Earlier this month, devastating winds blew through the Philippines at up to 200 miles per hour and then made their way to Vietnam and other places. The loss of close to 4,000 lives in what’s being called the “storm of the century” is almost unfathomable, not to mention the homes and crops that were destroyed.
Please continue to pray for those affected by Typhoon Haiyan, and I hope you strongly consider giving part of your holiday offerings to the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s (UMCOR’s) International Disaster Response (Advance #982450). UMCOR was on the ground immediately after the storm hit, delivering health kits and other emergency supplies. But thousands more kits are needed, and they are relatively easy to assemble. Preparing kits provides an opportunity for your congregation to come together and support our Filipino brothers and sisters in Christ; 200,000 United Methodists in more than 1,300 churches are counting on us. (Minnesota United Methodists can deliver or send prepared kits to Messiah UMC, 17805 County Road 6, Plymouth, MN 55447; the church office is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Messiah will deliver the kits to depots in Illinois and Louisiana, where they will be sent to the Philippines.)
Another kind of wind has been blowing in Southeast Asia—the wind of the Holy Spirit. The United Methodist Church has been in the Philippines for decades. But its presence is still emerging in Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. I was privileged to be able to travel to the latter three countries in October. Through the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, lives are being touched and transformed there every single day.
The wind is blowing in Vietnam through Rev. Ut and Karen To. Born in Vietnam, they came to the U.S. as boat people back in the 70s. With help from the UMC, they settled in the Midwest and received an education. After being appointed and serving in the Michigan Annual Conference, they felt the call to return home to Ho Chi Minh City about ten years ago. Since then, the Lord has been working through them in incredible ways. As in-country coordinators, they have overseen the development of 270 house churches in all five districts of the country, with trained leaders in most of them. These leaders have also developed orphanages to care for child victims of Agent Orange, and they have arranged reconciliation tours for U.S. and Vietnamese veterans.
The wind is also blowing in Laos. Rev. Beverly and Emmanuel Barte, originally from the Philippines, serve as in-country coordinators in this poor, mountainous country. Under the watchful eye of the government (the church is not yet registered), they help lead 72 lay pastors in as many house churches in seven districts. They also oversee SEEDS women’s business cooperatives through which women have the opportunity to raise ducks, fish, mushrooms, pigs, cows, and green rice after receiving a loan from the UMC. After the women personally raise 10 percent of the cost of starting a cooperative, they can apply for a loan, which is paid back to a fund pool after their business becomes profitable. They also agree to tithe (donate 10 percent of income) to the local church, which ministers to the spiritual, physical, and economic needs of local communities. Through this program, everyone wins.
The wind is also blowing in Thailand. Rev. Gary and Cindy Moon oversee UMC mission initiatives there, which include evangelism and clergy training as well as orphanages for children who contracted AIDS as a result of the sex trade industry. This fall, the first United Methodist church was built in the northern, mountainous village of Pattaya and dedicated by Bishop Bruce Ough, who is the bishop of Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand in addition to leading the Minnesota and Dakotas annual conferences. Other church buildings are planned for the six congregations emerging in the surrounding areas, as well as in Bangkok. Baptisms, Bible studies, fellowship groups, and leadership seminars are sprouting up all over the place.
Minnesota United Methodists have a strong history of stepping up to help those in need, both within and outside of our Minnesota mission field. I pray that the Holy Spirit continues to inspire generosity in each of us as we reach out to our Filipino neighbors in their time of despair. And as our global church continues to reach new people in Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand, I pray that we will find ways to support efforts there so that the wind of the Holy Spirit continues to blow, offering abundant life through Christ.
If you are interested in learning more about how the United Methodist Church is making a difference in Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand, or if you would like to participate in a consultation visit to Vietnam next July, e-mail me.
Lyndy Zabel is director of missional impact for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church