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Vietnam refugee fulfills vow in London

LONDON (BP)–Eyes brighten when Southern Baptist missionary Peter Le steps into Las Vegas Nails, one of the scores of Vietnamese-owned nail salons in east London’s Hackney district.

Le isn’t there for a manicure — just a visit with friends. He’s taught English to most of the employees, counseled them on family problems, offered advice about the challenges of living in London. And led some to faith in Christ — including the salon’s owner.

“He has a good heart,” says Jenny, a 30-year-old Vietnamese immigrant, as she works on a customer’s nails. “He’s helping me with my English.”

Jenny is Buddhist, but she’s clearly heard the Gospel from Le. Sometimes he shares tracts, but usually he focuses on relationships — person to person, family to family.

“It takes time, but it lasts longer,” he explains with a grin.

Le is the “pastor” of a growing portion of the Vietnamese community in London, which numbers some 30,000. It’s a big job, but no one else has stepped up. According to Le, not a single Vietnamese church has been started in London since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 brought the first wave of South Vietnamese refugees to the city.

Relatively well-educated and skilled in business, the former “boat people” and their children have done well in London. Other waves of Vietnamese have followed: students, contract workers, legal and illegal immigrants. Up to 80 percent of Vietnamese in London today come from northern Vietnam, where generations of communist rule denied them the opportunities southerners had — including access to the Gospel.

Le has a heart for refugees and immigrants. He’s been both. His father, a pastor in Vietnam, fled with his family after the communists took over. A teenage Le made a vow to God during the dangerous four-day boat trip to Thailand: “If we survive, I will serve You for the rest of my life.”

He kept the promise through years of preparation, seminary study and church ministry in Canada and the United States. Five years ago Le and his wife Hanna arrived in London as missionaries, assigned to reach lost Vietnamese.

Vietnamese often struggle when they reach London, particularly young contract workers and immigrant families. “I feel for them,” Le says. “There is so much temptation here — drugs and other things that their parents back in Vietnam never know about.”

Many get hooked on gambling at local casinos. Families fall into the emptiness of secular life in London — “until one day they say, ‘I would like something more for my children,'” Le explains.

“I offer something more.”

Since the Les have two young children themselves, they’ve discovered the most effective way to reach Vietnamese families is through children. In addition to English tutoring, Le, who began studying music as a young man, teaches piano to young students at several area churches and a community center.

“I feel so touched when their mothers ask me, ‘Can my children come? Can you teach my children?'” Le says. “I love these children. Their families need the family of faith. Otherwise there is emptiness in their homes.”

As they get to know families, the Les invite them to Bible studies and twice-monthly worship “celebrations,” where they hear the Gospel in words and music. Always music: North Vietnamese especially love to sing.

As hearts come to Christ, disciples and leaders are trained. Vietnamese churches will be planted — not only in London, but also back in Vietnam as some believers return.

Peter Le, refugee, has never forgotten his vow — and God is blessing it.
Erich Bridges is global correspondent for the International Mission Board. View a multimedia presentation about London here. Interested in serving in London or mobilizing your church to partner with the IMB mission team and London Baptists? Contact Brittany Conner at [email protected].

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  • Erich Bridges