CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BP) — More than 1,100 people registered onsite for the annual meeting of the Vietnamese Baptist Fellowship of North America, a Southern Baptist fellowship of 160 churches. More than 1,400 attended the fellowship’s praise and worship service.
The fellowship met in Charlotte, N.C., at the Renaissance Charlotte Suites Hotel, June 29-July 2, for worship, fellowship, encouragement and to build unity, said Paul Cao, in his second year as vice president of the fellowship.
“The Lord blessed us in a special way,” Cao, pastor of Vietnamese Baptist Church in High Point, N.C., told Baptist Press. “This year was a unique experience.”
Among the highlights were tours of the Billy Graham Library, where an autobiography of Billy Graham was presented to pastors, gift bags to other adults and backpacks to teens and younger children.
The tour included a visit to Graham’s childhood home, now relocated to the library on the grounds of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The museum aims to be an “ongoing crusade” that looks at the effect of Graham’s life on others, according to its website, BillyGrahamLibrary.com. The 90-minute tour ends with an invitation to receive Christ as Lord and Savior.
The tour was “a major blessing for this conference,” Cao said. “We ended up with [at both the tour and the annual meeting sessions] 140 people making professions of faith.
“We haven’t seen that number in the last 33 years of our conference,” he continued. “I think we experienced revival at this conference.”
The professions of faith were made by about 40 teens and children attending the conference with their pastor and leader parents, Cao said, while nearly 100 came from the altar call at the Billy Graham Library.
Business, missions, praise & worship
In addition to business items, elections and departmental reports, the 33rd annual meeting of the Vietnamese Baptist Fellowship of North America celebrated a “Seeking God” evangelism and missions night on Friday and a night of praise and worship Saturday. Children, teens and women had daytime sessions specifically for them.
The fellowship voted to increase funding for outreach and ministry to the 2.0 generation, those born in the United States to immigrant parents who want to continue to be involved as laypeople in the fellowship, Cao said, explaining that a plan needs to be developed with their input to keep them feeling connected.
“These are young parents with children,” Cao said. “We want to find a niche for them among the fellowship.”
Young professionals already have made their own mark within the Vietnamese Baptist Fellowship of North America. Twice a year for at least the last five years, groups of 20 or 30 have traveled at their own expense — upon request by a local church — to a city for a weekend evangelism campaign called “Project Send Me.”
The engineers, lawyers and other 20-somethings train local church members in evangelism on Friday evening; engage in witnessing conversations in the residential and commercial areas where Vietnamese congregate on Saturday; and gather for worship with the congregation, new converts and the curious on Sunday.
Their goal is to reach as many Vietnamese as possible, to help the church grow, said Peter Le, president of the Vietnamese Mission Board, an entity within the fellowship. Le is pastor of Vietnamese Faith Baptist Church in Dallas.
The budget remains at $100,000 for the second year, up from $56,000 in 2015. That year, member churches were asked to increase their giving from $100 per year to $200. As a result, in 2016, the fellowship’s income was $85,000.
“We want to provide ways for members to serve” in the U.S. and in Vietnam, Cao said.
The Vietnamese Mission Board has an additional $35,000 annual budget. “We want to help the churches in Vietnam in three areas,” Le said: to provide $100 a month to new church planters for three years; to provide $25 a month for members of churches in Vietnam who attend the Vietnamese Baptist Bible Institute in Saigon; and to build, for $5,000 each, new chapels that can seat 100 people.
Additionally, the fellowship organizes at least two mission trips a year, Le said. “And if any local church would like to have [evangelism] tracts in Vietnamese, contact me” at [email protected]
The Vietnamese Mission Board has sponsored 5K walk/runs for the last six years in Dallas and in Houston to help meet its $35,000 budget and would like to add additional cities, Le said. Last year the two walkathons raised $16,000.
Updating the constitution and bylaws was discussed during the fellowship’s business sessions, but the measure was tabled for another year. One significant point was the Vietnamese name of the fellowship. Though essentially the same in English, the proposed Vietnamese name would be Lien Hoi Tin Lanh Bap-tit Viet Nam Bac My reflecting the idea that “we stand together and work together,” Cao said.
Once the name, job descriptions, constitution and bylaws are all in order, the fellowship will look at hiring a part-time executive director, Cao said.
Officers in the Vietnamese Baptist Fellowship of North America are elected every other year. Christian Phan, pastor of the Seattle-area Agape Baptist Church in Renton, continues in the second year of his second two-year term. Cao was re-elected vice president to a second two-year term. Pastor Hue Kieu of Vietnamese Tacoma (Wash.) Baptist Church is in his second year as secretary. Hung Nguyen, pastor of Vietnamese Baptist Church in Damascus, Md., was elected treasurer for a two-year term.
Du Dinh, a youth pastor at Agape Baptist Church in Renton, Wash., was appointed as the fellowship’s English ministry leader with no term limit by Phan and approved by messengers.
Four times of worship were interspersed with business sessions, fellowship times, breakout sessions and community outreach, as well as free time to tour the Billy Graham Library.
Longtime Southern Baptist missionary Sam James spoke during fellowship’s missions-focused night of worship.
“I preached in Vietnamese; that’s my language,” James told Baptist Press. “I used Isaiah 6 as my text, the first few verses. It was the whole idea of going as missionaries, the missions calling we have.
“At the end we had 50 come forward,” James continued. “That was the final point: Who will go for us, calling people into the Lord’s service and to the mission field wherever that may be.”
Vietnam is among world’s most underserved countries from a missions standpoint, said James, who was sent to the southeastern Asia nation in 1959 within the first six months of Southern Baptist work starting there. Before he and other missionaries were removed in April 1975, “we had maybe 2,000 members,” said James, who returned to Vietnam for a short visit in 1989, though now he is there regularly.
Today, Vietnam has 95 million people, the 15th largest nation in the world, with evangelicals comprising fewer than one-half of 1 percent of the population and Roman Catholics another 9 percent, James said. Ninety percent are Buddhist.
“So the need is great,” James said. “We have an increasing number of young Vietnamese going to our seminaries…. I told them, ‘You already have the language and know the culture somewhat. It would be very easy to bring the Gospel to your own people in Vietnam.'”
North and South Vietnam are now one nation under communist rule. “It’s very difficult to become a church, so there are a lot of house churches,” James said, with Cao estimating the number at 1,000.
The Vietnam Baptist Bible Institute, which opened about eight years and is largely self-sustaining, has graduated 70 students in the last five years, James said.
With the North Carolina men’s disaster relief ministry cooking breakfast and lunch for the fellowship on Saturday morning, many attendees asked questions and watched the process, and “now the Vietnamese want to be involved [in disaster relief] at the local and state level,” Cao said.
Saturday evening was focused on praise and worship with no preaching, just performances by vocalists, vocal groups and musicians known among the Vietnamese in the U.S. and Vietnam. They told the story in song of God’s work among and through Vietnamese people, and the audience was moved in some places to tears and in others to exultation, Cao said.
James, whose second book on missions in Vietnam is to be published this fall by Thomas Nelson, summed up this year’s Vietnamese Baptist Fellowship of North America’s annual meeting with these words:
“It was the most united and cooperative spirit I’ve experienced in the many years I’ve been attending. It was a spiritual atmosphere, an atmosphere of appreciation and love that really prevailed throughout the whole conference, a deep spiritual commitment.”