Vietnamese pastor spreads God’s Word around the world

17 March 2008

By Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service

The Rev Bau Dang would rather not talk about himself. He shies away from the spotlight.

He just made history by becoming the first Vietnamese American elected as a delegate to the 2008 United Methodist General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body that meets every four years.

He finds it hard to believe that he was elected as a delegate to the 2008 General Conference, which will meet in Fort Worth, Texas, from April 23 to May 2.

And one more thing: He has just finished translating the New Testament into Vietnamese and published 10,000 copies at his own expense.

Vietnam’s communist government has issued a permit to the National Religious Publisher of Vietnam to print the translation, and now Christians in his home country are begging him to send them 100,000 more.

“To me, this is a miracle,” he said. “Praise be to God!”

His translation is spreading the Word of God throughout the country, which he is no longer able to enter.

Because of his stand for human rights, he has been placed on a list of people not allowed to enter Vietnam.

Midlife change Born in Vietnam, the son of a pastor, he served in the South Vietnamese armed forces and moved to the United States as a refugee after the war.

His friends thought he was going through a midlife crisis when he gave up a lucrative job as a manager for Xerox to become a United Methodist associate pastor.

Some of his Vietnamese pastor friends thought he had chosen the wrong denomination because no United Methodist church existed in Vietnam before 1975. “Some even thought that Methodism was a heresy!” he said.

He and his wife, Binh, both left jobs with Xerox in 1988. Since then, the Xerox operation they worked at has Vietnamese pastor spreads God’s Word around the world closed, but the church where he started as associate pastor – Wesley United Methodist Church in San Diego – has grown into a thriving ministry with four different languages spoken at six worship services to more than 400 people on Sunday mornings.

As Senior Pastor now, he plans services in English, Cambodian, Spanish and Vietnamese, “in whatever style fits each group”, he said.

Translating Old Testament He worked on his translation of the New Testament for 10 years. His knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, English and Vietnamese helped him with the task.

He also received training from the United Bible Society.

“I preach from the Bible every Sunday, and the version that we had was translated by missionaries in 1926 in Vietnam,” he said. When they came to the country, they were learning the language and hired a non- Christian to help with the translation.
“We had to live with that Bible for years and years,” he said. He felt uncomfortable with some text in the Bible and did not believe they were clear to the reader.

One example he cited is the passage in John 2, in which Jesus talks to his mother about turning water into wine.

“The way that passage is translated is very offensive to the Vietnamese culture,” he said. The translation made Jesus sound like he was speaking harshly to his mother. “Non-Christians say, ‘How can I believe in a God who responded to his mother so impolitely?’ and it turned them right away.”

Kathy L. Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tennessee.



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