United Methodists Ride in Vietnam
by Linda Bloom, UMNS
The Rev. Dennis Miller, who averages 10,000 miles a year on his Harley-Davidson, is riding a new bike in a new place this week as he traverses the hills of Vietnam.
Miller, senior pastor of the Grove City (Ohio) United Methodist Church, is part of a motorcycle gang that has the approval of West Ohio Bishop Bruce Ough.
"This week, a team from West Ohio is conducting a motorbike rally through the hill country of Vietnam, visiting, encouraging, teaching and praying with United Methodist congregations along the way," Ough told directors of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. He is president of the mission agency.
The bishop and the Rev. Jung Song Kim, the board's director of mission initiatives, are joining other United Methodists in Vietnam for the April 17 dedication of the new United Methodist Church center in Ho Chi Minh City. Over the past decade, according to Ough, the denomination has started more than 160 congregations with nearly 11,000 members.
The day after the center's dedication, Ough will fly to Hanoi to discuss formal recognition of The United Methodist Church with Vietnamese government officials. He also has a later meeting scheduled with the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam. "It's a courtesy visit, but it's also a time to see their support," he said.
After arriving in Vietnam on April 8, the West Ohio riders purchased the Honda motorcycles that they will later present as gifts to local pastors. The bikes are taking them on a 750-mile journey.
When Miller's Honda motorcycle blew a tire on a narrow, twisty road in the central highlands, a Vietnamese pastor riding with him insisted on making the repair.
"Over the past few days we have been meeting with United Methodist Vietnamese pastors," Miller wrote in his blog on April 15. "We have been encouraged and challenged by their faith and sacrifice. Some have waited five hours to meet us for five minutes.
"One man told our group that we were the first white people in his village since 1975. Since nearly 80 percent of all Vietnamese were born after the war, you can imagine that we were oddities. These committed pastors have some amazing stories that I can't wait to share."
Mission Work in Vietnam
The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries has been working with Christians in Vietnam since 1998. A United Methodist Vietnamese-American clergy couple, the Revs. Karen and Ut Vo To, returned to Vietnam in 2002 to lead that work.
The board established the Southeast Asia Mission, which also includes Laos and Thailand, in 2007. The United Methodist Council of Bishops named Bishop Larry Goodpaster as bishop in charge.
In addition to West Ohio, the denomination's Alabama-West Florida and Louisiana conferences have partnerships with the church in Vietnam.
Most of the churches and fellowships are in the area of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. Several years ago, the West Ohio Conference started sending volunteer teams to train local pastors and then was asked to coordinate a roundtable discussion on ministries to Vietnam.
"Out of that is emerging a plan for a Wesley theological school or college," Ough said.
On one visit to Vietnam, the bishop had dinner with a local government official for religious affairs in Ho Chi Minh City. "He told us an incredible story about his daughter being afflicted with a very rare blood disease," Ough recalled. "He turned to the Christian community, including the United Methodists, to pray for her."
After his daughter recovered, the official became a Christian himself and is even considering become a pastor, he added.
To be officially registered as a religious body in Vietnam, the group must have a physical headquarters there. In 2008, Ough asked the West Ohio Conference to take a "miracle offering," with the intent of purchasing or building a United Methodist center in Ho Chi Minh City.
That effort raised more than $300,000. Significant contributions have come from the Shawnee Valley District. Shawnee, comprising nine counties in central and southeast Ohio, gave an initial $130,000, followed by a second check of $165,000 toward the mission center. The Board of Global Ministries contributed another $110,000.
The building being dedicated on April 17 includes an apartment for the missionaries and classroom space for the proposed college. The 7,800-square-foot facility, purchased for $585,000, is 15 minutes from an international airport and 18 miles northwest of the center of Ho Chi Minh City.
The United Methodist Advance project for the mission in Vietnam provides financial support for congregational development, pastors' salaries and training, the orphanage ministry, women's health ministries and building projects. Donation information is available online at Vietnam Mission Initiative, Advance #14932A.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
Date posted: Apr 16, 2010