After teaching in Thailand and Myanmar, we traveled to Vietnam where we had been invited to teach a week-long seminary-level course on “World Religions” to pastors and evangelists of the Baptist Convention of Vietnam (BCV).
Much is changing in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam these days, and it is happening quickly to everything all at the same time. Economic liberalization has brought in huge amounts of foreign investment, and particularly in Ho Chi Minh City the results of rapid economic growth can be seen everywhere in huge apartment buildings under construction, crowded streets (more motorcycles than you can imagine), and booming businesses. The beginning steps toward social and political liberalization have meant that religious groups can now come out from “underground” and be officially recognized. For pastors and leaders of the small house churches of the BCV this means they are now able (in fact, required!) to receive theological education.
Teaching “World Religions” in modern day Vietnam turned out to be a greater challenge than we imagined: we needed to present information relevant to the historical and current religious environment of Vietnam. While officially atheist by government policy, most Vietnamese follow a mixture of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and ancestor worship. In addition to small Muslim and Hindu communities, Vietnam is home to two large, indigenous
religions: Hòa Hảo and Cao Đài. Christians are a distinct minority, and until very recently were not allowed to meet in groups larger than 25-30.
Our second challenge was that of contextualization: equipping our students to present the good news of Jesus in a way that makes sense in Vietnam. These pastors and students recognize that for the most part they present a foreign (western) Jesus using a foreign (typically US) approach. This was the daily topic that changed our study of World Religions from simply an academic exercise into a practical laboratory for change and action. During the evaluation session at the end of the course one young pastor told the group, “Now I know that my Master’s thesis needs to focus on how to contextualize Jesus for the Vietnamese people.”
Thank you for being with us in Vietnam through your prayers and financial support.
We couldn’t have made the contribution we did without your contribution to our ministry!