New day in Vietnam
After gaining government recognition last year,By J. Showalter Eastern Mennonite Missions
HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — There wasn’t much of a job description for Gerry and Donna Keener when they headed off to Vietnam in 1997. “Just go and be a presence,” Eastern Mennonite Missions administrators advised.
Today, more than a decade later, the leadership training door has opened.
New opportunities are developing since the government recognized the Vietnam Mennonite Church in October, granting permission to operate nationally and to establish a ministry training center.
After the church obtained official recognition, EMM worker Gerry Keener said, numerous house churches have been affiliating with the Mennonites.
The number of Mennonite believers in registered congregations is about 6,000. Thousands more carry a Mennonite identity and hunger for the training and resources such connections afford.
During the past year the Vietnam Mennonite Church has organized into six districts and hopes to build at least one legal church building in each district.
Two “houses of prayer” — visible symbols of Christian worship — have been completed. Most congregations continue to meet in homes.
Dozens of enthusiastic pastors are coming for leadership training in biblical and pastoral studies as well as in transformational community development.
EMM workers first entered Vietnam in 1957, and by the time the last ones left in 1975 after the change in government in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), a core group of 150 Mennonite believers had been established.
But for the next 15 years the Vietnam Mennonite Church lay dormant, hidden behind a cloak of silence and new political realities.
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