June 5, 2019

Vietnam marriage training yields reciprocal encouragement

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Le Thi Xuan Hoang (left) and Naomi Zimmerman enjoy conversation together in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Le Thi Xuan Hoang (left) and Naomi Zimmerman enjoy conversation together in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Leon Zimmerman/EMM

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — A father and his young child sat together in a quiet and removed location. While other conference attendees enjoyed their lunches, the father worked to lull his irascible child to sleep.  

Naomi Zimmerman vividly recalled this scene in Ho Chi Minh City from a teaching trip she and her husband took in mid-April. She noticed how it was not uncommon to see fathers taking such an active role in caring for their children.

Leon and Naomi Zimmerman, Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) non-resident workers, were teaching about marriage and parenting. However, they left Vietnam feeling a great sense of admiration for “the way the Vietnamese culture is so family-oriented.”

Naomi described her experience as heartwarming, specifically referring to the ways in which the children seemed so alive, and how the parents engaged with their children.

EMM President Gerry Keener, who had also served the Vietnam Mennonite Church with leadership training, shared: “Vietnamese nurture a strong sense of family and collective identity, making individual sacrifices for one another and for the sake of the whole community.”

Keener elaborated, “I worked with a father who had 10 children. There was enough money to send only one child to higher education. He sent the oldest one to college so he could get a better paying job and help the rest of the family, parents, and siblings. We who live in Western, individualistic societies would do well to learn from this kind of example.”

The Zimmermans were able to use several important resources for this week-long intensive at the Vietnam Mennonite Institute in Theology and Renewal. Students benefited from the release of the new Vietnamese translations of three perennial Anabaptist classics written by John M. Drescher: “If We Were Starting Our Marriage Again” (with Betty Drescher), “If I Were Starting My Family Again,” and “Seven Things Children Need.”

They also referenced marriage materials by Gary Thomas and Les and Leslie Parrott, in addition to a lot of their own material. Specifically, the Zimmermans were able to provide resourcing on a question facing Christian married couples in every culture, “How do you keep a marriage thriving?”

Naomi explained, “We both feel the tension of how we provide good direction” in settings regarding marriage resourcing. The Zimmermans try to balance prescription and instruction when leading this kind of material in cross-cultural contexts. Their goal is to provide principles that can be contextualized by each participant in his or her cultural setting.

One participant, through a translator, described this content as being “very useful for families to be able to spread to other families by faithfully modeling the teachings of this course.”

There were more than 30 participants in the class — both students in the bachelor’s degree program at the institute or pastors currently serving in congregations through the Vietnam Mennonite Church.

Mennonite Central Committee workers entered Vietnam in 1954, followed by the first EMM workers in 1957. The Vietnam Mennonite Church struggled to become legally recognized for 15 years, finally receiving official recognition in 2007. Today, EMM partners with the church in leadership training.

The Zimmermans are serving with leadership training for churches around the world. Specifically, they resource churches with topics related to Anabaptist theology, hermeneutics, marriage, and family relationships.

Prior to the marriage and family training that both Leon and Naomi Zimmerman led, Leon taught a week of Anabaptist theological topics to bachelor-degree level students.

Keener highlighted the importance of the work that the Zimmermans are doing. “The openness to learning is high,” he elaborated on global churches engaging with Leon and Naomi, and how the Zimmermans are able to speak into uniquely pastoral issues in these contexts.

Leon’s theological interests and Naomi’s counseling skills have begun to be utilized through EMM with Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania (the Tanzania Mennonite Church) and Mennonite Church West Africa, in addition to the Vietnam Mennonite Church. The Zimmermans served in Albania from 2006 to 2011 with Rosedale Mennonite Missions and EMM.

Leon is a graduate of Lancaster (Pa.) Bible College and Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown, Pa. Naomi is a graduate of Millersville (Pa.) University and the Nursing School of Wilmington (Del.) She also attended Rosedale Bible College and received a counseling certificate from Life Counseling Ministries in Conestoga, Pa.