AGAINST ALL ODDS
by Nathan J. Norman – The Orchard Church
TRAVERSE CITY, MI – The Evangelical Church of Vietnam North planted 40 churches last year, bringing the total to 1,040. Unfortunately they only have 300 pastors to serve all of those congregations. Pastor Nathan J. Norman, The Orchard Church, Traverse City, accepted an invitation from Cross Talk Global to help train pastors in Hanoi, Vietnam. He joined Dr. J. Kent Edwards and shares the experience.
Traverse City, MI - As I sit in the airport terminal of Hanoi, I am trying to process the last two weeks. The city is a strange place. An amalgamation of ancient and modern. Opulent four story homes stand between broken down hovels. Little shops and big shops and sidewalk shops fill the city. There are signs of hope and signs of despair everywhere in Hanoi. They stand side by side. A juxtaposition of realities.
But still, no one smiles. Not on the streets anyway.
And here in the midst of this city which often contrasts itself with images of beauty and images of despair, stands the Church. To be honest I would not have sought out this trip on my own. I had already planned to take these particular weeks off to work on personal projects. And if I’m being really honest, I’ve never been attracted to any sort of mission outside of North America. But when Kent asked if I would consider coming along, I had an overwhelming sense that I was being called to Vietnam by God the Holy Spirit.
My father is a veteran from the Vietnam War. Growing up I only had a vague sense of what my father experienced, but I knew it wasn’t positive. The adjective “devastating” comes to mind. There is a poetic symmetry being here in Vietnam. The mere mention of the country evokes painful memories for my father. And yet, here I am, training men and women to become effective Bible communicators. He was asked to bring a gun. I was asked to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And not only the training, but the encouragement that Cross Talk Global brings to these pastors and teachers is needed. Day after day I heard from pastors who experienced persecution because of the Name of Jesus. One pastor told me about how police in plain clothes attacked their church building – forcing the congregation to split into five groups and meet in homes. Another pastor recalled how men surrounded his car and smashed the windows with clubs. Still another told me how their church could submit fifty locations for a meeting place, only to have their requests denied by a zoning board.
Even in the midst of persecution, the pastors still minister. They faithfully shepherd the flock entrusted to them by their Lord with whatever resources they have. Which are often not much at all. Toward the end of the second week, many of the pastors expressed gratitude that Cross Talk Global had come to equip them. One pastor said, “The stories of the Bible are much more real to me now.” I asked one of the pastor’s wives what she thought the long-term impact of Cross Talk Global might be in Vietnam. She said if pastors preached like this “it could transform all of Vietnam.” Many of the pastors referenced the confidence they now feel preaching without notes. These past two weeks I have felt an incredible sense of honor to serve the Church in Vietnam. I’ve listened to their hearts as they preached. And I’ve partaken in communion with some of them on Sunday.
As I depart, I’m looking forward to debriefing with my dad. I will tell him that against all odds the Church is growing in Vietnam. That our brothers and sisters in Christ continue to be faithful to our Lord. And I will reflect on the mystery of God. The irony of our Lord – How as my father trained me in the Name of Jesus, he was also training me to return to Vietnam in his place.
My time was spent teaching and encouraging pastors from across Vietnam. (Photos courtesy Nathan J. Norman)