There are two expressions of Anabaptism in Vietnam: Hội Thánh Mennonite Việt Nam (Vietnam Mennonite Church - VMC) was founded in 1964 by the Vietnam Mennonite Mission, a ministry of Eastern Mennonite Missions begun in 1957. After a time of inactivity following the change in government in 1975, it reconvened in the 1980s and was recognized officially by the current government in 2007. The Vietnam Evangelical Mennonite Church (unregistered) had its beginnings in 1998 and organized formally in 2004, combining several indigenous expressions encouraged by Vietnamese Mennonites from Canada.
Jesus at the centre
In Vietnam, what it is to be an AnabaptistMennonite is presented as simply living out the gospel as received. Jesus is the centre of our faith, community is the centre of our life and reconciliation is the centre of our work. This approach taught by North American pastor and teacher Palmer Becker resonates well with Vietnamese people.
Mennonite pastors and leaders share this message their preaching. It is easy to understand and attractive. People inside and outside the church find this resonates in their hearts.
Peace and gentleness from the nonviolent teachings of Anabaptism are also part of the transformative message that reaches Vietnamese Mennonites and shapes how they deal with one another. “It affects all areas of life,” say the Mennonite pastors. “Following Jesus in peace brings reconciliation to every body.”
For non-believers, it is freeing to talk about sin and to learn how Jesus brings liberation from sin. Traditional evangelical church members find this approach is liberating.
This message is also attractive to indigenous house church groups who are not part of any network of churches. As a result of hearing this articulation of faith, some ask about joining the Mennonite denomination.
“To demonstrate our beliefs, we live out those beliefs in Christ daily,” say Vietnamese Mennonite pastors. “Christian faith is a ‘lived-out’ faith, not just a system of beliefs.”
Lived out faith
In the Northern part of Vietnam, some Mennonite churches are very hot in evangelism, testifying to their faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. The women evangelize daily while shopping in the market. Some are vendors who share the gospel with their customers. They see healings as they share the gospel. When people come to believe in Jesus, church member evangelists bring them to the pastor for teaching.
In the Central and Southern parts of the country, there are nine organized mission teams of Mennonite church members who go out on mission every month.
There is a team on the border of Cambodia, one in the most westerly part (Kien Giang).
Pastor Hoang Bich leads a team in Da-nang reaching out to the Ka-tu ethnic group. They are also working with a university student group.
One team in Quang Ngai (Central Region) is very active.
Additionally, there is an Eastern region team, a Daklak team, two teams in Soc Trang, and a Ca Mau team.
The teams do house-to-house outreach. They reach out to people they know, family members, and people in the designated provinces. Once they have a group who has shown interest, they start a Bible study for preparation for baptism.
In the most southern province (Ca Mau), Pastor Quyen leads a team. He dedicated his life to serve Jesus after his daughter took ill and had been pronounced dead by the doctor, but came back to life as his wife continued to pray.
He is very active and has gathered a group of people for Bible study. The study group is very disciplined, almost like medieval monastery
In the era of COVID-19, Pastor Quyen preaches every other day on the internet (via Zoom). His virtual congregation is so large – nearly 1 000 people listening in at one time – it pushes the platform limit.
Among those who are encountering Christ through the ministry of Pastor Quyen, there are demonstrations of the Holy Spirit and miracles. Some people choose to move to be near his church. He also contacts other local churches to meet face-to-face with people who have connected via his Zoom ministry.
In the Quang Ngai, Soc Trang, Thu Duc, and Binh Thanh areas of Vietnam, the members are reaching out to the poor
Although the churches are not large in size, they are large in impact.
Mennonite churches take root in the countryside and the city. The primary minority ethnic groups the VMC is reaching out to are S’tieng, Kor, Bahnar, H’mong, Ka-tu, Ede, De, Khmer, Cham. Today, about 50 percent of the memberships are from at least 10 different ethnic minority groups. The other half are Vietnamese.
The urban groups reach out to rural ethnic persons who move to the city for work, education and opportunities.
The church members follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance. “We are free and open to embrace all the gifts of the Spirit, according to Bible teachings,” say the Vietnamese pastors. This is in contrast to the traditional evangelical churches who tend to discourage or not recognize some of the gifts of the Spirit.
Although it is not formalized, Vietnamese Mennonite churches also follow Jesus across barriers by recognizing women to serve as pastors and in leadership.
Challenges and opportunities
Like many fast-growing churches, their strength presents a difficulty: the church is growing fast, so they need a way to train leaders quickly. COVID-19 hampers some of the financial activities of the church as members livelihoods are affected by the slowed down economy.
Many people – even in the rural areas – have been able to get vaccinated. “This brings hope,” the pastors say.
VMC does not have an office and training centre. When COVID-19 shutdowns are in the past, the need for a centre will be more pressing. The church’s faithful outreach among those who are poor is growing the church, but its financial capacity remains small.
With support from Vietnamese Mennonites in the USA, the churches were able to reach out to their neighbours with medical, social help and food during the worst of pandemic infections. “It demonstrates the heart of loving of Anabaptists for the people in Vietnam,” say the Mennonite pastors.
Although COVID-19 curtailed some possibilities, it also created new opportunities for online study, training and fellowship. Bible studies and other training have been occurring via Zoom, which brings together people from a distance – including East and West – with minimal time and financial cost.
This is also an opportunity for youth. “We envision involving younger folks from other countries who have a heart for mission to relate to the youth leaders in Vietnam,” say the Mennonite pastors. “Could teenagers in the Mennonite World Conference community regularly connect with youth in Vietnam?”
The youth of Vietnam, many of whom know how to speak English, are ready to maximize on the internet connected world, in fellowship, learning and reaching out. “This has potential to turn missions upside-down. This is an opportunity for youth around the globe,” say the Mennonite pastors.
The global family
VMC remembers with fondness the MWC fraternal delegation visit from five continents in 2008 on the occasion of their legal recognition by the Vietnam government authorities. This was very meaningful as the MWC delegation spent three days with church leaders and visited congregations, demonstrating foot washing, among other things.
VMC was happy to become a member church of MWC in 2009 in Paraguay. “We appreciate the opportunities for fellowship with believers around the globe on the occasions of General Council and General Assembly meetings. May these relationships increase and deepen,” say the Mennonite pastors.
They are eager to connect with other Mennonites close by within Asia, and to develop more connections with Eastern Mennonite Missions in the USA.
Young people have participated with the International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), which first made its presence known in Vietnam in 1954. “Several of our youth have benefited significantly through this program,” they say.
A growing church
The Mennonite church is Vietnam is a testimony that God is working. “The Vietnam Mennonite Church (VMC) senses God’s favour at this time,” say the pastors. COVID-19 does not hamer the simple message: we are all sinners and need Jesus. With Jesus, people enjoy newfound freedom, peace and protection.
During this pandemic, many people suffer mental problems due to uncertainties. Standing on the rock of Christ Jesus, Vietnamese Mennonites find comfort and reassurance that they bring to others. “There is no need to worry; God cares for you!”
-Article contributors: Vietnamese pastors Huynh Dinh Nghia, president, VMC; Huynh Minh Dang, general secretary, VMC; and Tuyen Nguyen, bishop, LMC – a fellowship of Anabaptist churches responded to questions from Gerry H. Keener, international worker with Eastern Mennonite Mission.
Read more: For a more complete history of Mennonites in Vietnam, read Chapter 9 in Churches Engage Asian Traditions Global Mennonite History Series: Asia; © 2011 by Good Books.