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Vietnamese pastor spreads Godís word around world


The Rev. Bau Dang, pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in San Diego, is the first Vietnamese-American delegate elected to the denominationís General Conference. UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Jan. 8, 2008 | LOS ANGELES (UMNS)

The Rev. Bau Dang would rather not talk about himself. He shies away from the spotlight.

That is really too bad, since he just made history by becoming the first Vietnamese American elected as a delegate to the 2008 United Methodist General Conference, the denomination's top lawmaking body that meets every four years.

Oh, and another thing: He has just finished translating the New Testament into Vietnamese and published 10,000 copies at his own expense. Vietnamís communist government has issued a permit to the National Religious Publisher of Vietnam to print the translation, and now Christians in his home country are begging him to send them 100,000 more.

"To me, this is a miracle," he says. "Praise be to God!"

Dang's translation is spreading the word of God throughout the country, which he is no longer able to enter. Because of his stand for human rights, he has been placed on a list of people not allowed into Vietnam.

"My philosophy in ministry is if you keep yourself low key and under the water, you can get a lot of things done ... and I donít want to get attention, to be frank with you."

Midlife change

 
Dang spent 10 years translating the New Testament into Vietnamese.

Born in Vietnam, the son of a pastor, Dang served in the South Vietnamese armed forces and moved to the United States as a refugee after the war.

Dang's friends thought he was going through a midlife crisis when he gave up a lucrative job as a manager for Xerox to become a United Methodist associate pastor.

Some of his Vietnamese pastor friends thought he had chosen the wrong denomination because no United Methodist church existed in Vietnam before 1975.

"Some even thought that Methodism was a heresy!" he says, laughing.

Dang and his wife, Binh, both left jobs with Xerox in 1988. Since then, the Xerox operation they worked at has closed, but the church where he started as associate pastor ó Wesley United Methodist Church in San Diego ó has grown into a thriving ministry with four different languages spoken at six worship services to more than 400 people on Sunday mornings.

As senior pastor, Dang plans services in English, Cambodian, Spanish and Vietnamese, "in whatever style fits each group," he says.

"We have traditional, contemporary, blended, Pentecostal and even free style," he says. "Well, we are United Methodists, aren't we? I take seriously the statement, 'In the essentials, unity; in the nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.'"

One bite at a time

Dang worked on his translation of the New Testament for 10 years. His knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, English and Vietnamese helped him with the task. He also received training from the United Bible Society.

When explaining how he was able to take on such a huge task, he compares himself to a mouse eating an elephant, "just one bite at a time."

"I preach from the Bible every Sunday, and the version that we had was translated by missionaries in 1926 in Vietnam," he says. When they came to the country, they were learning the language and hired a non-Christian to help with the translation.

"We had to live with that Bible for years and years," he says. He felt uncomfortable with many places in the Bible and didnít believe they were clear to the reader.

One example he cites is the passage in John 2, in which Jesus talks to his mother about turning water into wine.

"The way that passage is translated is very offensive to the Vietnamese culture," he says. The translation made Jesus sound like he was speaking harshly to his mother. "Non-Christians say, 'How can I believe in a God who responded to his mother so impolitely?' and it turned them right away."


Dang attends the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists meeting in Los Angeles in November.

Dang, who is now working on translating the Old Testament, believes the printing of the new translation has the power to change the people and nation of Vietnam.

"Only the word of God can change people's lives, and if people can read the Bible or the scripture in the language that they understand, they understand the love of God."

In Vietnam, some denominations have been granted permits to operate, but they are still under government control. The United Methodist Church does not have a permit, but some local United Methodist congregations have been allowed to worship, Dang says.

Those congregations meet knowing the members could be arrested at any time.

Walking on water

Dang still finds it hard to believe he was elected as a delegate to the 2008 General Conference, which will meet in Fort Worth, Texas, April 23-May 2.

"I still walk on water because I never dreamed that I would be elected," he says. When the Rev. John Lurvey Jr., his mentor and the former pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church, San Diego, asked him to sign some papers to put his name on the ballot, Dang says, "I laughed. I told him I didn't have a chance and he shouldn't waste his time."

Dang takes his responsibility as a delegate very seriously. "I will vote at the General Conference with my conscience, with my faith in God and with my integrity."

Being a blessing

Asian Americans are still a minority in the denomination, he says.

"We come from different cultures and backgrounds. We think this denomination has opened their hearts and minds and doors to welcome us in, and we are grateful for that."

These first-generation "newcomers" can be a source of blessings for the church, he says.

"I think that the Methodist church is the best church for ethnics and minority people, especially for Asian Americans. So I am very grateful to the denomination in general for their generosity, their acceptance and their inclusiveness, and I think we would be a blessing for the general church in the future."

Reflecting on all he has accomplished over the years, Dang says, "A lot of my friends don't believe that I am just a regular pastor like any other pastor. All I have done was be faithful and dedicated to what God has called me to do."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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The Rev. Bau Dang

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