Socialist Republic of Vietnam
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Vietnam is a long narrow country located on the eastern side of the Indochinese Peninsula forming a western boarder with Laos and Cambodia and a thousand-mile coastline of the South China Sea on the eastern side. Vietnam came under Chinese influence in the second century B.C. and remained within the Chinese empire until the tenth century when it achieved some degree of independence. In about the 15th century Vietnam became a tributary state of China until the late nineteenth century. The French became interested in Vietnam as a trade center and it became a colony of France in 1883. One successful aspect of the French colonial period was the unification of the three regions of the country into a single Vietnam in 1887. The Japanese became involved in Vietnam in 1940. Following the Second World War the French resumed control of the south while the Chinese took the north and restored the Annamite Emperor, Boa Dai. The French moved to restore the unity of Vietnam under the Emperor in 1949 but Ho Chi Minh and his followers refused to submit to the new unification. Acting to halt the spread of communism the United States backed South Vietnam and became increasingly involved in military conflict eventually send hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops into combat. In 1975 North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam which led to the surrender of Saigon. At the conclusion of the war the whole country came under communist rule.
Buddhism was introduced into Vietnam in the second century and became the dominant form of religion, today claiming 60% of the population. Franciscan Christian missionaries arrived from the Philippines in 1580, followed by Dominicans and Jesuits, which accounts for a substantial Roman Catholic population which today includes 7% of the population. Taoist beliefs, folk Confucian beliefs, ancestor worship and other indigenous beliefs are common. Islam has also made inroads into Vietnam.
The presence of the Stone-Campbell Movement in Vietnam has come about through four distinct avenues. The earliest has been through the American a cappella Churches of Christ. In about 1962 the families of Navy Lt. Commander Joe Hale and Air Force Staff Sergeant Ron Wilson were assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Saigon and presumably met together for worship. Two years later the Hall family and Phil Carpenter began preaching in Vietnam, forming congregations in Saigon, Da Nang and in several small villages. The combined membership grew to about 500 with approximately 200 children participating in a child care program and about 250 students studying in their English American Vietnamese International School. These later programs served as an opportunity for several groups of American college students to go to Vietnam for short-term experiences. Gene Conner and Jim Ridgeway were two missionaries amongst others who served in country. All missionaries were forced to leave following the Tet Offensive of 1968. At least twenty congregations may have existed where U.S. service men gathered together for worship and were able to do some benevolent work. Following the Communist takeover most of the congregations in Vietnam ceased to exist.
In 1987 former Embassy official Bill Estep, with the help of others, originated the Vietnam radio broadcast of “The Voice of Truth,” first from Alaska, then Myanmar and later Palau. In 1990 at least two Christians were known to have been put to death for their faith but in 1992 the Constitution was amended to allow some freedom of religious practice. However, much care must still be exercised in mission and evangelistic activity. Nationalist evangelist Ta Ngoc Quy, who once spent twelve years in prison for his faith, now works in Ho Chi Minh City and five churches there meet in homes. Two additional churches meet in the mountains under the direction of Y-Kre Mlo.
In 1974 the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) initiated a work in Vietnam and presently employs one person in that field but for safety concerns the work is not revealed. Further information can be obtained through the Southern Asia office of the Global Ministries of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ.
The Christian Churches and Churches of Christ support at least two ministries which have work in Vietnam. The first is Christ Reaching Asia Mission Worldwide, Inc. under the direction of C.Y. and Patricia Kim. The Kims first entered Vietnam in about 1998 and there met with a house church, preached and baptized believers. Since that initial effort they have begun Phillip’s Hope for Children Baby Home in Haiphong City which is licensed for the care of children. One full-time evangelist has also been employed to assist in training natives, distribute literature and resources and to give oversight to a leper colony. Christian Missionary Fellowship has also begun to establish some work in Vietnam.
The most recent effort underway is by the Churches of Christ Overseas Aid (COCOA) of the Australian Churches of Christ who recently signed a contract with the Peoples Committee of the Bin Phuoc Province to undertake a number of special aid projects. Some of these projects will include teaching conversational English, building housing for minority tribes and a garden project. It is projected that in the next three years $300,000(US) will be invested in these projects. An office has been opened in Ho Chi Minh City under the direction of John Dean. COCOA is awaiting formal registration in Vietnam and the first teachers are expected to arrive in Vietnam early in 2004.
Clinton J. Holloway
National Profiles Editor
For further historical reference:
Churches of Christ Around the World, Lynn, Mac, 21st Century Christian Publications, Nashville, TN, 2003.
A cappella Churches of Christ (addresses withheld for security purposes)
Christ Reaching Asia Mission Worldwide, Inc.
P.O. Box 563
Bedford, IN 47421
Telephone/Fax: (812) 275-6476
Australian Churches of Christ Global Mission Partners
PO Box 341
TORRENSVILLE PLAZA SA 5031
114 Henley Beach Road
TORRENSVILLE SA 5031