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Jannie Bekker, in striped tie, who played a key role in the opening of the Forward Venture community center, speaking with Samuel Saw, president of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division, at an inauguration ceremony in Hanoi, Vietnam, on May 22, 2018. Women wearing traditional Vietnamese costumes are holding a red ribbon to be cut by church leaders. (All photos: Andrew McChesney / Adventist Mission)

​First ‘Urban Center of Influence’ Opens in Vietnam

The community center in Hanoi is called a miracle of God.

By Andrew McChesney, adventistmission.org

Jannie Bekker, a genteel South African with wavy blond hair, was deployed to Vietnam’s capital with $2 million and the momentous task of establishing the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s first “urban center of influence” in the southeast Asian country.

Bekker, however, struggled to find a suitable property in Hanoi. The asking price for a vacant lot topped $2 million and often approached $3 million to $4 million.

Bekker prayed as he made trip after trip to Hanoi from the Singapore-based headquarters of the Adventist Church’s Southeast Asia Union Mission, where he works as special assistant to the president.

Then suddenly someone offered a prime plot of land with a new seven-story building for only $1.8 million — and the rest is history.

Bekker beamed with joy on May 22 as Adventist Church president Ted N.C. Wilson and other leaders inaugurated the seven-story building, which will house a bookstore, a health food store, a foreign-language school, a music school, a health center, ADRA’s Vietnam headquarters, and meeting halls for two congregations.

“God came through in a more miraculous way than I ever, ever anticipated,” Bekker said. “He gave us more than what we prayed for.”

Wilson, speaking at the opening ceremony, acknowledged the hard work of Bekker as well as construction adviser Peter Koolik and others in raising up the community center, which is called Forward Venture.

“God works miracles through people, so we are not giving glory to people. We are really giving glory to God, who uses His servants to do great things,” Wilson said. “What a blessing to be used by God to be able to touch the lives of people in big cities.”

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A street view of the facade of the seventh-story Forward Venture community center in Hanoi, Vietnam.

A Seed Is Planted

The origins of the project go back to 2014 when Wilson visited Hanoi in the north after leading a milestone evangelistic series in Ho Chi Minh City in the south. Wilson was the first non-indigenous person permitted to speak at an Adventist evangelism event in Vietnam since 1975, a major step for the church since the government granted permission for the denomination to resume operating here in 2008, ANN reported at the time.

Following the visit, Wilson appealed for a community center to serve the people of Hanoi, and Bekker was assigned to the project. Wilson pledged to help raise the needed funds, with the understanding that he would match the amount contributed by the church’s Southern Asia-Pacific Division and Southeast Asia Union Mission. In the end, the Adventist world church gave $1 million, while the division and union each gave $500,000.

But Bekker couldn’t find a plot of land. The properties that he inspected cost too much or were badly located. A potential deal fell through.

“I’ve lost count of how many trips I’ve made to Vietnam,” said Bekker, who sometimes traveled with union and division leaders. “It was 15 or 20 maybe.”

Then a friend of a friend introduced Bekker to a developer who owned a lot and was constructing a seven-story building on it. The developer wanted only $1.8 million for everything. The moment that Bekker saw the property, he knew it was perfect.

Bureaucracy and other snags delayed the purchase from being finalized. Another buyer caught wind of the property and offered a larger amount of money. Bekker kept praying, and the developer ultimately rejected the new offer, saying the Adventist plan sought to benefit the community and not enrich the owners. 

Those involved in the project can’t explain the purchase.

“It really was a miracle,” said Koolik, an Australian national, who has advised the church on properties around the world. “Here, there are no real estate agencies. It’s all word of mouth.”

“God did more than what we expected, and He is continuing to do more every day,” Bekker said. “So, we give all honor and glory to Him.”

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  • The inauguration program with a pop-out building inside representing the center of influence.

  • Samuel Saw, left, president of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division, speaking with Tran Thanh Truyen, president of the Vietnam Mission.

  • Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the Adventist world church, greeting a girl as his wife, Nancy, looks on.

  • Max Langi, treasurer of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division, receiving a boutonnière.

  • The corsages pinned on women were more elaborate than the men's boutonnières.

  • Some of the 40 farmers who rented a bus in southern Vietnam and traveled nonstop 625 miles (1,000 kilometers) in two days to Hanoi.

  • Adventist Church president Ted N.C. Wilson, second left, cutting the red ribbon with Somchai Chuenjit, left, president of the Southeast Asia Union Mission, and other leaders.

  • Adventist Church president Ted N.C. Wilson unveiling the sign outside the community center in Hanoi, Vietnam.

  • Church leaders posing outside the community center in Hanoi, Vietnam. From left: Somchai Chuenjit, president of the Southeast Asia Union Mission; Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the Adventist world church; Samuel Saw, president of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division; and Tran Thanh Truyen, president of the Vietnam Mission.

  • Adventist Church president Ted N.C. Wilson visiting the bookstore in the community center.

  • Among the books on sale in the bookstore is the Vietnamese translation of evangelist Doug Batchelor’s story, “The Richest Caveman.”

  • A classroom in the foreign-language school on the second and third floors of the community center in Hanoi, Vietnam.

  • Rudy Baloyo, right, executive secretary of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division, sitting in a health seminar room at the community center in Hanoi, Vietnam. At the left is Somchai Chuenjit, president of the Southeast Asia Union Mission.

  • The hall of the international church at the Forward Venture community center in Hanoi, Vietnam.

  • A view from the large windows of the international church at the Forward Venture community center in Hanoi, Vietnam.

  • The sign for Vietnam headquarters of ADRA in the Forward Venture community center in Hanoi, Vietnam.

  • Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the Adventist world church, finding a picture of one of his favorite fruits, durian, in the language school at the Forward Venture community center in Hanoi, Vietnam.

  • Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the Adventist world church, speaking during an inauguration ceremony at the Forward Venture community center in Hanoi, Vietnam.

  • Attendees responding with laughter when Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the Adventist world church, spoke of finding a picture of durian in the language school at the Forward Venture community center in Hanoi, Vietnam.

  • Vo Hiep, 74, a lay leader from Da Nang City who traveled 14 hours by train to attend the opening of the Forward Venture community center in Hanoi, Vietnam, showing a picture of the church and community center that he hopes will open in his hometown.

  • Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the Adventist world church, handing over a symbolic key at the inauguration ceremony of the Forward Venture community center in Hanoi, Vietnam. At the right is Jannie Bekker, who played a key role in the opening of the community center.

  • A boy clinging to his mother at the opening of the Forward Venture community center in Hanoi, Vietnam. His mother and other women, dressed in traditional attire, sang in a choir.

  • Moments later, the boy was sound asleep in his stroller as his mother listened to the inauguration ceremony at the Forward Venture community center in Hanoi, Vietnam.

  • Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the Adventist world church, meeting in Hanoi with Ngo Sach Thuc, a senator and vice president of Vietnam Fatherland Front, which oversees religious organizations in Vietnam.

  • Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the Adventist world church, meeting in Hanoi with General Vu Chien Thang, chairman of Government Committee for Religious Affairs for Vietnam.

Special Gift From God

During the inauguration, Adventist leaders toured the community center and prayed on each floor. The church has 15 ordained pastors in Vietnam, and all were invited to the event. Also in attendance were 40 farmers — who rented a bus in southern Vietnam and traveled nonstop 625 miles (1,000 kilometers) in two days to Hanoi — and a few lay leaders like Vo Hiep, 74.

“This is a special gift from the Lord,” Vo said of the community center.

Vo, who has built seven churches in Vietnam with money that he raised from Vietnamese people living abroad, expressed hope that a similar community center would open one day in his hometown, Da Nang City, located 14 hours by train from Hanoi.

The Adventist Church has about 12,600 members in Vietnam, a country of 93 million people.

After the inauguration, Wilson visited the offices of two senior government officials to thank them for their assistance in opening the community center and for the religious freedom that Vietnam provides to its people.

“I want to pledge to you Seventh-day Adventist commitment to helping society,” Wilson told Senator Ngo Sach Thuc, vice president of Vietnam Fatherland Front, which oversees religious organizations in Vietnam.

Ngo spoke highly of Adventist initiatives to help others.

“We appreciate what the Seventh-day Adventist Church is doing to help people in Vietnam,” he said.

Two hours later, General Vu Chien Thang, a senator and chairman of the Government Committee for Religious Affairs, welcomed Wilson into his office and congratulated him on the opening of the community center.

“We appreciate what you are doing and church members are doing in Vietnam,” he said. “We can see that the Adventist Church is doing a lot of good in the community, helping the poor and in other ways.”

Wilson shared Bible passages with the two government officials and prayed for them.

Accompanying Wilson throughout the day was Tran Thanh Truyen, president of the Vietnam Mission. A wide smile on his face manifested his delight.

“It has been 10 years since we were recognized by the government,” he said in an inauguration speech. “I am sure that God will bless Vietnam more.”

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