ATLANTA (BP) -- The Vietnamese Baptist Union of North America celebrated their largest-ever annual meeting -- 1,500 attendees -- when they gathered for four days in Atlanta.
In their 35th annual meeting, the group adopted a new name, the Vietnamese Baptist Union of North America, from the previous Vietnamese Baptist Fellowship of North America.
The union's president, Chien Thang Uc, said the new name reflects a desire to be more than just a yearly meeting focused on fellowship.
"[We've] just come for the conference, and we haven't worked closely together between the churches other than during the annual meeting," said Uc, who serves as the international minister at First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla.
"Now that we're changing our name, it just means that we want to work closely to plant churches, but not only in America, but we want to plant churches around the world where Vietnamese people are living."
The meeting's theme, "Serve Like Jesus," was drawn from Mark 10:45. Johnny Hunt, the North American Mission Board's senior vice president of evangelism and leadership development, was among the featured speakers during the July 4-7 gathering at the Hilton Atlanta Airport Hotel.
During the meeting's business sessions, the union also voted to update the language in its constitution and elect officers.
Among those who will serve for the coming year: president, Chien Thang Uc; vice president, Chuyen Luu Tran of Redeemer Baptist Church in Plano, Texas; general secretary, Phu Dang Do of Emmanuel Vietnamese Baptist Church in Lake City, Ga.; and general treasurer, Hung Viet Nguyen of Vietnamese Love Baptist Church in Germantown, Md.
Uc said this year's meeting marked the 60th year since the first Southern Baptist missionary went to Vietnam to begin planting churches.
About 40 Southern Baptist missionaries were in Vietnam by the time Americans were evacuated in 1975 at the end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Many of the missionaries who left Vietnam returned to the United States to start churches among Vietnamese refugees. Uc said the first Southern Baptist Vietnamese church in the United States was planted in California later that year.
Cao Bai Tai, the union's outgoing vice president, said the annual meeting is "a time for us to gather together to do missions and to encourage each other in ministry. It's the only venue where we can gather coast to coast with people around the world."
Asked about highlights of his time at the annual meeting, Tai noted several of the speakers he heard and the record attendance.
"We heard pastor Linh Lee [of Vietnamese Baptist Church in Tulsa, Okla.] share about how, as a pastor, God brought him from nothing and now his church is one of the strongest in our Baptist union," Tai said. "This year we also had a festival night with music and heard a good message about how technology could take over our family and church time."
Tai, pastor of the Vietnamese Baptist Church in High Point, N.C., said about 500 English speakers were at the annual meeting, most of them second- and third-generation Vietnamese. He also noted that attendees celebrated the graduations of six students from the Vietnamese Baptist School in Dallas.
"My prayer is that God will continue to use us to share the Gospel, not just with the Vietnamese but other languages as well -- and He will bring our second and third generations along to participate and be a part of our team," Tai said.
Uc said it can be difficult to bridge the gap between older first-generation Vietnamese Christians and younger second- and third-generation Vietnamese Christians.
"Many of the elderly Vietnamese who came over from Vietnam still hold their traditional views, but the second generation and the third generation have grown up in America. They don't know the old culture," Uc said. "We are still struggling to understand how the two can work together in the same building and the same churches."
Today more than 160 churches are affiliated with the Vietnamese Baptist Union throughout North America. Uc said Texas (particularly in the Dallas area), Georgia and North Carolina have the most churches in the union.
The union is looking for ways to partner with Vietnamese Baptist churches worldwide in church planting efforts, Uc said, noting, "There are so many leaders from Europe, from Australia, from Vietnam, too. They want to work with us. I'm writing to many of the churches and telling them what happened at the conference and also what we are going to do in the future, urging them to work together with us. "
Uc said he hopes the union can provide training later in the year to help Vietnamese churches start new churches in North America, Vietnam and other places where Vietnamese people live.
Next year's Vietnamese Baptist Union of North America meeting will be in Washington D.C., July 2-5. Registration will open at the beginning of 2020 at daihoibaptit.org.