). Funds also will be used for sewing machines that children can use to learn to sew hats and other clothing.

Eileen Miles and her daughter Kendra Miles-Smith attend Coon Rapids United Methodist Church and were part of the advance team that visited Vietnam in January. The trip was particularly meaningful for them because Smith adopted Miles-Smith from Vietnam in 1974.

“My heart has always been in Vietnam,” Miles said. When visiting Grace, she was pleased to see that the kids there were well fed, well clothed, and well loved. But it was also clear that the center isn’t currently prepared to educate students when they get older—and that the center needs more than one staff member. She’s excited to see the center grow its offerings in partnership with Minnesota.

The partnership

Zabel emphasizes that the partnership with Vietnam is not a donor-recipient model but instead a “50/50 model,” meaning that both parties are working together toward a common goal. The people of Vietnam will continue to run Grace, and the conference will assist with needs they have identified. As part of the partnership, the Vietnam team has agreed to provide information about each child at the center and many more in foster care so that Minnesotans can pray for them. The Vietnam team will also send reports every other month to inform the Minnesota Conference about progress and create a five-year mission development plan for orphans and foster children that outlines staffing, costs, leadership development, and a tentative timeline.

The hope is that eventually, Vietnam and Minnesota United Methodists will be able to work together to start another children’s center in Ho Chi Minh City that would double as a self-sustaining vocational training center.

The advance team also hopes to help coordinate two mission partnership trips to Vietnam each year. Individuals and church teams could teach English, offer Vacation Bible School, connect with children through music, teach basic health care and first aid, complete general repairs and painting, and/or train teachers. As the United Methodist movement continues to grow throughout Vietnam, there’s also an opportunity for volunteers to teach course of study to Vietnamese lay pastors.

‘A hunger for Jesus’

For many years, the communist Vietnamese government didn’t allow people to worship God or study the Bible. Today, there isn’t as much religious persecution, and the United Methodist movement is growing.

“There’s a real hunger for Jesus there,” said Zabel.

Vietnam is currently home to 370 United Methodist house churches consisting of small groups that regularly meet to worship and study scripture. Revs. Ut and Karen To, missionaries who are working to grow the church’s presence, hope to have 1,000 by the year 2020. Leaders are also working to get the United Methodist Church registered by the Vietnamese government, which will pave the way for it to become its own United Methodist conference later on.

Zabel and Miles both said they saw God at work in the evangelistic hearts of the United Methodist missionaries in Vietnam.

“The passion they have for growth in Christianity and their commitment to spreading the word—we can learn from that,” said Miles. “To see it just taking off like wildfire in a communist country halfway around the world is amazing. Until five years ago, some of these pastors were being thrown in jail for preaching the word. They’d get right out and do it again. We can learn from them—more than they can learn from us.”

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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