|Vietnamese pastor spreads Godís word around
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
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
"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
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 spent 10 years
translating the New Testament into
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
Some of his Vietnamese pastor friends thought
he had chosen the wrong denomination because no United
Methodist church existed in Vietnam before 1975.
even thought that Methodism was a heresy!" he says,
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
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."
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
"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
"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
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.
Dang attends the National Federation of
Asian American United Methodists meeting in Los Angeles
"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
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
Being a blessing
Asian Americans are still a minority in the denomination,
"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
"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,
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville,
Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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