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Betty Hayes’ love for Vietnamese abounds despite cultural hurdles

FESTUS, Mo. (BP)–When Betty Hayes walks into the foyer of Faith Baptist Church, one can’t help but notice her. Followed by a posse of Vietnamese children flocking around her like chicks following their mother hen, Hayes — a longtime member of the church — makes her way through the building. Everything around her whirls at a rapid pace. Hayes, looking a little exhausted at first, quickly perks up when asked about her Vietnamese friends.

For the past 20 years, relationships between Hayes and the Vietnamese in Festus, Mo., have matured slowly but steadily into a full-fledged ministry of the church. Within the last two years, the church has begun holding Vietnamese worship services in the fellowship hall.

Hayes, a single woman in her 60s, is quick to point out the support the ministry receives from fellow members of the congregation. But there is no doubt that she is the ringleader behind the operation.

Whether giving rides to church for about five Vietnamese children or serving as a go-between for Vietnamese adults who speak little English and their doctors, Hayes keeps quite busy. And she does it all without speaking a word of Vietnamese.

“The children speak English, so that helps,” she said.

It all began in 1981 when Hayes agreed to take in an 8-year-old Vietnamese girl named Mia who needed a place to live. She lived with Hayes through college.

Hayes said it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. “When the Lord puts something in front of us, we need to respond then, and he will multiply it,” she said. “When we respond to physical and emotional needs of people, then the Lord will open up doors for us.”

Hayes, who also has two adopted children — Debbie MacKenzie and Jim Hayes, now both grown — has housed a half-dozen Vietnamese children through the years. Mia, who is in her 30s, now lives in Oklahoma. Currently, Hayes has legal custody of Bethany, a 9-year-old Vietnamese girl, and she takes care of a 15-year-old boy named David Nguyen.

“I didn’t go out looking,” she said. “The Lord just brought them here.” Though Hayes believes the Lord’s work is being done through the ministry, she said the cultural differences make it difficult for her and others to share their faith. Because most Vietnamese have been raised in the Buddhist culture, making a profession of faith in Christ is not easy for them.

“It’s not like witnessing to anyone else,” she said. “They are open to all types of beliefs, but it’s difficult to break through that wall.”

Hayes said there are some Vietnamese like Mia who never did make profession of faith. She still talks regularly to Mia. “I keep praying for her, but it can be heartbreaking.”

For a long time, Vietnamese people would come to church with Hayes every Sunday despite their inability to understand the sermon. Mark McGee, who assists with the ministry, said, “For so many years, they would come just out of respect for Betty. The core of the ministry is relationships, along with a trust in Betty.”

Just within the last two years, Faith Baptist Church has begun to see more cultural barriers broken down through the Vietnamese services Hayes and others helped start.

Every other Sunday, the church holds a service specifically for the Vietnamese in the fellowship hall. Ban Le, pastor of Emmanuel Vietnamese Church, St. Louis, leads the service.

On other Sundays, Vietnamese members attend the church’s regular service and use headphones to listen to tapes of Ban Le’s sermon during the service.

Through the years, 11 Vietnamese have made professions of faith. Hayes said the last two years of ministry have played a key role in most of those decisions.

“There were times that I wanted to witness to them, and I couldn’t do it because of the language barrier,” she said. “It takes time.”

Pastor Mike Goodwin, who has been pastor of the church 29 years, said the Vietnamese have always been welcomed warmly into the congregation. “They are just part of the body,” he said. “We can’t speak much, but we have a good time. It’s been a neat thing how they have been received.”

Goodwin is grateful for the help Hayes has provided. “She’s got a heart for missions — period,” he said. “She’s one of the most marvelous ministers I’ve ever known, and she does it in a natural way. She’s the picture of sacrificial ministry.”

Hayes’ daughter, Debbie, said her mother’s ministry is evident when you walk into her home and see the photos of her Vietnamese friends. “She’s running out of wall,” Debbie noted.

Though there doesn’t seem to be much room left, she said, her mother always finds a place to put them.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: ROOM IN HER HEART

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  • Shawn Hendricks