Deborah Froese, Mennonite Church Canada
North American Vietnamese Mennonite Fellowship: A small organization with a big impact Deborah Froese, Mennonite Church Canada
In ten years, with only nine member congregations, the North American Vietnamese Mennonite Fellowship (NAVMF) has helped to plant over 200 churches in Vietnam and make inroads in Cambodia.
“We are a small organization,” says NAVMF past president Nhien Pham. “We don’t have a lot of financial resources, but the Lord opened a door for us.” Nhien Pham and other NAVMF representatives visit Vietnam regularly to encourage believers and church leaders. Financial assistance allows them to offer leadership training, build worship spaces and encourage economic development.
NAVMF was created for two purposes; to fellowship with Mennonite brothers and sisters in North America and to plant churches in Vietnam. While expansion in North America has been slow with the addition of just two churches since its inception, NAVMF refers to the growth in Vietnam as an “explosion.” When NAVMF began working there in 1997, there were no Mennonite churches and fewer than 100 Mennonites. Nhien Pham estimates there are currently 10,000 Mennonites in Vietnam, many of whom meet in home-based churches for financial reasons and to avoid government interference. There is also a small but growing number of Vietnamese Mennonites in Cambodia.
At their eighth biennial conference, NAVMF representatives had the opportunity to explore their accomplishments and to look to the future. Growth has not been easy. Although the Mennonite Church had been present in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s, political upheaval in 1975 brought widespread disruption to religious practices and persecution of Christians. Official tolerance has since improved, but following the arrest of several pastors in 2004, Vietnamese Mennonites split into two groups, both identifying themselves as the Vietnam Mennonite Church. On October 2, 2007 the government granted a “Certificate for Religious Activities” to one of those groups. That particular group, led by President Pastor Nguyen Trung, now has permission to operate throughout the country and to meet nationally.
Pastor Nhien Pham noted that the unrecognized group tends to be more charismatic and is openly critical of the government and justice issues. “We are trying to work with these two groups so they will stay together, to help them grow and to become more established,” he said. “Our hope is that we can send a mission worker from NAVMF to spend time there and respond to the needs.” But this is a challenging proposition for NAVMF; qualified member pastors are already serving churches in North America and are unable to commit the necessary time to an overseas project.
Church planting, both at home and abroad, demands careful balancing of finances as well as personnel for leadership and administration. Despite the challenges, NAVMF board members are committed to their mission. Nhien Pham has travelled to Vietnam on numerous occasions to share the gospel. He keeps a journal chronicling his experiences and the stories of those whom he has led to Christ.
Current NAVMF president and Calgary Vietnamese Mennonite Church pastor, Chau Dang, reported that it is his great joy to see God’s kingdom advance not only in North America and Vietnam, but also in Cambodia where over a million Vietnamese refugees are eager to learn about Christianity. NAVMF helped one Vietnamese- Cambodian community open a small clothing factory to support the local church. Church members provided money to buy four sewing machines and NAVMF helped them generate funds to buy two more.NAVMF membership currently includes churches in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Leamington, and Allentown, Pa. and Hawaii.
Photo by Timoyer