A 2013 commencement ceremony of Bachelor of Arts graduates at Wesley Theological College in Vietnam.
Vietnam: Building Future Leaders
*By Quynh-Hoa Nguyen
Before applying to the Wesley Theological College in Vietnam, an institution which prepares Christian leaders for the church in Vietnam, Do Sung didn’t know anything about The United Methodist Church.
“It was not until December 2009 that I happened to find out that Wesley Theological College accepted female students,” said Do Sung, a graduate of the Bachelor of Arts program and a current Master of Divinity student at Wesley. “The only important thing to me was that The United Methodist Church was open to women. It was not a coincidence that I came to Wesley. It was God who chose it for me.”
Theological schools in Vietnam have limited admissions and programs due to the restrictions on religious freedom and the patriarchal tradition of the church. This limitation has left Vietnamese Christians, particularly women like Do Sung, with challenges to find accessible approaches to theological education. Wesley provides Vietnamese Christians with equal opportunities for education and formation that might not be available elsewhere.
A Need for Leadership Training
As the church grows, so do the demands for leadership training. Wesley offers intensive degree and non-degree programs to accommodate the educational needs of Christian leaders. Through a partnership with United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, students receive a master’s level of theological education at Wesley.
A 2014 Masters of Divinity graduating class. Photo: Vietnam UMC Archives
To date, there are 14 students who have graduated with a master’s degree, and 18 students who enrolled in the Master of Divinity program in the 2013-2014 academic years. Many of them are graduates from the 2013 Bachelor of Theology program.
Currently, Wesley is in the planning stages for a Bachelor of Arts program in the Mekong Delta region of southwestern Vietnam, where local Vietnam United Methodist churches first began. Wesley also develops ministry training programs for local pastors and lay leaders to strengthen their practical ministry skills to serve their local churches and communities.
“I’ve been hoping and waiting for this program for a long time, said Bich Nguyen, another female Master of Divinity student. “It was not easy for me to enroll in the program. I had to cope with my family’s opposition and my financial difficulty, but I trust God’s faithfulness to those who put him first.”
Challenges and Hopes
Wesley is in its beginning stages of development. The school faces some challenges, yet it is overarched with hope. One challenge is translating theological materials into Vietnamese and coordinating visiting faculty, especially for the graduate level, as there are limited relevant reading resources and faculty members. As a result, it is challenging to contextualize our curriculum to the contemporary Vietnamese society and culture.
Wesley is also seeking funding for developing and securing those projects and programs. In addition, the unrecognized status of the Vietnam United Methodist Church poses a potential difficulty for organizing a training program outside of Saigon, especially in the central and highland regions.
I see the spiritual depth and sincerity in the students, and their eagerness to learn. They treasure the opportunity to be prepared for effective ministry and service.
Student Tu Pham shares his goals, “I want to study to be able to help others know God and grow steadfast in faith, and to serve more effectively. I also want to build a healthy church, filled with love, where it becomes a blessing to many people.”
Wesley has been greatly helped by ongoing support from United Theological Seminary in organizing efforts to train pastors. We hope the efforts will include Claremont School of Theology in the future. We also have hopes of sending our best students to the United States to seek theological education to, in turn, educate Vietnamese pastors at Wesley in the distant future.
About Wesley Theological College
Wesley Theological College was founded in 2002 to provide theological training for United Methodist church planters in Vietnam. Wesley’s mission at present is to offer Christian leaders with theological education relevant to the Vietnamese context. Given the context in which Christianity is a minority and social injustices are prevalent, Wesley equips students to embrace wholeness through both engaging peaceful evangelism and participating in wider social actions.
*Quynh-Hoa Nguyen (Advance #3021965) is a missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries serving as director of leadership development of the United Methodist Mission in Vietnam.