By Sandra Brands,
February 14, 2013—Although the government has not yet recognized The United Methodist Church in Vietnam, the church in this Southeast Asian country is experiencing phenomenal growth, in part because of the commitment of its local leadership.
Twelve of those leaders were ordained Local Elders in Mission in early January. The Vietnam Mission Initiative is one of several in Southeast Asia under the direction of the General Board of Global Ministries.
"The ordination service was an emotionally overwhelming experience and blessing, one I will always cherish,” said Bishop Bruce Ough, leader of the Minnesota-Dakotas Episcopal Area.
Ough led the West Ohio Episcopal Area when the 12 candidates began their course of studies at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. The West Ohio Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry supervised and mentored their journey toward ordination. A delegation from the board traveled to Southeast Asia to interview the candidates prior to their ordination.
“All 12 were unanimously approved,” said George Howard, Deputy General Secretary of Global Ministries.
The candidates also worked closely with Global Ministries Missionaries Rev. Ut To and his wife, Karen Vo To, Howard said. He added that the couple has held up a vision of growth for the church in the whole country by identifying and equipping the local leadership.
“It really is a ministry of empowerment, training and equipping. It’s not a ministry of controlling,” he said. He credits the couple with catalyzing the Methodist movement in Vietnam.
“The local church is presided over by leaders who have been called to the ministry,” explained Ut To, which has contributed to the rapid growth of the church in Vietnam. “Growth in a church can be stimulated by a supernatural revelation, dream or vision,” he added.
“It is remarkable to witness what God is doing through The United Methodist Church throughout the region,” said Ough. “The Holy Spirit is breaking through. Lives and entire villages are being transformed. Disciples of Jesus are being formed and equipped for ministry. Leaders are being trained. The distinct United Methodist witness of soul care (cultivating love of God) and social care (loving our neighbors) is taking deep root.”
The 2012 General Conference approved the ordination of Local Elders in Mission. Similar to local pastors, Local Elders in Mission are ordained in the mission initiative where they itinerate. However, more like elders, they are also ordained to word, sacrament, order and service anywhere within that initiative.
Ough commissioned the four women and eight men two years ago as the first mission pastors in Vietnam. Their ordination recognizes the work and training they have undertaken at great odds, Howard said.
Ordination of the 12 is “one of the steps towards (the mission initiative) becoming a provisional annual conference,” he said. “The goal in Vietnam is for this initiative to become a provisional annual conference so they can hold their own elections, elect their own bishop and be part of General Conference. The United Methodist Mission in Vietnam has submitted an application to the government for recognition as a denomination.
“Having ordained elders in mission is a critical building block in developing (the church),” Howard said.
Ough added, “There are now over 14,000 United Methodists in Vietnam; 4,200 United Methodists in Laos; 300 United Methodists in Thailand. Nearly all the congregations are 'small membership churches' and the vast majority are still house churches.”