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Cablegate: Mennonites Hold First General Assembly in Hcmc

VZCZCXRO8791
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #1035/01 3300638
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 250638Z NOV 08
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5173
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 3454
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 5402

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 001035

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL/AWH AND DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV KIRF PHUM VM
SUBJECT: MENNONITES HOLD FIRST GENERAL ASSEMBLY IN HCMC

REF: A) HCMC 967 B) HCMC 917 AND PREVIOUS C)HCMC 651

HO CHI MIN 00001035 001.2 OF 002


1. Summary (SBU) On November 15, the Vietnam Mennonite Church
(VMC) became the latest Protestant denomination to celebrate
their first General Assembly since achieving national-level
registration in September 2007. Mennonite leaders from around
the world, including the United States, attended the official
opening ceremonies together with an array of GVN officials from
HCMC, Hanoi and the provinces. In the historical overview
provided to attendees, the VMC made note of difficulties
overcome after 1975, as well as divisions formed between
Mennonite sects in 2004 over the issue of whether to proceed
with national registration. The Mennonites are the third
congregation to hold a General Assembly in the last two months,
marking continued progress on the registration and recognition
of Protestants in Vietnam (ref A and B). End summary.

2. (U) In a ceremony filled with lively musical performances and
shared goodwill among GVN officials, Mennonite leaders and
pastors from several other Protestant faiths, the Vietnam
Mennonite Church (VMC) kicked off their first General Assembly
in HCMC on November 15. The group of over 200 participants
included pastors, evangelists and followers from 24 different
provinces. After several rousing hymnals and dance performances
by youth groups, VMC President, Reverend Nguyen Quang Trung,
thanked GVN officials for their support in helping the VMC
achieve national-level registration. Large floral wreaths from
the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), several Protestant
congregations and Committee for Religious Affairs (CRA) offices
in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and the provinces attested to the
widespread official support the VMC has achieved. GVN guests
included Deputy Director Nguyen Thanh Xuan from the National
CRA, HCMC CRA Director Huynh Ngoc Thanh and an array of
officials from city, district and provincial offices. Mennonite
representatives from Zimbabwe, Cuba, Japan, Indonesia,
Switzerland, Canada and the U.S. were also present.

3. (SBU) CRA Deputy Director Xuan congratulated the VMC, noting
that the "new era of reform" in Vietnam has created a more
supportive environment for religious groups in Vietnam, and that
the Prime Minister has recognized the need for spiritual support
and guidance that Protestant groups have brought to their
followers. He praised the strong Protestant values that have
contributing to the positive growth of Vietnamese society,
including charity, diligence and humanitarianism. Xuan
concluded his speech by quoting from Corinthians 1:13, which
emphasizes love as the most important expression of faith and
service. U.S. Mennonite leaders, several of whom had been
missionaries in Vietnam during the war, welcomed their
Vietnamese brethren back to the international community of
Mennonites and looked forward to greater cooperation and
exchanges with the VMC as the organization carried out its
global mission.

51 Years In Vietnam
-------------------
4. (SBU) Church leaders were quick to point out that the General
Assembly was actually the second held in Vietnam since the VMC
was founded 51 years ago, albeit the first since the group
achieved national registration. The Eastern Mennonite Mission
first came to Vietnam and established the Vietnam Mennonite
Church (VMC) in 1957. From 1957 to 1975, VMC acquired in
properties in HCMC and Can Tho for offices, churches, training
centers and schools. After 1975, many VMC pastors left Vietnam
and in 1978, the GVN took over all the church's properties. All
religious activities went underground. In 1983, Reverend Trung
and his fellow pastors began rebuilding the church's membership
and re-establishing meeting points. With the help of the
Eastern Mennonite Mission, the VMC opened bible and theological
training classes in HCMC and Quang Ngai from 1999 to 2004. They
also began carrying out charity work again, including carrying
out flood relief in the Mekong Delta and funding corrective eye
operations in Quang Ngai.

VMC Division Over Decision to Register
--------------------------------------
5. (SBU) The Mennonites went through an internal schism in 2004
when three congregations broke from the VMC over the issue of
whether to pursue official registration and recognition under
the GVN's legal framework on religion. The congregations, one
of which was led by Reverend Nguyen Hong Quang, the VMC's Vice
President and General Secretary, were opposed to proceeding with
registration because the organization had already received legal
status in 1964. At that time, Reverend Quang's congregation
also wanted to wait until he had been released from prison (he
was arrested for disturbing the peace and resisting arrest in
2004). Reverend Quang, a long-time political activist,
colleague of Dr. Nguyen Dan Que and signatory to the Bloc 8406
manifesto, continues to lead his own separate Mennonite
congregation in HCMC. Reverend Nguyen Cong Chinh of the Central

HO CHI MIN 00001035 002.2 OF 002


Highlands province Gia Lai was also formerly affiliated with
Quang's Mennonite sect, but has since formed his own umbrella
Protestant group, the Vietnamese People's Evangelical Fellowship
(VPEF), which claims to represent over 60 different Protestant
congregations and all 54 ethnic minority groups (ref C). The
rest of the congregations, led by VMC President Trung, proceeded
to register under the legal framework on religion.

6. (SBU) As of Sep 1, 2008, the VMC now have 90 congregations
(with 26 registered, 30 processing registrations and 34 pending
registrations), four chapels, 138 clergy and 6,123 followers.
3,923 followers are ethnic minorities, including members of the
Bahnar, Stieng, Kor, H're, and Jarai minority groups. Binh
Phuoc province has the largest number of congregations (22) and
followers (1,340). The VMC opened a theological training center
and launched the first theological courses in early 2006,
providing training for new and current pastors and evangelists.

7. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.
FAIRFAX

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