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Published: April 4th 2008
Gordon and Laura Smith
Missionaries to French Indochina/South Vietnam 1929-1973
Churches of Danang Part II
The Missionary Success of Gordon and Laura Smith
Vietnam is known for naming streets and sculpting statues of its heroes. Only two foreigners have been awarded that distinction. They are Louis Jean Pasteur and Dr. Alexandre Yersin who worked under Pasteur in Paris. I don’t think Pasteur ever made it to Vietnam but Yersin worked here most of his adult life. He founded the Pasteur Institute in Vietnam and introduced rubber and quinine-producing trees to Vietnam. In 1894 while in Hong Kong he discovered the rat-borne microbe that causes bubonic plague.
Of course no one ask me but I could nominate two or more foreigners to be honored, Since this is my blog, here are my picks:
Father Alexandre de Rhodes, the Jesuit Priest who is credited for developing Quoc Ngu, the Romanized writing of the Vietnamese Language used today. More on Rhodes in a later blog.
The next two would be Rev. Gordon and Laura Smith. Two missionaries who served in the Vietnam area from 1929 to 1973 who brought the story of the “Prince of Peace” to the hill tribes of Cambodia and Vietnam.
I got interested in
Stanley and Ginny Smith
Lived in Vietnam from 1959-1975.
Missionaries to Vietnam and Africa
Gordon and Laura Smith from researching Vietnam’s history. Gordon and Laura both wrote books on their experience here and unless you are fluent in French or Vietnamese they are the some of the few English works available for this time period.
Fortunately, through the Billy Graham Evangelist Association I was able to rent some of Gordon Smith’s early films. They also gave me a couple of phone numbers which enabled me to connect with some of Gordon and Laura’s colleagues in the mission field and eventually it got me in contact with Rev. Stanley Smith, one of Gordon and Laura’s sons who also served in Vietnam. Most of these people live now in retirement communities and have quite a story to tell. One woman was born on the North Vietnam/Chinese border. Another woman was shot about thirteen times by the Viet Cong and left for dead. She was rescued by U.S. Marines. Quite a few missionaries lost their lives during the war period.
The Smith’s had so many challenges to overcome. The French did not trust them. One French official slapped Gordon on the face. The hill tribes didn’t want any outsider in their territory. The lowland Vietnamese
didn’t like the hill tribes. The Viet Cong didn’t like them. Only the Americans were supportive when they were here. When they left and the North Vietnamese took over this was reason enough to cause more retribution.
They persevered and won converts. In doing so they helped the poorest of poor people on this earth. Gordon and Laura Smith are heroes who have no blood on their hands. The hill tribes were the poor of Vietnam. They were animist, people who believed there were a spirits in about everything. To them, these spirits demanded a blood sacrifice. So they were constantly killing animals to get blood to appease the spirits.
They were dirty, flea ridden people infected with all kinds of diseases. Gordon and Laura not only ministered to their spiritual needs but administered medicines and got them to adopt a cleaner way of life.
They also administered to people that even the hill tribes rejected. When the hill people got leprosy they were banned to a hut in the jungle to die. Gordon and Laura gathered these people and gave them medicine and food and ministered to their needs. The Smith’s went to India to get
Gordon and Laura
Just married. They were Canadians. Spent 1927-29 in France learning French and went to Cambodia in 1929.
trained on how to treat leprosy. They started two leprosariums, one in Banmethuot and one near Danang. Today, one still survives, Hoa Van Village near Danang which I visited. I am told that there are no new cases of leprosy in Vietnam. The people of Hoa Van were old people whose disease seemed to be under control.
Another practice of some hill tribes was sawing off their upper front six teeth. This was crudely done with a common saw. This was a practice discontinued when the people accepted a new way of life.
The Smith’s built orphanages, schools and Churches.
I was able to attend one of their Churches in Danang. The Church had just been officially recognized by the government in the fall of 2007. It had survived “underground” since 1975.
Gordon and Laura left Vietnam in 1973 because of health problems. Stanley Smith, his wife Ginny and four children left in 1975 on the last plane leaving Danang when the North Vietnamese were taking over the city. This was the famous flight where we at home on TV saw Vietnamese chasing the plane down the runway.
In the fall of 2007 Rev. Stanley
Smith made this report to a Church in Ohio that supported their mission while they were in Vietnam.
I am attaching that report in its entirety:
Stan Smith’s report to the Chapel in Akron, Ohio
October 23, 2007
Greetings! Ginny and I want to first express our sincere gratitude for all that the Chapel has done for Vietnam. Your involvement started when my parents, Rev. Gordon & Laura Smith, became members of the Chapel while founder, Rev. Carl Burnham was pastor. For over 30 years, the Chapel’s support for us and the ministries in both Vietnam and Senegal have been very generous. We thank you so much!
My parents went to Vietnam in early 1934 with the C&MA after serving four years with them in Cambodia. They had a church planting ministry in Banmethuot and the Central highlands until 1956 when they moved to Danang on the coast to start a new ministry. They and several Vietnamese pastors started Vietnam Christian Mission (Hoi Truyen Giao Co-Doc Vietnam) with the primary goal of evangelizing the still unreached tribal groups of Vietnam. Ginny and I, along with other missionaries, joined them in 1960.
In 1975, the victorious Communists overwhelmed South
Vietnam and all the missionaries had to leave.
At that time the Vietnam Christian Mission had
-30 pastors and evangelists (3 pastors and their families were able to escape to the U.S. and one of
these was the Dang family whom my father asked the Chapel to sponsor)
-about 30 churches
-6 orphanages caring for 800 children in the cities of Kontum, Tuy Hoa, Quang Ngai, Tam Ky, and
two in Danang (China Beach orphanage and the Crescent Beach Orphanage)
-the Happy Haven Leprosarium located across the bay of Danang and the very important
Skin Clinic located on the Danang compound, which existed especially to look for and
successfully treat people from all walks of life who had leprosy (the least contagious of the
communicable diseases, yet with so much stigma attached to it).
-Danang Bible School/Church Planter training center and several elementary schools and high
schools connected to some of the churches, orphanages and the Leprosarium
-When the Communists took over they
• closed any churches where the pastor or evangelist had fled permanently or temporarily
• disbanded all the orphanages and sent the children back to their villages of origin,
even if they had no immediate family there
• took over the Happy Haven Leprosarium - and placed government medical personnel in charge
• closed the Danang skin clinic and used it to house government personnel
• closed all of the Christian schools
• forced the closing of the Bible School and forbid Bible training, evangelism and church planting
But despite their efforts, the work of the Gospel continued --much of it underground - among the ethnic Vietnamese Kinh as well as among the tribal minority groups. There are countless stories of courage and sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel. Some lost their lives, others were imprisoned and beaten. Many spent hours at police headquarters being interrogated and forced to answer questions in writing about others and their activities.
Often stiff fines were imposed on the pastor and the church when they were caught meeting for worship. The favorite time for a police raid was when the Christians were celebrating Christmas together. The degree of persecution often depended on the whim of the local Province or District Chief.
Praise the Lord! Today, despite the government’s efforts to destroy the church, the Vietnam Christian Mission is now made up of
25,000-30,000 believers meeting in more then 200 places of worship. There are 200 Pastors, Evangelists and an additional number of church planters in training.
In the last few years, there have been some big improvements in the government’s attitude towards religious groups. One reason for this is economic. Vietnam wanted “favored nation” status with the US and other countries, and in order to do this they had to show the world that they had made major progress in their human rights record - especially in the area of religious freedom.
As part of this, the communist government has offered to give religious groups official recognition after requiring them go through a long process. The largest and oldest evangelical church, founded by the C&MA many years ago, received their recognition in 2001. Vietnam Christian Mission, affiliated with United World Mission since 1968, has been working very hard on their paperwork for over a year, and just a month ago was allowed to hold its first general assembly since prior to 1975, the final step in the process of receiving full national recognition. (Tu Cach Phap Nhan). The Baptists and Mennonites are also receiving government authorization to “practice their religions”.
mixed opinions on whether these new religious freedoms will continue. Someone who has watched the Vietnam situation for years believes “that the progress in religious freedom is almost irreversible.” Another Protestant scholar, a veteran of years under communism himself, feels “such optimism ignores the historic deceitful nature of communism and cautions vigilance.”
Our trip to Vietnam & short summary of the Sept. 17 & 18, 2007 Conference
“Ginny and I along with Dr. Minh Dang and his brother Dr. Son Dang, returned from Vietnam on the 23rd of September where we had a marvelous time. The main reason for the trip was to be present for this first General Assembly of the Vietnam Christian Mission since before 1975. Close to 1000 people were in attendance including 100 or so government officials. Our daughter Kathy and husband Rodney Duttweiler serve with United World Mission in Senegal, West Africa also traveled with us for this very significant event. Rodney, as Area Director for West and Central Africa, was UWM’s official representative at the conference.
The General Assembly (The Dai Hoi Dong) was held in the City of Danang in a large hall located just a few hundred yards from the beautiful South
China Sea Beach. The hall is normally used for large musical events and parties so there was a large stage. Hundreds of chairs were set up downstairs and also in the balcony. The opening session included the large group of Communist representatives and across the entire front and below the stage were dozens of flower wreaths sent by many government committees (including the security police) congratulating the occasion.
The conference theme verse was I Thessalonians 5:18 - “Give thanks in all circumstances.” The speakers emphasized praising and worshipping God for all He has done and continues to do. Rev. Nguyen Toi, President of the VCM national church, talked about taking up the cross of Jesus and following Him. There were four large choirs that sang, -two of them from the ethnic minorities -Jeh and Jorai. They were all tremendous!
In his address to the opening session of the General Assembly, Dr Xuan, the deputy head of the Communist Government’s Committee for Religious Affairs, acknowledged Vietnam Christian Mission’s contributions and I quote, “to pursuing the goal and living according to the Gospel and serving God, the Fatherland and the Nation". He also said, “The General Assembly gives Christians a chance of
promoting the spirit of unity, obeying the law, fulfilling their citizenship obligations and making further contributions to national construction and defense.”
At first the communist authorities were not going to allow Dr. Minh Dang or me to address the gathering. But after the deputy head of the Government’s Committee for Religious Affairs asked the President of the VCM national church who the foreigners were in the audience, he relented when it was explained to him that we both were sons of the former leaders of the mission. We were able to speak during the afternoon session!
During the two-day General Assembly, the church delegates approved the Vietnam Christian Mission charter, and elected its 11-member executive board. The next step for the VCM leadership was to finalize the procedures required by the government for submission to The Prime Minister in Hanoi for his signature and national legal recognition.
Trip to Dak Glei
After the conference, there was another highlight for us. We made a one day, 250 mile round trip on excellent roads, from Danang on the coast to the mountainous Dak Glei area near the Laotian border. This is where 11,000 believers from the Jeh minority group live and meet
for worship in several dozen locations.
We were so blessed to be able to visit 7 of their chapels and meet with Pastor A-Ut and other church leaders plus some of the believers. The last time I was in this area was in 1972, just before it was overrun by Russian equipped North Vietnamese forces.
Legal Recognition is granted
Praise the Lord, on October 17 we received word from the President of the VCM national church stating that the Vietnamese government’s religious committee had informed the VCM (HTGCDVN) leadership that legal recognition has been granted and that the recognition ceremony should take place in Danang before the end of October! Preparations are now underway to have the ceremony on the 31st of October at a hotel in Danang. About 500 people will be there, including government dignitaries.
Please pray that this momentous occasion will bring much glory God and that this recognition will lead to the growth of His church. Jesus said that the He would build His church and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)
I would now like to show you a short clip from the documentary film,“Vietnam Mission” that my nephew,
CBS producer Douglas W. Smith, made about his grandparent’s ministry in Vietnam. It is a compilation of footage taken over the years by my father and others, along with scenes that Doug took when he accompanied us to Vietnam in 1990 - our first trip back since having to leave under duress in April, 1975. It was a very emotional visit.
After the video clip, Dr. Minh Dang will speak”. Stanley Smith
While I was in Danang I had the pleasure of meeting some of the ministers of the Church that Gordon Smith built (not the physical structure because it was gone but the Church). I consider it my Church in Danang.
I met people who knew the Smiths. Stanley Smith talks in his report about being able to address the meeting. People I talked to said he did it in perfect Vietnamese. He and his parents must have been geniuses in languages. Gordon Smith put several hill tribes’ languages in writing. The Smiths not only learned Vietnamese but several hill tribes’ languages. My teacher here in Hanoi is a linguist researcher at Hanoi University and he would like very much to see Gordon Smiths work with these languages.
Gordon and Laura's Travel Trailer
Gordon built and had the first travel trailer in Vietnam. He did this because he could not stand to stay in the natives huts because of fleas etc. They dispensed medicine out of this trailer.
One of the women in the Choir, is a former orphan and one of the Smith’s orphanage who is now a Doctor at Danang’s medical clinic.
I met the main pastor of the Church Muc Su (Rev.) Nguyen Toi. He is a wonderful dedicated Church leader who has grown the Church through all these difficult times.
I also met Ngo Cong Thanh. One of the Church members who had a great story to tell about how he became a Christian. He was a boat person who made it to Hong Kong. There, in a refugee camp he would stand outside Church meetings led by a Singapore and Filipino Christians and listen to learn English. Through learning English he became aware of Christianity. He eventually decided to go back to Vietnam and make his life there. The police tried to talk him into becoming a Catholic or going back to being a Buddhist but he stayed his ground and is a leader of the Protestant Church of Danang today.
This is some of the legacy of the Missionary work of Gordon and Laura Smith and Stanley and Ginny Smith. Gordon Smith died in 1977 of stomach cancer and
Laura telling the story of Jesus
Used a flannel cloth with cut outs that would stick to the flannel.
Laura in 1977 from a stroke.
There work lives on.
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