By Marvin Lorenzana | Fall 2022
In the 11 countries that make up the geographic region of Southeast Asia, there are more than 680 million people! The Joshua Project estimates that nearly 53 percent of the people in this region would be identified as “unreached.” They define this term as “a people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group without outside assistance.”
In 1954, EMM was at a crossroads regarding how it might get involved with ministry to unreached people groups in Southeast Asia. There were two equally important opportunities: Indonesia and Vietnam. In fact, Orie O. Miller, who was the secretary of the organization at the time, made visits to both countries.
For Miller, he visited the region wearing two hats: one as EMM secretary and the other as the executive secretary of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). While MCC already had a presence through relief work in Indonesia on the island of Java, Miller was interested in whether EMM might be able to play a role in the neighboring Indonesian island of Sumatra.
Simultaneously, there was a growing humanitarian need in South Vietnam as a result of the mass exodus of people fleeing North Vietnam following the First Indochina War. Beyond the physical needs in each location, Miller also saw great opportunities to share the gospel.
In many settings throughout EMM’s history, MCC’s humanitarian work preceded the evangelistic work of church planting — then both functions continued in tandem through MCC and EMM, respectively. While MCC had work in both Indonesia and Vietnam, the urgent demand of the refugee crisis in Vietnam took greater precedence, and thus encouraged EMM to focus its mission work in Vietnam.
Finally, in 1957, the first two missionary families arrived in Saigon: James and Arlene Stauffer and Everett and Margaret Metzler. This was the beginning of EMM’s long investment in this region of the world. Eventually, EMM would enter other countries in Southeast Asia, like the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, and a sensitive country. Today, we have workers serving Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and two sensitive countries.
In addition, we have important partnerships with national churches: Life Enrichment Church (Thailand), the Vietnam Mennonite Church, and Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia. The Vietnam Mennonite Church is a great testimony to God’s provision and grace. In November, I had the privilege of participating in the church’s national assembly in Ho Chi Minh City. As the Vietnam Mennonite Church seems eager to explore a closer relationship with other Mennonite bodies in Asia, we hope to explore possibilities for further collaboration on reaching out to unreached (or under-reached) people groups in the region.
Praise God for his provision as he leads us in this region of this world!
James and Arlene Stauffer highlight Vietnam on a world map in preparation for their anticipated departure in 1957. EMM ARCHIVES
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