BY PR. ISAIAH DUONG
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, waves of Vietnamese refugees arrived in Thailand by boat or on foot. Many were traumatized by what they had suffered under the stern rule of the communist government in Vietnam and the harrowing experiences of their escape. Hundreds of thousands arrived in camps in Thailand and other countries lonely, hopeless, and fearful of the future.
God used Sister Judy Aitken and her husband to bring hope and love to thousands of these refugees. They worked tirelessly in different camps, comforting the refugees, providing for their material needs, and sharing the gospel message. Thousands, even tens of thousands, of Vietnamese refugees were touched by this couple. Time and time again, when I talked to these refugees, they told me, “The Aitkens were so good, so sacrificial, and so supportive to us. They were the hand of God to bring hope to us.”
Fast forward to 1987, when I first came to Southern California after graduating from the seminary. My assignment was to plant a Vietnamese church in Orange County, and this was when I first met Sister Judy. She introduced me to some of the refugees she had helped so I could follow up with them.
Then, in 1991, when we raised funds to buy the church building for the Loma Linda Vietnamese congregation, again Sister Judy was there to help, introducing me to friends with an interest in the project. After two months of intense work, we raised enough money to buy a small church building.
One year later, we started Peace and Happiness Ministry, the first Vietnamese Christian television broadcast in Southern California, which through Galaxy 19 satellite also reached other Vietnamese communities across North America. My wife and I had to refinance our house to fund the broadcast, and we converted our garage and other rooms into a recording studio and space for producing the broadcast. Sister Judy heard about this and flew from Michigan to Southern California to see it. She also brought some of her friends to see the project and asked for their support to continue the broadcast.
Then, in 1995, when the Southeast Union Mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church heard about our television ministry, the president came to California to visit the studio and the Vietnamese congregations in Loma Linda and Orange County. Afterward, the Union asked for permission to use the audio from the broadcast for a daily two-hour radio program on Adventist World Radio (AWR).
Within three weeks, the broadcast generated a large response from listeners in Vietnam. Thousands requested Bible studies and baptism. I spoke at a Vietnamese camp meeting about the Lord’s blessing on this project. “I praise the Lord for the results,” I said, “but this is too much for me to handle, to raise funds to buy Bibles, to write literature, and to produce the programs at the same time. I need help.”
Sister Judy was in the audience that day, and after my presentation, she came to talk to me. “I want to help you, Pastor Isaiah! What can I do?” she offered. “Could you raise funds to buy Bibles?” I asked her. This was the beginning of a partnership with ASAP that continues to this day.
As the radio broadcast grew, the need arose to shepherd the precious souls who were accepting the gospel message. Unfortunately, the communist government in Vietnam employed many tactics to control or limit the spread of the gospel. (Even today, this continues through its requirement that churches register with the government and seek approval for their activities.) Thousands of radio listeners were seeking a church to join, but the Adventist Church had not yet received official recognition from the Vietnamese government, so many of them were considering joining the Catholic Church or other Protestant denominations. We needed to set up a new system to nurture them. After long and intense discussions, the Union gave permission to set up the house church system in Vietnam. This created a need to support the training and work of the local lay leaders, and ASAP stepped forward to provide financial support and encouragement for the house church movement.
We have faced strong opposition and merciless attacks from all directions through the years. Sometimes, I felt so discouraged, lonely, and stressed out that I wanted to give up, but God used Sister Judy and ASAP’s staff to encourage, motivate, and support me to continue the journey. Even in the moments when all other sources of communication and help were cut off, ASAP’s support remained constant.
It would be impossible to list all the ways in which ASAP has blessed the house church network and the evangelistic efforts of Peace and Happiness Ministry on behalf of the Vietnamese. God knows and records everything, though. “And if anyone gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42).
“Therefore, my dear brothers (and sisters), stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Happy twenty-fifth anniversary ASAP! May God continue to bless and use you for His glory until the day Jesus comes again.