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Viet. Baptists focus on 2nd generation

SAN JOSE, Calif. (BP)–Second-generation leaders for Vietnamese Baptist churches was a key topic of discussion during the 24th annual meeting of the Vietnamese National Baptist Fellowship, July 3-6 in San Jose, Calif.

“In most if not all Vietnamese Baptist churches in U.S., we have a great shortage of second-generation leaders,” said Duong “John” Nguyen, pastor of Vietnamese Baptist Church in Garland, Texas, and newly elected president of the Vietnamese fellowship.

“At this year’s convention we emphasized the importance of ESLL [English as a Second Language — Lay Leader] training to help with the transitional stage for the first-generation churches and to prepare for the next generations in this country.”

One of the high points of this year’s annual meeting, Nguyen said, was a report by one of the fellowship’s affiliates, the Vietnamese Baptist Theological School, which started an ESLL training program last fall.

“We’ve been training the first-generation leaders,” Nguyen said, “but now we have ESLL to promote and encourage the second generation of Vietnamese Baptists to set up in this country as lay leaders.” He said he hopes they will become “a major and vital part of the present and future of the Vietnamese National Baptist Fellowship in the U.S.”

Nguyen noted that messages by younger preachers in the fellowship were “dynamic, powerful and really motivating [to] attendees to live a fruitful life, which was the theme of this year’s conference, and also challenge them to reflect that in their daily lives in the family, in the church.”

The Vietnamese fellowship encompasses the 127 Baptist congregations in 28 states.

At the annual meeting, Nguyen said, “We are blessed to see more people who filled the auditorium early in the morning every morning for prayer time. That was one of the highlights this year. We end at midnight every night and people still get up and make it for prayer at 7:15 a.m. every morning.”

Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., was one of five guest speakers during the meeting.

“The Vietnamese National Baptist Fellowship’s annual convention was an exciting gathering, a cross-generational celebration of the Gospel by the Vietnamese community,” Iorg said. “There was a very positive spirit and evidence of God’s blessing on His work among Vietnamese Christians in North America.”

The meeting combined worship, preaching, reports, business and the election of officers, plus time for mingling with old and new friends as well as sightseeing in Silicon Valley.

“We have five speakers because we have five main worship services,” said Van Cong Nguyen, pastor of First Vietnamese Evangelical Baptist Church of San Jose and newly elected vice president of the fellowship. “We usually have one or two non-Vietnamese speakers each year,” said Nguyen (no relation to John Nguyen).

Iorg was joined by Hong Phuc Le, a missionary serving in England; Chuyen Luu Tran, director of the Vietnamese Baptist Publishing Ministries and pastor of the Richardson (Texas) Vietnamese Baptist Church; Phuoc Lanh “Christian” Phan, pastor of Agape Baptist Church in Renton, Wash.; and Van Chinh Dao, pastor of Vietnamese Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Ga.

Iorg spoke on “building a ministry that lasts,” from 1 Thessalonians 2:1-20, noting that such a ministry must be built on the Gospel; on one’s example of devotion; through sacrifice; and through people. His message was translated into Vietnamese by Pham Dac Hien, whose name as a U.S. citizen is Henry D. Fahman. He is chairman and CEO of Providential Holdings, Inc., in Huntington Beach, Calif.

“It is vital that burgeoning movements such as the Vietnamese fellowship take the long view and build a ministry that will last for generations,” Iorg said. “Doing this requires commitment to core ministry principles, not dependence on or commitment to any specific ministry model or program.”

Worship times during the meeting featured a mass choir clad in traditional Vietnamese attire, along with various vocalists and dancers and music by children.

“Beside this, we have youth conference, Vietnamese WMU [Woman’s Missionary Union] conference, Vietnamese Baptist Men ministry conference,” Van Nguyen said.

The business sessions included discussion of Vietnamese mission work in the United States and in Vietnam, with particular attention paid to the official recognition in January by the Vietnamese government of Grace Baptist Church in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

Grace is an outgrowth of Southern Baptist missionary work that began in Vietnam in 1959. Missionaries of all denominations were forced to leave the country when the Vietnam War ended in 1975. Since then, the Vietnamese government has not allowed a missionary presence.

Fellowship leaders said Baptists today are widely acknowledged as one of the fastest-growing church groups in Vietnam. There are now about 50,000 Baptists in 90 congregations in a dozen cities and provinces across Vietnam. (NOTE: This updates incorrect information in a Jan. 17, 2008, Baptist Press article that listed 5,000 Baptists, apparently a missing zero.) Grace Baptist is a rapidly growing congregation now with about 9,000 members, a leader reported who attended the January celebration at Grace Baptist.

In addition to John Nguyen as president and Van Nguyen as vice president, Phuoc Lanh “Christian” Phan, pastor of Agape Baptist Church in Renton, Wash., was elected secretary, and Trong Van Nguyen (also no relation to John or Van Nguyen), pastor of Vietnamese Baptist Church in Irving, Texas, treasurer. All were elected to two-year terms.

The Vietnamese National Baptist Fellowship started in 1984 with a gathering at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo., nine years after the first Vietnamese refugees began arriving in the United States. Today, agencies affiliated with the fellowship include the Vietnamese Mission Board, Vietnamese Baptist Theological School and Vietnamese Baptist Publishing Ministries, all located in the Dallas area.

John Nguyen said the fellowship exists to encourage, strengthen and promote cooperation and unity among Vietnamese Baptist churches in the United States and to expand God’s Kingdom work in the U.S. and throughout the world.

In addition to Vietnamese churches supporting the ministry of their associations and state Baptist conventions, the fellowship supports missions work in Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and South Korea.

“We don’t send missionaries or church planters,” John Nguyen explained. “We send volunteers and then we send money and medical teams to those places.”

Next on the docket for the Vietnamese National Baptist Fellowship: their first-ever long-range strategy planning meeting, called by John Nguyen, Aug. 20-21 in Dallas. The fellowship’s next annual meeting is set for the July 4 weekend, 2009, in the Dallas area.
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message and the Dakota Baptist newspapers.