By: Christa Meland
Last weekend, more than 50 United Methodists from Minnesota and several other conferences gathered in Minneapolis to learn about United Methodist ministries in Vietnam and to begin to explore a partnership with denominational efforts in the Southeast Asian country.
At the conclusion of the event, 25 Minnesota United Methodists pledged to continue to work toward such a partnership, and six to eight of them will become part of a steering committee that will meet for the first time in July to pray and strategize.
Revs. Ut and Karen To, missionaries who are working to grow the United Methodist Church in Vietnam, told those who attended the consultation that there are now more than 17,000 members of 322 United Methodist churches in Vietnam—and they hope to grow the number of churches to 1,000 by the year 2020. Virtually all of the progress to date has occurred since the early 2000s.
“People are hungry for the gospel,” said Ut To, who is passionate about sharing the good news of Christ and making disciples.
The Tos left Vietnam as boat people in the 1970s. During the long and challenging journey to America, they encountered pirates and even worried about drowning—but they prayed that they would survive so that they could serve God, and their prayers were answered. Thanks to some generous United Methodists, they received a college and seminary education and served churches in Michigan before returning to their homeland about 12 years ago to be mission coordinators there. They have been developing house churches, orphanages, and other ministries ever since.
“You’re looking at two of the best evangelists I’ve ever met,” Bishop Bruce Ough told attendees as he introduced the Tos.
One of the consultation highlights cited by attendees was the opportunity to worship with people at three sites in Vietnam through a remote video connection. Vietnamese United Methodists and Minnesota United Methodists prayed and sang together across geographies and even time zones.
Attendees also heard personal stories from Vietnamese people working in both Vietnam and Minnesota. One of the people who shared a story was So Yo Binh; he used to work for the Vietnamese government in the Department of Religious Affairs but didn’t believe in God or adhere to any religion. When his daughter started to lose her eyesight, he tried praying for the first time—asking for her to be able to see again. When her sight was restored, he committed his life to Christ and decided to serve the Lord full time. He left the government about five years ago and is now starting an orphanage about 60 miles from Ho Chi Minh City.
The Minnesota Conference has a long history of partnering in mission with individuals, churches, and conferences in various ways. In recent years, international efforts have primarily focused on West Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Russia. But Rev. Lyndy Zabel, the Minnesota Conference’s director of missional impact and the event organizer, said there are several reasons why it makes sense to form missional partnerships in Southeast Asia. First, missionaries have presided over tremendous growth there because people are hungry for the word of God after years of communism. Additionally, Bishop Ough oversees mission activity in Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand in addition to presiding over Minnesota and the Dakotas—so he provides a strong connection between both geographic areas. Zabel pointed out that Minnesota also has a large Hmong population and a growing Vietnamese population, and many people in our local mission field have relatives and friends back home.
Exactly how Minnesota will partner with Vietnam is still in the works, but Zabel notes that “the Spirit has led us to be involved with children, so orphanages are probably in the works.”
Cindy Saufferer is a member of Blooming Grove United Methodist Church and a director for the General Board for Global Ministries and the global church’s United Methodist Women. She attended the consultation and plans to serve on the steering committee that will continue to work on a partnership.
She said conversations that Americans often have about “mission” centers around the idea that we’re giving and they’re receiving—but the reality is that even if we provide financial or other support, we gain from those partnerships just as much as we provide.
“Ut and Karen’s enthusiasm and energy surrounding what’s happening in Vietnam was heartwarming,” she said. “To find that passion and ignite some of that here within our conference would be wonderful. We have a lot to learn from them.”
She envisions the steering committee working with Ut and Karen to identify some churches in Vietnam that could develop relationships with local churches.
“I think our first item of business is building community relationship with the people of Vietnam,” she said.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
*For more information about the partnership with Vietnam that's in the works, or to explore how you and/or your church can get involved, contact Rev. Lyndy Zabel (firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-230-6129).
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church