6:00 P.M. EST April 15, 2010 | STAMFORD, Conn. (UMNS)
Alex Giffin and The Rev. Ut To pose in front of motorcycles they are
riding and will present as gifts to local pastors in Vietnam. A UMNS
photo courtesy of the West Ohio Conference.
View in Photo Gallery
The Rev. Dennis Miller, who averages 10,000 miles a year on his
Harley-Davidson, is riding a new bike in a new place this week as he
traverses the hills of Vietnam.
Miller, senior pastor of the Grove City (Ohio) United Methodist Church,
is part of a motorcycle gang that has the approval of West Ohio Bishop
“This week, a team from West Ohio is conducting a motorbike rally
through the hill country of Vietnam, visiting, encouraging, teaching and
praying with United Methodist congregations along the way,” Ough told
directors of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. He is
president of the mission agency.
The bishop and the Rev. Jung Song Kim, the board’s director of mission
initiatives, are joining other United Methodists in Vietnam for the
April 17 dedication of the new United Methodist Church center in Ho Chi
Minh City. Over the past decade, according to Ough, the denomination has
started more than 160 congregations with nearly 11,000 members.
The day after the center’s dedication, Ough will fly to Hanoi to discuss
formal recognition of The United Methodist Church with Vietnamese
government officials. He also has a later meeting scheduled with the
U.S. ambassador to Vietnam. “It’s a courtesy visit, but it’s also a time
to see their support,” he said.
A group of several hundred Vietnamese welcomes the motorbike rally. A
UMNS photo courtesy of the West Ohio Conference.
View in Photo Gallery
After arriving in Vietnam on April 8, the West Ohio riders purchased the
Honda motorcycles that they will later present as gifts to local
The bikes are taking them on a 750-mile journey.
When Miller’s Honda motorcycle blew a tire on a narrow, twisty road in
the central highlands, a Vietnamese pastor riding with him insisted on
making the repair.
“Over the past few days we have been meeting with United Methodist
Vietnamese pastors,” Miller wrote in his blog on April 15. “We have been
encouraged and challenged by their faith and sacrifice. Some have
waited five hours to meet us for five minutes.
“One man told our group that we were the first white people in his
village since 1975. Since nearly 80 percent of all Vietnamese were born
after the war, you can imagine that we were oddities. These committed
pastors have some amazing stories that I can’t wait to share.”
Mission work in Vietnam
The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries has been working with
Christians in Vietnam since 1998. A United Methodist Vietnamese-American
clergy couple, the Revs. Karen and Ut Vo To, returned to Vietnam in
2002 to lead that work.
The board established the Southeast Asia Mission, which also includes
Laos and Thailand, in 2007. The United Methodist Council of Bishops
named Bishop Larry Goodpaster as bishop in charge.
In addition to West Ohio, the denomination’s Alabama-West Florida and
Louisiana conferences have partnerships with the church in Vietnam.
Most of the churches and fellowships are in the area of Ho Chi Minh
City, formerly known as Saigon. Several years ago, the West Ohio
Conference started sending volunteer teams to train local pastors and
then was asked to coordinate a roundtable discussion on ministries to
“Out of that is emerging a plan for a Wesley theological school or
college,” Ough said.
The Rev. Dennis Miller stands in front of the bike he will be riding as
he travels the hills of Vietnam. A UMNS Web-only photo courtesy of the
West Ohio Conference.
On one visit to Vietnam, the bishop had dinner with a local government
official for religious affairs in Ho Chi Minh City.
“He told us an incredible story about his daughter being afflicted with a
very rare blood disease,” Ough recalled. “He turned to the Christian
community, including the United Methodists, to pray for her.”
After his daughter recovered, the official became a Christian himself
and is even considering become a pastor, he added.
To be officially registered as a religious body in Vietnam, the group
must have a physical headquarters there. In 2008, Ough asked the West
Ohio Conference to take a “miracle offering,” with the intent of
purchasing or building a United Methodist center in Ho Chi Minh City.
That effort raised more than $300,000. Significant contributions have
come from the Shawnee Valley District. Shawnee, comprising nine counties
in central and southeast Ohio, gave an initial $130,000, followed by a
second check of $165,000 toward the mission center. The Board of Global
Ministries contributed another $110,000.
The building being dedicated on April 17 includes an apartment for the
missionaries and classroom space for the proposed college. The
7,800-square-foot facility, purchased for $585,000, is 15 minutes from
an international airport and 18 miles northwest of the center of Ho Chi
The United Methodist Advance project for the mission in Vietnam provides
financial support for congregational development, pastors’ salaries and
training, the orphanage ministry, women’s health ministries and
building projects. Donation information is available online at http://secure.gbgm-umc.org/donations/advance/donate.cfm?id=3017024&code=14932A.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.