Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – Four years after completing official registration with the government, leaders of the Vietnam Mennonite Church met November 21-22, 2012 to review their work and to project ministries for the next four years.
The conference was held at the Cong Doan Hotel in the city’s Binh Thnh district, the area where the Mennonite church was established in the early sixties. Around 300 persons attended this invitation-only conference. These included ordained and licensed pastors, worship groups from several congregations, representatives of government agencies, and international visitors.
The first hour of the opening session was an inspirational worship of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Choirs and dancing groups came from Stieng and Bahnar ethnic minority groups as well as the Vinh Long and the local Binh Thanh congregations. The churches’ pastors sang the song “How Great Thou Art.”
After Pastor Nguyen Quang Trung, the church’s president, declared the formal opening of the conference, he introduced Nguyen Thanh Xuan, the vice-chairman of the government’s Committee of Religious Affairs. In his ten-minute address, Dr. Xuan noted that the government has granted legal status to 40 religious groups, including 10 Protestant or Evangelical groups. Calling Vietnam Mennonite Church “a peace church,” he said it “has influence” beyond its numbers.
In his address, Pastor Trung gave thanks to God that the government has created conditions for the church to develop these past four years. He cited the five-year pastoral training program involving 20 students, with a teaching staff of four local and six international teachers. He also noted the ordination of 29 pastors in March 2010, and the beginning of a second term of a three-year theological training program for 35 lay leaders. The training programs are also offered in several regional areas.
Trung reported on social programs of the church: assisting poor children to go to school, arranging for medical assistance, and emergency assistance in times of floods and other natural disasters.
Trung said that there are 8,000 persons affiliated with the Vietnam Mennonite Church, of whom more than 6,000 are baptized. The church has 90 congregations with 138 credentialed leaders in three cities and in fifteen of the countries fifty-eight provinces. He noted that the church became the 99th member of Mennonite World Conference at the Paraguay gathering July 2009.
At the end of his presentation, the president invited the assembled persons to stand and together read Romans 14:8, the theme of the conference: “If we live, we live to the Lord; if we die, we die to the Lord. So whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s!”
Special guests were introduced. Besides the vice chair of the government’s religious committee, there was representation from the city’s People’s Committee, security police, and Vietnam Fatherland Front. The Adventist Church and Southern Baptist Church were represented.
Gerry Keener and Ryan Umble represented Eastern Mennonite Missions. William and Joann Sommers Love, representing Mennonite Central Committee, brought greetings. Former missionary Luke Martin and Wilmer Martin, leaders of a TourMagination group visiting Vietnam, brought greetings. The tour group had worshipped with the Hoi An Mennonite Church the previous Sunday.
Most of the church’s congregations meet in homes. Only five of the congregations have been able to buy property and build meeting places. The church continues to ask the Committee of Religious Affairs and the Ho Chi Minh People’s Committee to provide land so the church can build a church center in Ho Chi Minh City to replace the property confiscated in 1976.
Nguyen Quang Trung was re-elected president of the church for the next quadrennium, and Huynh Minh Dang chosen general secretary.
There is a second Mennonite group in Vietnam with a similar number of church members. Although not yet registered nationally, many of these congregations are registered locally.
Release by Luke Martin