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Partnerships build ministry center in Vietnam

The opening of the United Methodist conference center in Ho Chi Minh
City is the latest step in the church’s growth in Vietnam. A UMNS
Web-only photo courtesy of the Rev. Jong Sung Kim.

By Elliott Wright*
July 14, 2009 | NEW YORK (UMNS)

A conference center built on a foundation of faith and friendship gives United Methodists in Vietnam a new place for ministry in a country emerging from a volatile past.

The 7,800-square-foot facility, 15 minutes from the international airport in Ho Chi Minh City, is the result of mission collaboration among church members in Vietnam, the West Ohio Annual (regional) Conference and the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. In Ohio, the Shawnee Valley District plays a pivotal role.

United Methodism arrived in Vietnam about a decade ago and today has 74 congregations and some 80 pastors.

“The center paves the way to expand the work of the church and the fellowship with United Methodists in Vietnam,” said Bishop Bruce Ough. His West Ohio Conference contributed a significant part of the $585,000 purchase price of the ministry center, newly constructed 18 miles northwest of the center of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

Ough, also president of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, said in a telephone interview that the interaction between United Methodists in Ohio and Vietnam goes much deeper than contributions to a building fund.

“The value of the relationship is the enhanced commitment through our shared faith in Jesus Christ to evangelism and church growth. We in Ohio are learning from the Vietnamese and engaging together in leadership development.”

Vietnam is one of more than a dozen mission initiatives launched in recent years by the international mission board of the denomination. Along with Laos and Thailand, it is part of the Southeast Asia Mission, which is under the care of Bishop Larry Goodpaster of the Western North Carolina Conference.

Jesus went first

The Shawnee Valley District, comprising nine counties in central and southeast Ohio, led the way in contributions to the partnership with Vietnam. While it includes five of the poorest counties in the state, Shawnee gave an initial $130,000, followed by a second check of $165,000 toward the mission center. It also raised another $8,000 to air-condition the facility. This is in addition to other mission work in which it engages in Vietnam, such as church construction and the digging of wells.

A team from the Shawnee Valley District visits Vietnam to collaborate on pastoral development. A UMNS courtesy of the
Rev. Joseph Bishman.

Last March, a district team visited Vietnam to work with United Methodist personnel in pastoral development and in making strategic plans for future mission partner activities, including health ministries. Churches in the district conducted a round-the-clock prayer vigil for the 15 days the team was there.

“Jesus first went to Vietnam,” says the Rev. Joseph Bishman, district superintendent. “We have just followed him. We in the United States haven't known what to do about Vietnam given the history. Now we are engaged in healing, in developing a vision of partnership with Vietnamese pastors. The experience is helping us to become more than we ever dreamed we could be.”

Shawnee Valley District consists of nine Ohio counties, and Chillicothe, Washington Court House and Portsmouth are among its historic towns.

The new ministry center is in a growing neighborhood on property that is a block away from a major thoroughfare with a bus line. It was designed to be three units of three-and-a-half stories each, but the builder modified the plans to combine two of the units with spaces for a multipurpose room that can be used as a sanctuary, meeting rooms, and quarters for pastors and laity who come for training. The third unit will serve as a residence for church personnel.

The Board of Global Ministries contributed $110,000 toward the purchase of the Vietnam United Methodist Center.

Immersion experience

A team from the Board of Global Ministries visited Vietnam in 1998 to meet with Vietnamese Christians, not an easy identity in the last several decades. This was followed in 2001 with a Global Ministries “mission immersion” experience that included Ough, Goodpaster (then in Alabama-West Florida) and Bishop William W. Hutchinson of the Louisiana Conference.

Momentum gathered when the Rev. Ut and the Rev. Karen Vo-To, a clergy couple of Vietnamese lineage from Minnesota, went to Southeast Asia on behalf of the mission agency to look into possibilities in Vietnam.

In 2007, the board set up the Southeast Asia Mission, and the Council of Bishops named Goodpaster as bishop in charge. The first annual meeting in Vietnam took place last year. Seven years after his first visit, the bishop returned in 2008. “I was astounded by how much it had changed. We were able to meet openly, to have gatherings of pastors, and to have our annual meeting in an open session,” Goodpaster said.

The Alabama-West Florida and Louisiana conferences also have partnerships with the church in Vietnam.

Pointing to the future

Ough said the mission initiative pattern, promoting partnerships with annual conferences, districts and congregations, points the way into global mission in the early 21st century.

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“The role of Global Ministries was essential in making our conference partnership with Vietnam a possibility,” he said. “The mission board provided seed money, personnel, and laid the foundations. This is the future for mission expansion.”

Bishman also spoke of the importance of focused mission emphases. “We are learning new models for mission,” he said, noting that the church members of his area are excited by the partnership approach. “One hundred ten of the 162 churches in the district are involved in the Vietnam initiative.”

For more information on the Southeast Asia Mission Initiative Consultation, Oct. 1-3 in Charlotte, N.C., click Southeast Asia Consultation.

*Wright is the information officer of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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The Advance: United Methodist Mission Center

United Methodist Board of Global Ministries

United Methodist Church in Southeast Asia

West Ohio Annual Conference

Shawnee Valley District, West Ohio

Alabama-West Florida Conference

Louisiana Annual Conference

Southeast Asia Consultation

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