The COVID pandemic that began in 2020 affected the ministry and worship in all our WELS congregations. It also caused the temporary suspension of our synod’s efforts to build a theological training school for ethnic Hmong pastors in Hanoi, Vietnam. But now that the worst of the pandemic seems to be over, those efforts have resumed.
In 2011, WELS Pastor Bounkeo Lor began posting sermons online in the Hmong language. A pastor of the Hmong Fellowship Church in northern Vietnam began watching Lor’s sermons. The more he learned, the more he wanted additional instruction. It wasn’t long before other pastors and spiritual leaders also wanted to learn more. They were amazed at the biblical truths they were hearing; at least one commented that he had served as a pastor for many years but never really understood the concept of grace. The pastors concluded that the doctrine they were being taught was true and biblical. They wanted instruction in Lutheran doctrine not only for themselves but also for all the pastors of the Hmong Fellowship Church. They said, “We want to be Lutheran.”
Bounkeo Lor and his brother began making trips to Vietnam to offer instruction to those pastors. A first cohort of 60 pastors were to undergo four years of in-depth training. With some interruption due to COVID, that first group will graduate from the program this fall.
In 2017, the government of Vietnam unexpectedly invited WELS to build a theological education center in Hanoi where instruction could take place. When this opportunity was presented to the members of our synod, they responded in an amazing way—they contributed $3.7 million. With those resources available and with the help of the government, WELS secured suitable property on the outskirts of Hanoi in 2018. Plans for the building took shape; the facility would include classrooms and living spaces for Hmong pastors from rural villages who would stay at the school.
But before construction could begin, COVID made travel to Vietnam impossible. Progress on the building project stopped. But the instruction of Hmong pastors continued by Bounkeo Lor, his brother Pastor Ger Lor, Missionary Joel Nitz, and other guest instructors. Recently, a second cohort of 60 pastors began a six-year course of instruction in biblical doctrine and Lutheran theology.
Last April, travel to Vietnam was again possible. A new and better property for the theological education center was offered by the government delegation. Sean Young, WELS senior director of Missions Operations, traveled to Vietnam to sign the necessary documents. In May, the Hmong Fellowship Church broke ground on the new center, which is scheduled to be completed by November. Once construction is complete, the center will open for classes.
Since 2011 the Hmong Fellowship Church has grown from 55,000 members to 138,000 members, making it nearly half the size of WELS. The church still indicates that it wants to be a Lutheran church body. If the Lord wills it, most likely after the second cohort completes its study, the Hmong Fellowship Church will enter full fellowship with WELS.
The door is once again open for this amazing opportunity that God has given us. Sometimes when opportunities come, God lovingly tells us to wait. But the time when we need to wait seems to be past. Thank you for your generous support and for your prayers. To God alone be the glory!
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Author: Mark Schroeder
Volume 109, Number 08
Issue: August 2022