Mennonites in Ho Chi Minh City District Two lose their church center

News Service
December 27, 2010
 
 
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – Ten days before Christmas, local authorities in District Two of Ho Chi Minh City seized and demolished the home of Pastor and Mrs. Nguyen Hong Quang, leaders of the unregistered Vietnam Mennonite church. Their home also served as a leadership training center and headquarters for the group of Mennonite congregations, which is distinct from the officially registered Hôi Thánh Mennonite Viêt Nam (Vietnam Mennonite Church).
 
Early on December 14, through the law of eminent domain, authorities cordoned off the area and began dismantling the Quangs’ home and a nearby guesthouse for visiting church leaders and students in training. Pastor Quang did not intervene. However, he reportedly was severely beaten when he objected to police taking the Bible school students into custody. Reports said that the students were sent home and told not to return.
 
Authorities gave Quang the keys to a housing unit in a nearby run-down apartment complex for him, his wife and three children.
 
For nearly two decades Ho Chi Minh City has planned to develop a new city complex in Thu Thiem, the heart of District Two. The area is on the southeast side of the Saigon River, a short distance from the city’s commercial center. A 1.4 kilometer (1 mile) six-lane tunnel under the river is to be inaugurated by mid-2011.
 
The Quangs, along with hundreds of other families, are losing their property in the urban redevelopment scheme. The government announced that it would compensate persons who owned property in this area prior to 1992 at a certain rate. People who secured property after that date would be compensated at half that amount. The Quang family was to be compensated at the smaller rate.
 
Local authorities had already dismantled parts of Quang’s house several years ago, claiming that he had violated authorized building codes in renovating their property.
 
Quang did not oppose the current expropriation of their property. However, he had earlier appealed to the city for additional remuneration, claiming that the proposed remuneration was only one-fourth the amount needed to secure a replacement property in the city. He also helped many of his neighbors to file appeals.
 
The city did not budge. In September the authorities launched a public campaign against Pastor Quang in the Saigon Giai Phong newspaper, accusing him of constantly challenging the government. The articles heaped on him the same slanderous accusations they had used in 2003 when he was arrested for interfering in a government investigation.
 
The Giai Phong called him a self-appointed pastor, which was patently not true. Quang was issued a certificate of ordination by Lancaster Mennonite Conference (USA) in July 2004 (25 July 2004 MWC press release).
 
The paper also published statements attributed to persons from the officially registered Hôi Thánh Mennonite Viêt Nam, casting doubts on the legitimacy of the District Two Mennonite group because it does not hold membership in Mennonite World Conference (MWC). Both groups have adopted a similar statement of faith.
 
Asked about this assertion, MWC General Secretary Larry Miller said that MWC membership is not a condition for identification as a Mennonite church. “About one-quarter of Anabaptist-Mennonites throughout the world belong to churches that are not members of Mennonite World Conference,” he said.
 
The December demolition of the Quang properties was not unexpected, since reports had been circulating for days previously. Church leaders indicated that they would regroup and continue on.
 
The unregistered Mennonite body associated with the District Two leadership includes 64 congregations with 3,500 active members, organized in five geographical areas. Most of the congregations are registered with local authorities. Pastor Quang coordinates an extensive training and mentoring program for young leaders. His wife, Pastor Le Thi Phu Dung, is the church president.
 
The registered Hôi Thánh Mennonite Viêt Nam , which had its organizing conference in November 2008, claims around 8,500 members in 90 congregations. There is limited informal association between some leaders of the two groups.
 
- Luke S. Martin
  
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Mennonite World Conference is a communion (Koinonia) of Anabaptist-related churches linked to one another in a worldwide community of faith for fellowship, worship, service, and witness.