“You have brought us the truth—and that has changed our lives.”
Until a few short years ago, Chonghoua Vang, a pastor in the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) in Vietnam, lived by the law. And he taught the law. “I treated people with contempt. If I saw a member committing sin, I hated them. If they had addictions, I hated them. Now, as I look back, I see that I was a Pharisee at that time.”
It was what he saw growing up as a Christian and what he was taught in his studies as a pastor. “Looking back, I see that while we talked about Jesus as our Savior, we didn’t understand law and gospel and we promoted a lot of work righteousness.”
Vang began to understand grace when he started attending training sessions conducted by Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, in 2015. The church leadership had invited Lor to Vietnam in 2013 to train them after they saw sermons he had posted online. Lor and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute have made more than 24 training trips since then to train 60 HFC leaders.
“Now I see Christ at the center of the Bible and the center of everything that is taught,” says Vang. “I truly believe that salvation comes through faith alone, through Christ alone, through Scripture alone. This foundation has made me confident as a Christian and confident in my salvation.”
And this is something he shares with his 140-member congregation and the 12 additional congregations he oversees. “Before the training, so many others were just like me. My members were just like me. But now we have compassion and love. And now we have joy.”
Members and leaders don’t only have joy; they have unity. Tsavxwm Ham, HFC chairman, says that in the past the HFC pastors interpreted the Bible based on their own ideas or from what they had learned from other church bodies. “Now we have both physical and spiritual unity. The Lutheran doctrine has brought peace and harmony to the people in the villages—and as a result, our members are sharing their faith and our churches are multiplying.” In the years WELS has provided training, the HFC has grown from 65,000 to 100,000 members and formed 53 new churches.
The changes are so visible that the Communist government has noticed. And it likes what it is seeing, so much so that it is offering WELS an opportunity to build a permanent facility in Hanoi for theological training.
“WELS is being given a priority that other [foreign] church bodies don’t have,” says Larry Schlomer, administrator of WELS World Missions. “It’s an unprecedented, unique door that God is opening up for us.”
Schlomer and Sean Young, director of WELS Missions Operations, traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam, in June to meet with leaders of the HFC and the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC) to discuss the possibilities. The HFC is a subset of the Vietnamese Fellowship Church, a Protestant church body that is officially recognized by the government. WELS will need to work closely with the VFC to build a training facility because foreign church bodies can’t legally own land in Vietnam.
While the VFC has its own government-approved training facility in Ho Chi Minh City, the facility is not big enough to train all the Hmong pastors. Lessons also are taught in Vietnamese, which many of the Hmong do not understand. “They want us to build a training facility for the ethnic minorities, and there is a clear understanding that we will teach Lutheran doctrine,” says Schlomer.
Building a new facility will allow the HFC more autonomy to set its own schedule for training; will give students from the hill country outside Hanoi a place to stay when attending classes; and will provide worship space for local Hmong to attend services.
Schlomer and Young plan to return to Vietnam in the fall to work out more details.
Says Young, “This opening in communist Vietnam is an incredible gift from God. There are tens of thousands of Hmong people who are thirsty for the Word, and this opportunity is ready to go.”
Learn more about opportunities in Vietnam at wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.
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Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 2018
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