This year, Bible Society Vietnam have reached a milestone to be celebrated. Their long-running literacy program is being handed over to the local churches to run into the future. In the seven years since Bible Society Vietnam began the literacy program, they have not only seen an increase in literacy among believers (and a corresponding increase in Bible engagement), they have also seen the church enabled to Open The Bible with their neighbours. Before the program began, the need for literacy amongst Christians in Vietnam was felt deeply by leaders in the church, like Thanh*. When Thanh became the pastor of Lung Cu church in 2008, he noticed that when church members were able to read the Vietnamese Bible, their understanding increased. He decided to try to teach them to read Vietnamese. Yet the language is difficult, and many people gave up.
At the same time, Bible Society Vietnam was becoming increasingly aware of the need for literacy among Christians, especially in ethnic minority churches, who did not have the Bible in their heart languages. “They were not only lacking Bibles, but all other Christian materials are in Vietnamese,” says Lien from Bible Society Vietnam. “Believers also lacked confidence because they did not know Vietnamese.” So in 2015, Bible Society began their literacy project. Thanh heard about it and attended a training workshop. He began holding the literacy classes at his church, and the people were so excited to learn. “Before, I taught them myself. But now, with this audio classroom method they can learn even more effectively. My hope is that the literacy program will help the church members to read and meditate on the word every day, not only on Sunday.”
Over time, churches gradually played a larger role in Bible Society’s literacy program, as they promoted and implemented it. Pastors introduced the program to large numbers of believers inside and outside the churches, even encouraging people to invite friends or non-believers to study together. Churches also sent people to participate in making supplementary reading portions and to editing literacy textbooks with Bible Society Vietnam.
In this way, Bible Society Vietnam began to equip the churches to teach literacy to people in their communities. After seven years – with more than 1,000 classes opened and more than 10,000 students participating – the Bible Society Vietnam found that the program had covered most of the provinces in the North of Vietnam and received great attention from the Evangelical Church Vietnam North as well as the ethnic Christian communities.
Lien says, “We believe it is the right time to hand over the program to the community and let the church deploy it on a larger scale.”
In 2022, Bible Society Vietnam is transferring the literacy program to the Evangelical Church Vietnam North – Christian Education Committee and to Evangelical Church Vietnam South, Tan Chau church. They are providing training for key people who in turn will train the class instructors and implement the classes where needed. In the Pacific region, there is an equally urgent need among churches, for literacy, trauma healing, Bible translation and Bible distribution. Bible Society South Pacific and Bible Society Papua New Guinea are primed and ready to enable their local churches; yet the opportunities outweigh their resources.
The Oceania Alliance has been formed between Bible Society Australia, Bible Society South Pacific (BSSP) and Bible Society Papua New Guinea (BSPNG) for just such a time as this. Together, opportunities for Bible work as well as resources, skills and experience will be shared to increase the reach and impact of Bible work throughout the region.
In the South Pacific – which incorporates 16 island nations – Bible Society is already at work enabling the church, though the challenges of distance, time and expense of travel are significant. BSSP is conducting mission trips, during which Bibles are distributed, and churches are enabled with trauma healing training to implement in their communities. Bible Society South Pacific is undertaking capacity building, working with Bible Society Australia to (among other things) increase their IT infrastructure and security, vital for efficient and effective Bible work into the future. BSSP is also restructuring and relocating their Bible translation headquarters. The move to a centralised location in Vanuatu will mean that Bible translation work is more streamlined and connected, and they will be able to accelerate the completion of current projects.
Much of the work of BSPNG over the last few years has been focused on restructuring their organisation, in order to have a stable presence and provide sustainable Bible ministry into the future. To this end, working with Bible Society Australia, they are building their capacity as an organisation, focusing on building a strong staff team as well as establishing a renewable source of income by renovating their properties. Joel, BSPNG’s General Secretary, says that the Oceania Alliance “Will be a great encouragement, to see each national Bible Society in the Pacific helping each other in training and capacity building and in logistics.” Joel goes on to say with great excitement, “In the not-too-distant future, we should be able to see the full resurrection of Bible Society Papua New Guinea. We are looking to reactivate the Bible based literacy program, recording of audio Bibles, Scripture engagement, distribution.”
In the years ahead, the Oceania Alliance expects to see programs in the South Pacific and Papua New Guinea yield the same encouraging results as the literacy program in Vietnam, as Bible Societies work together to encourage, enable and empower the local church to Open The Bible with their neighbours.
*names have been changed to protect privacy
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Growing our engagement and literacy resources, and increasing Bible translation and distribution, we can reach people in some of the hardest to reach places on earth. But we can’t do it without you!