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In Vietnam, Lottie Moon gifts leave lasting legacy, transcending the ‘dark years’

EDITOR’S NOTE: Progress in Vietnam is among the stories highlighted as part of the “Are We There Yet?” Lottie Moon Christmas Offering theme. The following story and video preview a larger multi-media story package about the legacy of Southern Baptist missionary work in Vietnam, which will be published by the International Mission Board in 2011. Please provide [email protected] with your e-mail address if you would like to be notified when this package is released. To view a companion video, go to http://media1.imbresources.org/files/121/12136/12136-67445.mp4.

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam (BP)–Tears streamed down Sam James’ face as he stared out the airplane window into the abyss. Somewhere in the darkness below lay the country he risked his life — and the lives of his wife Rachel and their four children — to save. But unlike so many American men and women who came to Vietnam, James wasn’t a soldier. He was a missionary.

It was April 1975, and the city would fall to North Vietnamese forces within a week. He’d spent the past few months bargaining with God for more time, but there was no more room for negotiations. Two weeks earlier, his family had flown to a safer place; James would join them there.

Doubt flooded the North Carolina native’s heart as his plane circled Saigon and turned toward the South China Sea. How could he abandon the Vietnamese people after living among them for nearly 14 years? What would happen to the newborn churches he helped start? Or to the hundreds of Vietnamese Christians who filled them, some of whom he personally led to faith?

These weren’t just converts. To him, they were family. They had laughed together over dinner while their children played. They had carried each other’s burdens when the horrors of war came close and the sadness seemed too great to bear. James had taught them, baptized them, counseled them, officiated marriages and led funerals through the course of their lives, all in the process of sharing the most sacred and intimate aspect of his life — his relationship with Jesus Christ.

But God had a plan to protect, preserve and grow the seeds that James and his fellow missionaries had planted during their years of sweat and sacrifice. Through their efforts, more than a dozen Vietnamese churches were started and hundreds of people led to Jesus.

Only one of those churches — Grace Baptist in Saigon (today, Ho Chi Minh City) — would survive what James calls the “dark years” that followed Vietnam’s communist revolution. But God would eventually use that one church to give birth to a growing, vibrant network of Baptist churches that today are making Christ’s name known in Vietnam.

All of this was possible, James said, because Southern Baptists were willing to answer God’s Great Commission call (Matthew 28:19-20). Their prayers and generous giving through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program supported more than 24 missionaries who served in Vietnam between 1959 and 1975 — including Sam and Rachel James.

“We always knew that there were literally millions of Southern Baptists who cared and who prayed, who sacrificed and who gave so that we could go and carry the Gospel to a very lost people,” James said. “I can remember in those last hours in Vietnam when things were so desperate … it came to me over and over again how many people in America know what we’re going through here, are interested and really care… It meant everything in the world.”

Southern Baptists also gave $25,000 to help feed more than a million refugees who flooded into Saigon. James and other missionaries used the funds to set up kitchens and buy rice. In 1962, Lottie Moon funds also provided the $50,000 needed to buy the land and building for Grace Baptist — where the church remains today.

“When the end came and South Vietnam collapsed, this church was here,” James said. “And it became the identity of Baptists in Vietnam…. When people in America gave sacrificially … 48 years later, this church building stands as the home of the [Vietnamese Baptist] convention, as a training center for the [Vietnamese] Baptist Bible Institute, as the home of Grace Baptist Church and as a source of church planting in this country.

“With the Cooperative Program on one side and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering on the other, you have two sides of a coin,” James said. “When they go together there is just no limit to what the Lord can do around this world…. I just pray that every Southern Baptist and every Southern Baptist church can get a divine vision of what they can do in this world, personally and by cooperating with others, to see that the world comes to Christ.”
Don Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering supplements Cooperative Program giving to support more than 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries as they share the Gospel overseas. This year’s offering goal is $175 million. The focus is on celebrating what God has done in recent years, praising Him for allowing Southern Baptists to be a part of His work, while emphasizing that reaching those who remain untouched by the Gospel is a doable task, but these will be the hardest people groups to reach — requiring that believers pray, go, partner and give as never before. To find resources about the offering, go to imb.org/offering.

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  • Don Graham