John Stumbo Video Blog No. 42
January 12, 2017
This month, John shares part two of his message from Vietnam. He notes the oneness in the Body of Christ across cultures and joyfully repents of his “American superiority” after observing the gospel flourishing in this communist-ruled nation.
What do chicken, cow, pig, crocodile, frog, shrimp, crab, squid, snail, deer, rabbit, and wild boar all have in common? Well our team is eating all of them this week and enjoyed almost every bite of it. It’s been a great experience here, and I want to tell you some stories.
A decade’s worth of CAMA’s ministry has had proven impact, earning trust through serving a community that had been seriously impacted by the AIDS virus, leaving many orphans behind, [with] 70 percent of the families in the community having been touched in some way by this tragedy, and with the help of the Communist Party Women’s Union Leadership, women serving the communist government being the need for us to get into this community, because of the trust that has been established, and now we are able to help the orphans with food, and education, and summer camp. We are able to share the gospel through Easter and Christmas events. One of those Communist party leaders has embraced Jesus as her own Savior. I was touched by the children, moved by CAMA’s compassion, and excited to be able to do exactly what Jesus said! “When I’m hungry, or thirsty, or needing clothes, you’ve helped me.” And there the Alliance family was helping in a little village in Vietnam.
I was moved to be in a vibrant church in Hanoi. We were in a joyful worship service where the entire congregation quoted in unison, without any aid from the screen, the Apostles Creed, prayed the Lord’s Prayer, and shared together in communion. The overflow room had an overflow room. There were so many people in attendance—at least a thousand. What particularly moved me was seeing their history wall that acknowledged that between the years of about 1965 to ‘72, the church had dwindled down to eight people, but it continued to faithfully meet. In fact, for a hundred years the church has been preaching the gospel on that corner of the city. That church is being pastored by Pastor Paul. Let me tell you his story.
Paul grew up in a non-Christian family, was his dad’s drinking buddy, and went off to college to become a linguistics student. Upon graduation he worked for an NGO where he encountered a Christian who shared faith with him. Seven months of reading the Bible led Paul to become a follower of Jesus Christ. He went home and told his dad. And his dad, in Paul’s words, hit the ceiling, angry that he had lost his drinking buddy. “We were supposed to grow old drinking together, and now you’ve turned to a man who died 2,000 years ago! I’ve lost my son.”
Paul went off to seminary in Singapore and came back to his home country. He was able to lead his dad to faith in Christ, planted a church among that minority people, and then was called to this significant church in Hanoi, while his dad stayed back home to be one of the church leaders of the house church. Paul’s ministry is a vibrant expression of the life of Jesus, transforming another human soul.
I was moved to be given a very quick driving tour past some of the property that The Christian and Missionary Alliance once invested in, and ministered in, and owned. Huge investments in the early Alliance days here were used significantly for the Kingdom, but with the war those properties were confiscated and now are used by the communist party. It was moving to see that what once proclaimed the gospel now carries a different message, yet the church persevering. This is the story. It’s not a story of lost property. It’s a story of a persevering church that has now said, “Well we lost our seminary…” but, through negotiations and efforts, the government has allowed them a new piece of property—one-tenth the size of their original one. But a persevering church is not going to be altered by losses and lacks. And so they couldn’t build out, so yes they have built up, and yes you are looking at our Bible school and seminary in south Vietnam—a developing, and vibrant, and persevering ministry. The government is allowing them to add 100 new students every two years, restricting the number of students that can come. They get more applicants than that at the school, but this is what the government allows. But with the hundred they have each new term, they are training them to be leaders of the Vietnamese church, and with great zeal, high level of commitment to the Scriptures, high level of training in the Word of God. It was an honor to stand before them and just to say a few words, encouraging them in their faith and to continue on in their studies.
While there at that seminary we were given a tour of a portion that’s still under construction—a 2,500-seat auditorium. In my Western mind I thought, “These guys are over-building! This is bad planning! There’s this tiny little campus with very tall buildings, only a few hundred students being allowed, plus the, OK, faculty, staff, some spouses, but they don’t need a building this size!” And then I am instructed that within this country of Vietnam, they’re not allowed to meet in public places as the church. You can’t just go down the block and easily rent a sports facility or a civic center. No! You have to have a religious facility for that, and so for them to build a 2,500-seat auditorium will now give the church an opportunity for national gatherings, the likes of which they have never been able to have—at least in recent decades.
I love the spirit in which the local church was working in a unique governmental situation—respecting the local government, celebrating any wins that they had with pleasure. The national church leader said to us, “We’re being given greater permission to ask for permission.” Did you hear that? “We are being given greater permission to ask for permission!” Yes, they still need permission for whatever they do, but they are seeing a new level of openness.
I am speaking at a conference where I have been given permission to speak by the local government, during the very hours that our election was taking place in the United States. As my phone in my pocket is showing the results of the election coming in, I am in the context of a church service where Communist officials are overseeing the event, have given us authorization for the event, and have allowed me to stand behind the pulpit, hold the Word of God in my hand, and preach anything that I want to preach. I did preach about Jesus.
At the conference I thoroughly enjoyed the worship. Some culture’s worship makes me want to dance. Vietnamese worship makes me want to march, and both are appropriate. Our army of Kingdom servants had come upon that conference—that church facility—again in overflow areas, over 2,000 pastors and their wives as delegates of this conference. Even though there are so many well trained workers in the Vietnamese church, they only have half the pastors that they actually need. This is a growing vibrant church where some of the pastors have to take four, six, I heard as many as a dozen churches that they have to oversee! Waves of new leaders being trained. Well trained pastors already are in place but so much more to do, so much need remains. And, as should take place in a vibrant church, they represented the pastors, and church leaders represented multiple generations. Two generations were chosen as interpreters for the two times that I spoke. The first gentleman is an aging brother who showed me great honor and respect. He came alive in the pulpit! It was so fun to see this staid and quiet man come to life when he interpreted the message that God had given to me.
Next generation, next service, was a pastor who could have easily stayed in the United States and taken a position making more money here. But having the opportunity to be educated in the U.S., he chose to return to his homeland, to be an assistant pastor, and to now be appointed as the National Mission’s Mobilizer. And with almost trembling passion, he looks at me and says, “Would you pray for me that God would raise up a new wave, a new army of Kingdom servants in our country, and that God would allow church planting to take place, that God would forward this church through my generation?” Here was a respectful young man, full of passion, full of commitment, who was saying, “Pray for me. I want to lead well, and I will accept when I can’t lead, but when I can lead, I want to lead with all the courage and anointing that God will give me.”
While the contexts vary from food flavors, to topography, to governmental involvement, to styles of buildings, to worship music . . . Well, while some of those external things vary, I am moved by the fact that the Church of Jesus Christ holds extreme similarity—honoring the same Lord, preaching the same gospel, reverencing the same King, holding seriously the Scriptures, being called to perseverance, being called to respect our government authorities, being called to work within the cultures that God has given to us. We are really not that different in the issues we face, the Scripture we use, sometimes even the songs we sing. There is a oneness to the Body of Christ, and it causes me to repent of my American superiority where I have found myself sometimes having to caution myself, because I felt like I had something to offer that when the day was done, I realized I didn’t. I’ve had to repent of my American superiority. I have had to rejoice in the fact that this gospel of Jesus Christ transcends any culture, any generation, any language, any people group. So with a repentant and rejoicing heart, I bring you these stories today and pray that they will bring you encouragement as well.