The government in Hanoi has legalized the Vietnam Mennonite Church, in a move that Anabaptists hope will end the tensions and difficulties of the past and open up new possibilities for the country and for Christians.
After fulfillment of all requirements for full legal status, the Vietnam National Religious Affairs Committee approved the request of the Vietnam Mennonite Church to organize its first official General Assembly (the second General Assembly according to the church's historical records). The assembly was held from 15-17 November 2008 at a guest house and conference complex in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City.
With full legal status the church can now hold corporate title to real estate property, establish a Bible Institute for training pastors and leaders, forge relationships with other denominations to sponsor joint projects, serve as an official partner with MCC in relief and community development work, extend and accept invitations for international conferences, and more.
The assembly confirmed the church's purpose: “to worship the triune God and love all people according to the Word of the Lord in the Holy Bible, live the gospel, serve God, serve the country and the people."
The three-day proceedings were interspersed with times of worship, preaching and business. A hallmark of the worship included inspiring singing, choirs and liturgical dances from several of the churches. These included both Vietnamese and ethnic minority churches using contemporary and traditional styles.
Preaching themes included, “Leading a life pleasing to the Lord,” “The ministry of reconciliation,” “The power of the blood of Jesus,” and “The disciplined life.” Business sessions included a review of the process of developing the new church constitution, its ratification by the assembly delegates as well as the election of officers who will serve the church from 2008 to 2012.
The more than 200 participants, of whom 188 were delegates, included pastors, evangelists and members of the six districts in 24 provinces, representing 6,123 believers. Others included choir and dance team members and a children’s choir/dance team. A highlight of the conference was the rendition of the “Hallelujah Medley” sung by an 80-voice choir of denominational leaders, pastors, and evangelists.
At the opening ceremony on November 15, Pastor Nguyen Quang Trung, provisional president of the Vietnam Mennonite Church, expressed "thanks and praise to God" who through Christ "led and protected his church" in Vietnam throughout the challenges and difficulties in Vietnam’s history.
Pastor Trung presented a brief history of the Mennonite Church in Vietnam and a summary of the work of both Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). He thanked God that the national Religious Affairs Committee of Vietnam had given permission for this General Assembly to be organized. Finally, Pastor Trung led everyone in repeating the assembly theme verse, Psalm 100:1, three times: “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.”
During the opening ceremony, Dr Nguyen Thanh Xuan, Deputy Director of the National Religious Affairs Committee, noted the long-term involvement of Mennonites in Vietnam, beginning with MCC and later EMM. He expressed appreciation for the uniqueness of the Mennonite contribution to Vietnam as a Protestant denomination with emphasis on both religious and social concerns. He concluded his remarks by quoting from 1 Corinthians 13, emphasizing that love is the most important expression of faith and acts of service.
Time was provided for a congratulatory response from Dr Larry Miller, General Secretary of Mennonite World Conference (MWC) and the six members of the MWC Koinonia Delegation representing five continental regions who attended. After presenting a token gift plate to the Vietnam Mennonite Church, Dr Miller introduced the MWC delegates saying, “These are the most important gifts we bring to you, ourselves as an incarnation of communion with you in the global body of Jesus Christ.”
Representing Latin America was Felix Curbelo Valle from Cuba; North America, Betsy Headrick McCrae from the USA; Europe, Michel Ummel from Switzerland; Africa, Felicia Sibanda from Zimbabwe; Asia and the Asia Mennonite Conference, Yoshihira Inamine from Japan; and MWC Youth, Elina Ciptadi from Indonesia, currently living in Singapore. Each MWC delegate shared a special message and gift from his/her respective continent. This global expression from MWC was deeply appreciated by the Vietnamese church and was considered unique among international delegations visiting churches in Vietnam.
With thanks to MWC and the Vietnam Mennonite Church