The topic for a recent MTM Conference in the restricted Country of Vietnam was Servant Leadership. We were graciously hosted by a house church. Early in the trip, I was struck by the realization that “house church” means that your family gives up 50% of your living space, usually in a large open area, to host church meetings. Your kitchen becomes the church kitchen, your bedrooms become baby rooms and rest areas, and your bathrooms become public. Mattresses can be stacked to the side to make room for chairs, pulpits, and keyboards. We tend to have a clear separation of church and home, able to distinguish between our public and private lives. These restricted Christians, however, gave me a new meaning to giving our all for the Kingdom. The option of having their church registered with the state would mean more freedom, but they would have to give up more control over what is preached and conform, in many areas, to a more liberal doctrine, neither of which they are willing to do.
Our original meeting location was in the mountains of Vietnam, a plan that was aborted very quickly when local authorities let the organizers know that they knew this and would not tolerate any conferences there. After a short plane ride from Ho Chi Minh City to the original location, we stepped out of the airport into a waiting bus which started an eight hour sojourn to a new area. If the conference was not to be in the original location, we would simply load the conference on a bus and haul the participants elsewhere. Although we attempted to be fairly clandestine in approaching the meeting site, apparently our trail was detected, because the authorities nearly met us at the door of the new location. We were quickly ushered into a semi-hidden back room, we waited anxiously while the gathered saints prayed out loud for safety, God’s blessing, and even blessing on the government of the host country, which of course was in the process of harassing the group. I recall Merle’s soft prayer: “Lord, You made blind eyes see – make seeing eyes blind”.
The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep. This good shepherd was not about to flee when the wolf came. He kept a faithful watch over his sheep for 3 days. Once when the wolf came, the MTM team was quickly moved from the sanctuary to a place of hiding. Finally, a brother entered the dark room and whispered “Shalom, Shalom”!!!
After this initial disturbance, the conference proceeded fairly uneventfully. This early setback, however, reminded us that not only are we helpless without God’s care, and that before we attempt to teach, we need to be submitted to His Will. If we were to teach these dear folks about being a servant, we needed to reaffirm our submission to the Chief Shepherd.
After two and a half days of teaching, we went most of the way back up the mountain in the bus, and were blessed to have one additional meeting with a group of village pastors. Part of a surprisingly complex organization of churches, these dear leaders represent several thousand Christians scattered in multiple small villages. There were no mega-church leaders here, only men that have been through various testing and trials to have their faith purified – including harassment, prison, and discrimination. The Word, however, continues to grow, and their hearts for their fellow Vietnamese was obvious. Although we could only safely spend a few hours with them, we trust that the Spirit will continue to bless them as they serve their people.
We also took advantage of a contact and visited the capital city of Laos, Vientiane. Our time in Vientiane was spent in assisting in a church service, visiting our contact pastors’ Bible School and farm training operation, presenting the MTM vision to his team, and sight-seeing. We will pray for their discernment as they contemplate whether a conference is a viable option for their local leaders.
I’ll admit that a spirit of unease walked close to me most of the week. However, I have also found that when we stretch ourselves, God is always there to give us encouragement. Stretching shows us how limited we are and how much we should lean on His grace to support us. Truly we were blessed to see a stretched but vibrant Church in both of these restricted countries.
Editor’s note: The following article was written by MTM guest teacher, Brother Dave Swearingen. The Swearingen’s traveled to SE Asia from near New Carlisle, Ohio, where Dave serves as a pastor. We extend a very special thank you to both the Swearingen’s and their church family for their encouragement and support of MTM. We praise God for His divine presence, protection, and peace on this mission!
TESTIMONY FROM DAVID, NATIVE VIETNAMESE COORDINATOR: Praise God for a wonderful and also challenge time with MTM in Vietnam. We are so thankful to God for sending MTM team to come and teach us on Servant Leadership which is so important for all church leaders as well as church members. Through the teachers and the teaching we get to know more about Jesus style of leadership. We are convinced by the truth as well as the teachers’ lifestyle and leadership style. They really walk what they talk. Although we have some challenges with the authority but we think we all are encouraged, built up, inspired and cleansed by the word of God. We pray for MTM and eager to learn more. God bless you.