A hopeful spirit: Vietnam Mission Initiative update

June 06, 2019
The Minnesota Conference Vietnam Steering Team visiting children in Vietnam during a 2016 trip to the country.

This past year has seen a multitude of changes for the Vietnam Mission Initiative—which the Minnesota Conference has partnered with and supported. Country Coordinators, Revs. Ut To and Karen Van-To, retired. Bishop Hope Morgan Ward succeeded Bishop Bruce Ough as the bishop assigned to oversee ministry there. And a new leadership team has been put in place, led by Rev. Nguyen Lap Tuy. The team has created committees representing children and youth, education, evangelism, pastoral support, social service, and women’s ministry.

In December, Cindy Saufferer (a member of Blooming Grove UMC in Morristown) and I attended a Vietnam Mission Initiative annual meeting, listening session, and consultation/future planning session. Representatives from 38 churches located in all of the districts in Vietnam and from five U.S. annual conferences—including Minnesota—spent four days worshipping, hearing reports, and brainstorming for the future.  There was a hopeful, energetic spirit among us.

I was moved and blessed as every member of the Vietnamese Leadership team enthusiastically answered the question of why they wanted to be in The United Methodist Church. Some of the reasons were:
1) embracing grace theology
2) an open table
3) women in leadership
4) a truly open door, where everyone is invited
5) a comprehensive focus on community, education, evangelism, and social services

One man said, “God has equipped my head and my heart, and United Methodists understand that.” And one woman said, “As a woman, I am listened to, and you understand I am called and chosen to serve.”

While in Vietnam, we were also delighted to spend time with Rev. Quynh-Hoa Nguyen, a missionary supported by several churches in Minnesota. Born in Danang, Vietnam, she returned to her native country several years ago after receiving her B.A. in English, MDiv., and Ph.D. in philosophy in California. Many of the new women leaders were developed under her leadership. She is also particularly involved in developing youth, outreach, and children’s ministries. Hundreds of students receive backpacks with school supplies and a Bible to ease the financial burden many experience. Families receive health and personal hygiene kits in areas where there’s little access to health services. A used clothes program sends clothing to those in needy communities. And funds from our 2015 Love Offering continue to support a Vacation Bible School network that reaches hundreds of students in 14 different locations, as well as curriculum writing and ongoing teacher training.   

The priorities of the Vietnam Mission Initiative in 2019 are two-fold: One is an expanded organizational effort. This includes continued leadership training, a more thorough ordination process, financial training, the construction of a new church center in the Mekong Valley, and the renovation or construction of a number of places of worship throughout the country. The second is education, with an emphasis on lay leader training, the United Methodist course of study for pastors, and English. Materials are being written in Vietnamese in order to provide wide access to all.

The Minnesota Conference Vietnam Steering Team continues to be committed to an ongoing “50-50 partnership”—meaning both parties are working together toward a common goal—as the people of that country continue to reach and make disciples of Jesus Christ.  Vietnam is “coming up,” as they say there. Industry, business, and tourism are all rising. So is The United Methodist Church. There are currently 10 hopeful, energetic members on the Minnesota-Vietnam Steering Team. If you’d like to join us, and possibly travel to Vietnam or just learn more about this expanding ministry, contact me.

Lyndy Zabel is director of community engagement and missional impact for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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