The following article originally appeared in the summer edition of our print newsletter called Side by Side. To download a PDF version of the newsletter, click here.
Dr. Russ Lloyd’s heart is for our Brothers and Sisters in Christ in Vietnam. In March, Russ completed his thirty-third pastoral training mission to this southeast Asia country. His ministry there began in 1998 when he was invited to lead a one-time training retreat for pastors and church leaders. Since then, he’s been going every six months except for a two-year period when the communist authorities did not permit his entry to the country. In 2005, IBL established a full-time in-country presence under the leadership of Pastor Doan Nhat Tan, the current Director of IBL-Vietnam. To date, Pastor Tan has graduated 250 students through the three-year training program that he and Dr. Lloyd developed.
Russ’ March trip marks the conclusion of his labors in Vietnam, but this milestone also marks the beginning of a new season of ministry in Vietnam overseen by IBL’s President, David Phelan, and IBL Board Member, Pastor Matt Moser.
Q: Why does Vietnam hold a special place in your heart?
My assignment during the Vietnam War was as an advisor to the Vietnamese Air Force. As such, unlike most American soldiers I lived and worked with the Vietnamese on a daily, 24/7 basis. I found the Vietnamese people to be a gracious people and I fell in love with them and their culture.
Q: What factors led you to say "yes" to that initial request in 1998 to conduct pastoral training?
I became exceptionally close to one of the Vietnamese officers I advised during the war, a Lieutenant An. We became like brothers, and he & his wife took care of the infant girl Doris & I were adopting and nursed her from death’s door to health (see in the upper left photo on page 6, Russ’s daughter, Jen, with Russ during the March trip). I shared the Gospel with An several times but he never trusted Christ as his Savior. In 1995 when I learned An was still alive I asked God to allow me to return to Vietnam to share the Gospel with him one last time. God answered that prayer three years later (1998) and I returned to Vietnam and was able to meet with An & his wife: praise God they both trusted Christ for their eternal salvation!
Q: You have spent a lot of time in Vietnam over a long period of time, starting in the war days of 1971, then again starting in 1998 and continuing until this past month. What major changes have you seen during that time?
South Vietnam fell to Communist rule in 1975 and experienced 15 dark years of a closed country. In 1990, the Communists began to open Vietnam to the world in their search for economic development. When I first returned to Vietnam in 1998 nothing much had changed in the twenty-seven years since I had left, but following that, rapid economic development began and significant improvements in infrastructure brought increased comfort to the Vietnamese people. Anti-Christian persecution was very strong forcing the evangelical Christian church underground. Only in recent years have we seen some slow improvements regarding persecution.
Q: What are the main challenges faced by your students as they serve Christ in Vietnam?
The chief challenge for the underground church remains persecution from the Communist government. Improvements have been made, but religious freedom remains elusive. Also, a very low standard of living (and the attendant poverty) results in scarce resources for local churches and pastors
Q: What led you to establish IBL-Vietnam in 2005?
We had originally committed to return to Vietnam twice per year for 10 years to deliver pastoral training seminars, and to “train the trainer” so that select pastoral leaders could be equipped to carry on the ministry going forward. After about 5 years we began to see that the need for pastoral training in sound doctrine was so enormous, and well beyond the capacity for the few pastors we had trained. Accordingly, the Lord led us to establish IBL-Vietnam as a permanent ministry, led by a national pastor on our team (Pastor Tan) who oversees our training program and provides the other aspects of IBL’s ministry--coaching, consulting, and counseling--to leaders in Vietnam.
Q: What has been the major impact of IBL's ministry in Vietnam?
I am repeatedly told by our students that IBL remains one of very few ministries that have persisted over the years, continuing to provide sound doctrinal teaching year after year. By God’s grace, our faithfulness to God’s calling has transformed the lives of hundreds of leaders and thousands of believers all across that nation. We are deeply grateful for the open door God has preserved for us in Vietnam.
Q: What have you personally learned through your service and time in Vietnam?
The fires of persecution and adversity breed a depth of faith that we in the West have not been blessed with. When I returned from my first ministry in Vietnam in 1998 I told my wife we needed to pray for persecution. The Vietnamese believers have a contagious zeal and love for their Lord and Savior. They are not complacent and do not take their salvation for granted. Rather, they vibrantly live out their faith on a daily basis.
Q: Have you discovered any leadership lessons unique to Vietnamese culture?
The effect of culture is profoundly powerful! When we minister in cultures different from our own, as leaders we must be ever-careful to understand and respect the nuances of the culture in which we minister. We must never compromise biblical Truth, but we must be sensitive to how that Truth is presented.
Q: Now that your journeys to Vietnam have come to a close, what will you miss the most?
The sweet and gracious people of Vietnam, the many friendships with which I have been blessed, and particularly my deep, special friendship with Pastor Tan.
Q: What challenges remain to be addressed in the years to come?
In-country leadership of the ministry of IBL-Vietnam is presently provided by Pastor Tan. Within the next 5-10 years a successor will be needed. We have identified a man (Pastor Dang) to be that successor and Pastor Tan is presently training him. Of particular importance is for Dang to strengthen his facility with English. A second challenge is for IBL-Vietnam to secure its own training facility. We currently are blessed with the use of a private home with a comfortable provision for training. That facility will one day no longer be available.