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Church camps help Vietnamese children learn heritage

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A UMNS photo by John Gordon

The Rev. Tuyet Tran leads a Vietnamese language class at Broadmoor United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge.
Jan. 25, 2006

By John Gordon*

BATON ROUGE, La. (UMNS) — In an area better known for its Cajun and French influence, a very different language can be heard at Broadmoor United Methodist Church.

Twice a year, after Christmas and during the summer, the church hosts day camps for children of Vietnamese immigrants. They learn Vietnamese as a second language and more about the culture their families left behind.

“We love to teach and explain for them some very, very important culture. They need to keep their culture,” said the Rev. Tuyet Tran, who leads the Baton Rouge camps.

Tran escaped from Vietnam by boat in 1979. She is a licensed United Methodist local pastor in Michigan, where she also heads up a Vietnamese outreach program.

“We have a good time to help them to speak Vietnamese and read Vietnamese and talk with them (their parents and grandparents) in Vietnamese,” Tran said.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by John Gordon

Diana Nguyen, 11, studies during a day camp at Broadmoor United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge.
More than 25 children attended the holiday camp held in late December. The Baton Rouge program is in its fourth year.

“I’ve never been to Vietnam before,” said Diana Nguyen, 11, a 6th-grade student attending the holiday camp. “And so it’s a joy to learn about my culture and where I came from.”

Many of the children were born in the United States. Others were very young when their parents left Vietnam, searching for a better life.

“My mom, she takes me to the library to read books about Vietnam,” Nguyen added. “In here, I learn a lot of Vietnamese language and words I never knew.”

Learning the Vietnamese language helps the children communicate with their parents, grandparents and other relatives. They also learn songs in Vietnamese.

“It has helped me learn more about my culture — that we are different people with different language, backgrounds and history,” said Tram Nguyen, 12.

The Rev. Amy Mercer, minister of missions and discipleship at Broadmoor, said the program began as the area surrounding the church became more diverse. More Vietnamese families began moving into surrounding neighborhoods.

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A UMNS photo by John Gordon

The Rev. Tuyet Tran helps Heather Dang (left) and Kimberly Bui (right) during Vietnamese class.
Mercer said the city’s Asian population increased after Hurricane Katrina wiped out an area where many Vietnamese families lived near New Orleans.

“It gives us a better understanding of who our neighbor is,” Mercer said. “It’s good for our congregation members. It gives them an understanding of who lives down the street and how we can help.”

The church also helps by offering English as a Second Language courses for the children’s parents, as well as courses to help them become naturalized citizens. The outreach is taking place three decades after the Vietnam War.

“There’s something really incredible when you see a Vietnamese person who’s been here less than three or four years, wanting to be a citizen, who’s sitting in the same room with one of our members who served in Vietnam, who’s her instructor,” Mercer said.

“There’s a sense of God’s purpose in all that we’ve experienced in our history, both as a country and in their country, as well.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by John Gordon

Children learn arts and crafts during Vietnamese camps held twice each year in Baton Rouge.
Tran’s daughter, Bichthy Betty Nguyen, assists with the camp. She is a student at United Methodist-related Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., and wants to help the Vietnamese children discover new opportunities.

“Vietnam is, of course, a Third World country,” Nguyen said. “The living and transportation is very different, and school as well. The opportunity over here is a lot more.”

Nguyen helps the children with Bible studies and teaches them how to bake a cake and make ice cream.

“The reason why we introduce food is we realize they really enjoy cooking,” she said. “And it also is an opportunity for them to do a lot of teamwork.”

Mercer said Broadmoor never charges for the language and citizenship courses or the camp for children. She said the programs have earned the church a reputation as being a “safe place” to bring children.

“This is a ministry,” she said. “This is a way by which we can be helping people in the community be the best that they can be, in order to survive in America.”

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or

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