We arrived early at the Protestant Church of Vietnam – Binh Gia Associations. We did not anticipate that the service would be in English but praise music transcends language and the Word of God can be followed.
We started to sit down near the middle back, but an older woman ushered us to the front perhaps to be near the fans. There were at least eight fans in various areas of the sanctuary.
Soon a perky young lady scooted into the pew indicating that she wanted to pass us and sit down. I swiveled my legs to the side and she landed on my lap. Apparently, she wanted to sit between us. We thought maybe she was going to translate since the service was in Vietnamese.
Instead she pulls out her phone and brings our heads together in order to take a selfie. After our brief photo shoot, she was gone. We wonder if she posted our pictures on Facebook.
I guess that our presence warranted this type of treatment. The shoe is on the other foot since we often take pictures of people we see. We always ask first and sometimes we get a yes; other times no. Always respect their wishes.
The pianist was practicing prior to the service. He was quite good. Then a younger man came and started playing another song on an electric keyboard at the same time. It sounded like a musical dual as opposed to a duet. The keyboard definitely had an Oriental vibrato-like sound.
When the service started there were about one hundred in the congregation. Here is the bulletin with my notes:
About a dozen women came to the front and sang an anthem. It was very loud and powerful. At the end, they all bowed. There was no applause. It was a somber moment.
Congregational singing was loud, forceful, and very staccato. When the words were on the screen, we sang along in Vietnamese. When the words were not on the screen, I would sing the tune.
I recognized the western tune of the Doxology at the end of the service. Again, this song was sung with conviction. It sounded like a men’s choir. John Wesley would be proud.
There was a responsive reading and announcements.
The leaders of the church were all dressed in dark suits. Boy, did they look super warm. Two came forward to the altar to place two large wooden boxes with a slot on the top. Later, I asked about it and it was for money collection, but I didn’t see anyone put money in the boxes. They took an offering with long bags on sticks. Most everyone put something in the bag. The bags were laid next to the boxes.
Communion was brought to us as we stood in the pews. The leader broke the bread and blessed the wine. The men brought us communion with no words spoken, no eye contact and heads were bowed.
Scripture: Acts 9:1-9
Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told to you what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Sermon: Saul, Saul, Why Are You Persecuting Me?
I was able to translate the first words of his sermon – “Cảm ơn” which means thank you …then ????
The pastor said, “Saul, Saul, Why are you persecuting me” a lot. Prior to becoming a follower of Jesus, one could say that they persecuted Christ either openly, verbally or apathetically. When one comes to saving grace, there is that moment when one needs to ask Jesus for forgiveness. This is the beginning of one’s journey into the world of the redeemed.
Ironically, a Christian passes out of the world of a persecutor OF Christ and His followers to the world of the persecuted FOR Christ. Every Christian has been there so we understand the mind of the persecutor. However, we now share in the smallest of ways to be persecuted along with Christ.
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.
Supporting Scriptures From the Pastor:
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.
And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’
So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.
What Have I Learned by Observation
Pastors are always higher than the congregation. This is so everyone can hear and see, and sound systems are needed. When did this change? All ancient theatres and the buildings where the legislators met were the opposite and needed no sound system.
We often have interpreters for the deaf culture in our worship services. Why don’t we have visual interpreters who illustrate the sermon? Those who don’t speak the language and children would benefit.
We live in an enhanced visual age so images speak volumes in translating the Word. You never know who is in the service. Many of the world’s unreached people groups are illiterate so oral storytelling of the gospel is so important.
In the meantime, the use a lot of universal church words like Hallelujah, Amen and Jesus are always recognizable to those who are believers but speak another language.
I put myself in the shoes of a refugee in a foreign country. God says we have all been aliens/ refugees. I will keep my eyes and ears open to provide meaning to non-native visitors in my home church. Be intentional!!
Some things don’t need interpretation.
After the service, we were invited to have sandwiches with the congregation. How kind! They quickly found chairs for us and brought us tea in a teacup. They don’t ask; they just give it to you. They had a high school girl who was learning English sit next to us.
She told us that every Sunday the whole congregation eats together and then everyone practices for the Christmas program. It is a huge outreach event. They ask non-believers to come to church where they give them a gift at the program. Everyone in Vietnam “celebrates Christmas” by giving gifts. This church was started 18 years ago by her grandparents “who really love Jesus so much”.
A young boy came up to me and said hello. I asked him if he spoke English and he said yes. I asked if he wanted to practice. Yes. I asked the basics and he did quite well.
Then his bold friend came up and proudly said, “What’s my name?” He quickly realized his mistake and everyone got the giggles 😆.
The robust singing style made me think of my Methodist background. As a young child, I would be embarrassed when my mom would sing loud. She said that we are suppose to sing loudly. We are??
And one time I was reading in a book and it said “the loud singing Methodists”. Hmmm. I had heard that John Wesley had given instructions about singing. Please read them below:
John Wesley’s Instructions for Singing 1761
- Learn these Tunes before you learn any others ….
- Sing them exactly as they are printed here without altering or mending them at all …
- Sing ALL. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can …
- Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength …
- Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony …
- Sing in Time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it … and take care not to sing too slow…
- Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself or any other creature.
Every year, the agency Open Doors publishes the World Watch List, a report of the 50 countries that are the harshest persecutors of Christians.
Since the theme of today was persecution, I wanted to the communicate the ten worst countries where Christians endure persecution.
North Korea: If Christians are discovered, not only are they deported to labor camps as political criminals or even killed on the spot, their families will share their fate as well.
Afghanistan: All Afghan Christians are converts from Islam and are not able to live their faith openly. Very often, there is only one possible outcome for exposed and caught Christians: They will be killed.
Somalia: If Somalis are suspected of being converts, family members and clan leaders will harass, intimidate and even kill them.
Libya: Libyan Christians with a Muslim background face extremely violent and intense pressure from their family and the wider community to renounce their faith.
Pakistan: All Christians suffer from institutionalized discrimination … The country’s notorious blasphemy laws target religious minorities (including Muslim minorities), but affect the Christian minority in particular.
Sudan: Christians face constant discrimination and pressure.
Eritrea: Extreme pressure and state-sanctioned violence are forcing some Christians to flee Eritrea – often called ‘Africa’s North Korea’- and seek asylum.
Yemen: The ongoing civil war in Yemen has created one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent memory.
Iran: Converts from Islam to Christianity bear the brunt of Christian persecution, especially by the government.
India: Since the current ruling party took power in 2014, attacks have increased, and Hindu radicals believe they can attack Christians with no consequences. As a result, Christians have been targeted by Hindu nationalist extremists more and more each year.