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Summer camp — Vietnamese-style

BATON ROUGE, La. (BP)–More than 130 Vietnamese teens from several states converged on Vietnamese Hope Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La., for their annual sports-and-spirituality camp in mid-July.

Sports didn’t take a back seat to studies in hermeneutics, discussions of drugs and devotional times in small groups.

“We just want to see kids turning, preparing, fighting the sin in their lives so they can pursue godliness; that’s it,” said Vinh Duong, youth leader at Vietnamese Hope Baptist Church and this year’s camp organizer.

Baptist camps for Vietnamese youth have been held in the South since 1997, first over Thanksgiving and now also each summer, said Doug Kellum of the Vietnamese Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., which started the outreach because of the long distances typically required to attend national Vietnamese Baptist camps.

The location of the camps in the South changes each year, as determined by consensus among youth workers at the four churches that informally have become a coordinating council: Vietnamese churches in Memphis; Mobile, Ala.; New Orleans; and Baton Rouge.

This year’s record attendance at what has come to be called the Vietnamese Sports and Spirituality Youth Camp took up virtually every corner of Vietnamese Hope Baptist Church, pastor Joel Hilbun said.

Mattresses purchased for emergency care of New Orleans evacuees from Hurricane Katrina were set out in several classrooms, with boys down one hall and girls on another.

Camp started Thursday, July 10, with ice breakers; an introduction to this year’s “Fighting the Tide” theme from 2 Timothy 2:22; and Bible trivia. Vietnamese Hope was reigning trivia champion, but the Chinese Christian Church of Baton Rouge took this year’s trophy, only one point ahead of Vietnamese New Orleans.

“It was very intense,” Duong said of the Bible trivia contest. “I was really surprised that everyone was participating. Even those in the pews were looking up passages. The idea was to get everyone to participate and it worked well this year.”

The Vietnamese Hope team would be studying even more diligently over the next year toward reclaiming the trophy, Duong added with a grin.

Vietnamese New Orleans led in worship Friday morning; Chinese Christian of Baton Rouge on Saturday morning.

Breakout sessions followed each worship service. Duong led half the teens in an introduction to hermeneutics or, as he described it, “how to read the Bible.” J.P. Myers, a mixed-heritage student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, led the others in studying the attributes of God through Christ. The next day, the leaders switched groups.

“It was a lot, but I think the way I did it was very applicable to them,” Duong said. He noted, for example, that “Mary had a little lamb” only makes sense in the context of the children’s song, just as each passage of Scripture must be understood in its context. “The kids started to really get into it,” Duong said.

The teens competed in basketball, volleyball, foosball, ping pong and badminton tournaments at Oakcrest Baptist Church in Baton Rouge from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Lunch and dinner each day were provided by the Woman’s Missionary Union group from Vietnamese Hope.

The two-hour evening worship services were led by Vietnamese Hope, with preaching by Timothy Peng, a former Baton Rouge youth leader now in seminary in Michigan. His topic: Beware of the love of money.

Thien Tran, 19, of New Orleans, in his fifth year at camp, reflected on Peng’s messages by saying, “You always want that money, that power that comes from money.” Even so: “We don’t need to love money. Money brings material things that fade away, but God’s power never fades.”

After Friday evening’s message, the teens gathered for questions and answers from a panel of Myers, Hilbun, Peng and Phi Vo from Mobile, Ala.

“We had a box floating around camp the first two days that they could put their questions in,” Duong said. “There were kids who asked about drugs, sex, homosexuality, church attendance, prayer…. It was just very encouraging to see that kids were willing to ask questions, because they do have questions about these matters.

“I think the one that really set the tone was about drugs,” the youth leader continued. “The person asked, ‘How can I overcome this? Why do I keep doing it?’ The Q&A panel answered and then said, ‘Let’s just stop and pray,’ and everyone bowed their heads. That was really encouraging.”

The panel urged the Vietnamese teens “to be sure to find accountability,” Duong said. “You have to ask yourself what you love most. Part of it is about our dependence on the Lord; you have to find that [dependence] in accordance with repentance. What is it we love most? The only thing in the end that can satisfy us is God.”

Skits Saturday night also relayed spiritual truth, such as one about joy. “What would bring you the greatest joy? Is it food? Is it a wife? Real joy comes from God,” Duong said in recapping one skit.

A skit on hypocrisy showed the difference between “walking” and “talking” the Christian life, he added.

Camp drew to a close each night with devotionals “to help the kids reflect about the day and the message,” Duong said. “For us [leaders], that’s when we dig into the lives of the campers.

“I think a lot of kids really enjoyed Vietnamese youth summer camp,” Duong said. “It was a lot more serious than they thought [it would be]. A lot of kids after the camp began putting verses up [on Facebook and MySpace] and said they need to take charge of their Christian lives before the tide of sin and our culture take them away. It was really encouraging to see that.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message and the Dakota Baptist newspapers.