In Vietnam, Lottie gifts leave lasting legacy
Don Graham, Baptist Press
January 13, 2011

In Vietnam, Lottie gifts leave lasting legacy

In Vietnam, Lottie gifts leave lasting legacy
Don Graham, Baptist Press
January 13, 2011

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — Tears streamed down Sam James’

face as he stared out the airplane window into the abyss. Somewhere in the

darkness below lay the country he risked his life — and the lives of his wife

Rachel and their four children — to save. But unlike so many American men and

women who came to Vietnam, James wasn’t a soldier.

Sam James, 78, a retired Southern Baptist missionary who served in Vietnam from 1962-75, believes: “We are standing right before a time when Vietnam is going to be open to the gospel in a way that it hasn’t for many, many years.” See video.

He was a missionary.

It was April 1975, and the city would fall to North Vietnamese forces within a week.

He’d spent the past few months bargaining with God for more time, but there was

no more room for negotiations. Two weeks earlier, his family had flown to a

safer place; James would join them there.

Doubt flooded the North Carolina native’s heart as his plane circled Saigon and

turned toward the South China Sea. How could he abandon the Vietnamese people

after living among them for nearly 14 years? What would happen to the newborn

churches he helped start? Or to the hundreds of Vietnamese Christians who

filled them, some of whom he personally led to faith?

These weren’t just converts. To him, they were family. They had laughed

together over dinner while their children played. They had carried each other’s

burdens when the horrors of war came close and the sadness seemed too great to

bear. James had taught them, baptized them, counseled them, officiated

marriages and led funerals through the course of their lives, all in the

process of sharing the most sacred and intimate aspect of his life — his

relationship with Jesus Christ.

But God had a plan to protect, preserve and grow the seeds that James and his

fellow missionaries had planted during their years of sweat and sacrifice.

Through their efforts, more than a dozen Vietnamese churches were started and

hundreds of people led to Jesus.

Enduring icons of a romanticized Vietnam, women work rice paddies near Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). Less than 2 percent of the Southeast Asian country’s 91 million people are evangelical Christians, but the gospel is spreading through a growing network of Vietnamese Baptist churches.

Only one of those churches — Grace Baptist in Saigon (today, Ho Chi Minh City) —

would survive what James calls the “dark years” that followed Vietnam’s

communist revolution. But God would eventually use that one church to give

birth to a growing, vibrant network of Baptist churches that today are making

Christ’s name known in Vietnam.

All of this was possible, James said, because Southern Baptists were willing to

answer God’s Great Commission call (Matthew 28:19-20). Their prayers and

generous giving through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative

Program supported more than 24 missionaries who served in Vietnam between 1959

and 1975 — including Sam and Rachel James.

“We always knew that there were literally millions of Southern Baptists who

cared and who prayed, who sacrificed and who gave so that we could go and carry

the gospel to a very lost people,” James said. “I can remember in those last

hours in Vietnam when things were so desperate … it came to me over and over

again how many people in America know what we’re going through here, are

interested and really care… It meant everything in the world.”

Southern Baptists also gave $25,000 to help feed more than a million refugees

who flooded into Saigon. James and other missionaries used the funds to set up

kitchens and buy rice. In 1962, Lottie Moon funds also provided the $50,000

needed to buy the land and building for Grace Baptist — where the church

remains today.

“When the end came and South Vietnam collapsed, this church was here,” James

said. “And it became the identity of Baptists in Vietnam…. When people in

America gave sacrificially … 48 years later, this church building stands as

the home of the (Vietnamese Baptist) convention, as a training center for the (Vietnamese)

Baptist Bible Institute, as the home of Grace Baptist Church and as a source of

church planting in this country.

“With the Cooperative Program on one side and the Lottie Moon Christmas

Offering on the other, you have two sides of a coin,” James said. “When they go

together there is just no limit to what the Lord can do around this world…. I

just pray that every Southern Baptist and every Southern Baptist church can get

a divine vision of what they can do in this world, personally and by

cooperating with others, to see that the world comes to Christ.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board. The

Lottie Moon Christmas Offering supplements Cooperative Program giving to

support more than 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries as they share the gospel

overseas. To find resources about the offering, go to imb.org/offering. View related video below.)

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