Did you know United Methodism is growing in Vietnam and throughout Indochina?
There’s rightly lots of talk about growing United Methodism in Africa, which soon will have a majority of the global denomination’s members and has long had more regular worshipers than the USA.
But possibly, we pray, United Methodism in Asia is where it was several decades ago in Africa, on the edge of exponential growth.
Vietnam has over 320 United Methodist churches, with 248 pastors, and the goal of 800 new churches by 2020. How many conferences in the USA have that growth goal? The first 12 Local Elders were only ordained in 2013.
United Methodism is unregistered in Vietnam, which is still officially communist and restricts religion. Christians who are open and assertive about their faith can and do go to prison. Yet Christianity is growing. Four years ago there were 14,000 United Methodists in Vietnam. Today that number is certainly much larger.
There is even a seminary for United Methodism in Vietnam called Wesley Theological College, which partners with United Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. Circuit riding pastors in Vietnam travel by motor bike. John Wesley and Francis Asbury would be pleased. A special focus of Vietnamese United Methodism is caring for orphans, who often are vulnerable to sex trafficking.
In Cambodia next door there are 154 United Methodist churches and 140 pastors. Helping street children there is a major focus. At least Cambodia has escaped its horrific communist past, which included a genocide of nearly 2 million dead, and now has relative freedom of religion. Christians are a small minority but their numbers are growing. In still communist Laos to the north United Methodism as in Vietnam lacks official legal status and faces restrictions. Yet it grows, with 69 pastors and lay leaders, among 72 congregations. Several years ago there were an estimated 4000 United Methodists in Laos, a number likely much larger today.
How wonderful that global United Methodism is growing in Indochina, a region most Americans recall only for war and repression, not Christian growth. The challenges and sufferings of the church there should never leave the thoughts of United Methodists living at relative ease in America.
And let’s consider how United Methodist policies and choices might affect the nascent, growing but still vulnerable little flock of Christ in Indochina. Where do they factor in our political debates? Do American advocates of sexual liberalism consider the impact on poor rice farmers meeting in house churches in a Vietnamese, Laotian or Cambodian village? Do advocates of denominational schism consider its impact? The churches in Indochina depend on the General Board of Global Ministries and on supportive conferences in the USA that span the theological spectrum. Our divisions could devastate their ministry.
American Christians too often focus on our own relatively mundane challenges. We would all do better to consider the sacrifice and vitality of overseas churches that have few if any of our advantages but for the Holy Spirit. Shouldn’t their welfare be foremost on our agenda and not just an afterthought?