Pastor Vinh Nguyen has a burden. “There are two million Vietnamese living in the United States, yet there are only three full time pastors. How can we reach all these people?” He and his southern California church are trying to fill this need.
On Sept. 2, 2017, Vietnamese from all parts of the U.S. came together for the inauguration of the Vietnamese School of Evangelism at the El Monte Vietnamese Seventh-day Adventist Church. Lay people eager to begin the Vietnamese School of Evangelism traveled from Florida, Washington, North Carolina, Northern California, and the surrounding areas of southern California. Members across North America and the country of Vietnam viewed the special event via live streaming and video conferencing.
Nguyen said that discipleship will be an integral part of the Vietnamese School of Evangelism. “God is calling men and women to work for Him,” he said during the inauguration. “If you are willing to be used of God, God will train you and help you.”
Among courses taught will be practical theology, health, and character development. The school will be conducted in person at the beginning of every quarter and then via virtual classroom twice a week for the remainder of the quarter. The full school term will be 3 ½ years, the same amount of time that Jesus trained his disciples.
Jose Cortes, Jr., associate director of evangelism for the North American Division’s Ministerial Association, gave the main inaugural address while John H. Cress, executive secretary of the Southern California Conference, shared the charge to the first class of students of the Vietnamese School of Evangelism.
During the address, Cortes shared two foundation points to remember for every gospel worker: God loves you; and love others. “God knows all our imperfections, yet He still decides to loves us,” said Cortes. “There is nothing more solid, bigger, higher, wider, or more present truth than God’s love.”
After reciting Romans 5:8, Cortes shared that transformation of character always comes after surrender to God. Said Cortes, “Baptism is not a wedding, a graduation, not for the perfect, but a public acceptance of the love of Jesus. Baptism is a new birth and as a person grows, that is discipleship!”
In explaining how we are to follow Jesus’ example to love others, Cortes shared John 13:34. “People did not follow Jesus because of what He ate, what He wore, or His day of worship. People loved Jesus because Jesus loved people!” said Cortes.
Cortes said that when people see that you love them, they will come to see you. “Everyone wants to be in a place where they are loved. When you love others, people will be drawn to you and want to know more about Jesus,” he said.
Cress gave the challenge to “Sit, Walk, and Stand” to the students of the first class. He said that the students should “sit” and be secure in Jesus, and rest in their salvation; and “walk” next — for all of us are His workmanship. “Every student at the school of evangelism must recognize that the Holy Spirit has called you,” said Cress. “Live a life that is worthy of the calling. Walk in His love and then, stand. ‘Stand’ and be strong for the enemy will try to defeat you, but stand your ground.”
Present Situation, Possible Future
During the inauguration, Nguyen, who also serves as Vietnamese Church Planting Consultant for the North American Division Adventist Refugee & Immigrant Ministries, stressed the burden God has placed on his heart as he shared daunting statistics. Out of two million Vietnamese living in the U.S., according to Nguyen, “there are only 1,000 Vietnamese Adventists. For every 2,000 Vietnamese there is only one Adventist.”*
Nguyen said that there are only 17 Vietnamese congregations and just three full time pastors. “I feel the call of God to shift from pastoring to training. After 22 years of ministry, I have maybe 15-20 years to go,” said Nguyen. “When a pastor retires, what happens to the next generation? … Many groups do not have leaders. Some groups are dying and some are already dead.”
“Some people call the new building recently built on the El Monte church property as a community center, multi-purpose room, etc. But I call it a ‘mission center,’” Nguyen said. “This mission center was built for a specific mission to spread the gospel to the world.
“It has been 42 years since the Vietnamese people came from Vietnam to America as refugees, yet this is the first Vietnamese evangelism training school. People have requested us to send more pastors, but there are not any. The need for lay pastors and lay leaders is great. … Everyone is here because someone trained has shared the gospel with you. Now we need to finish the work. God expects us to think big and reach every Vietnamese in the world!”
As the opening event concluded, Nguyen, known to most simply as “Pastor Vinh,” urged students to take time to “soak their mind, heart, and to express themselves during the time at the school of evangelism. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray that God sends His leaders into the harvest,” he urged.
* The ratio for Caucasians is 300 to 1.
— Cynthia L. Nguyen is senior accountant for Adventist Media Ministries in Riverside, California.