Feature

Continuing Education

A seminary is reestablished in Vietnam

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Dr. A. B. Simpson was once seen hugging a globe to his chest, placing his finger tips on the lands of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. With tears streaming down his cheeks and across his fingers, he cried out to God for the lost people of those lands.

God answered prayer, and in the spring of 1911, Robert A. Jaffray led two new missionaries, Paul M. Hosler and G. Lloyd Hughes, to Tourane (now Da Nang), the largest port city of central Vietnam. On Armistice Day 1918, more new recruits—among them my parents—brought the missionary staff to nine. This number was doubled by the end of 1921 and tripled in 1927.

Meanwhile, the Vietnamese church also grew dramatically. In 1921, the first Vietnamese church in Da Nang had become fully self-supporting and had a membership of 115. By the end of 1927, the mission’s effective force had established churches in 10 major cities throughout the land with the clear-cut vision of proclaiming the gospel and planting Christ’s Church among Vietnam’s millions. By 1926, the entire Bible had been translated and published in Hanoi. But national evangelists and pastors were greatly needed, so the first converts took the initiative and requested Bible training.

Trained and Transformed

The first class was held in 1918, and three years later, D. I. Jeffrey opened the Tourane Bible School with a full-time curriculum similar to that at the Missionary Training Institute (now Nyack College, Nyack, N.Y.).

Classes met in an unused horse stable on the mission compound. When the first brick church was erected in Da Nang in 1922, a large room at the back of the building was assigned as a classroom. As enrollment increased, a small campus was built in 1924. By 1927, 86 students attended the school. The first commencement took place in April 1927 with nine graduates, all of whom were ordained at the annual national conference held in Da Nang that same year.

Proportionate to the increase of workers turned out by the Tourane Bible School, the number of outstations and new church plants grew—22 in 1924, 37 in 1925 and 67 in 1927. The most attractive aspect of those evangelical churches was the presence in their midst of hundreds of persons whose lives had been suddenly transformed. Opium addicts; robbers and crooks; men and women whose homes had been broken by drunkenness, gambling or brutality; and children who had forsaken their duties and lived in debauchery had unexpectedly turned from their sins and become worthy sons and daughters, decent spouses and honorable citizens.

Rev. Ong Van Huyen was appointed president of the Bible school. In 1927, six years after it was founded, the school had become the largest on any Alliance mission field.

The Church Stands

The continuing growth of the student body at Da Nang necessitated an enlargement of the school’s facilities. Consequently, the national church leaders decided to build facilities adequate for at least 200 students. By 1960, the school was under construction at a 10-acre property in Nha Trang overlooking the South China Sea. In two years the campus was completed: two dormitories housing 200 students, a three-story classroom building, a dining room and kitchen, the president’s residence, six faculty residences and a beautiful chapel with a seating capacity of 500. That year, the school had a record enrollment of 110 students plus 55 others who were engaged in practical training.

But as the guerrilla war between North and South Vietnam gained momentum, the military draft of Vietnam’s youth also escalated. The enrollment began to drop until the end of the war in April 1975. The school was allowed to continue for one year after the unification of the country but then was shut down by the government. The campus was taken over and is now a tourist hotel.

However, the strong national church (approximately 60,000 baptized members) continued to grow dramatically, even under extremely adverse circumstances. During those difficult times, Bible school classes were held in a Sunday school classroom at one of the larger churches in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly, Saigon).

Donna and I returned to Vietnam in November 1994. Traveling all the way up the coast to Hanoi, we visited many churches that were filled to capacity, their balconies literally overflowing with worshipers. We were told that the tribal churches in the highlands were multiplying even faster and in greater numbers. We have visited four times since then and observed more unbelievable growth—both numerically and spiritually!

Today’s Vision

The church today, claiming to number more than 1 million believers, is stretching every nerve to reach increasing numbers of lost people for Christ. But with such exciting results, they also face enormous challenges! Many of the veteran pastors are retiring or have died. Young men and women are urgently needed to shepherd the increasing number of congregations. Furthermore, since the unification of North and South Vietnam, the churches in the north are also looking for pastors.

What is being done to address this tremendous need? The government has given the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (C&MA) a large piece of land in Ho Chi Minh City with permission to construct a large seminary. The church raised funds from their member churches throughout the land and commenced construction of the Vietnam Institute of Bible and Theology.

One nine-story dormitory has been completed, housing 200 students—25 from North Vietnam and several tribal students from the highlands. But because the school lacks adequate facilities, many potential students are being turned away. Hence, when sufficient funds are available, the church will construct:

  • another nine-story dormitory at a cost of US$1 million;
  • a four-story academic building with a 2,000-seat sanctuary plus classrooms, library and fellowship hall for US$3.5 million;
  • an administrative building for a cost of US$500,000, as well as
  • elevators, generator, air conditioning and fencing for US$350,000.

This enormous vision demands mountain-moving faith! As seminary officials seek to meet the needs of a church experiencing unprecedented growth, they look to their worldwide Alliance family to stand with them, to believe God with them and to support this urgent project with them.

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