Ho Phay doesn’t fit the profile of a successful pastor.
He doesn’t sport a fashionable haircut or designer clothes, he doesn’t write an edgy blog, he doesn’t put out bestselling books about the five keys to a winning life, he doesn’t have a trendy youth group with a name like “Elevate” and there is no coffee shop at his church. If you ask what inspires his work, he also doesn’t give the obvious answer. In fact, he’ll tell you he doesn’t feel the “calling” other pastors talk about— but rather preaches Christ out of personal gratitude.
Pastor Ho is 74 and his house church is crammed wall-to-wall every Sunday with 200 Vietnamese worshipers.
For decades, he’s been navigating the minefield of doing ministry in a Communist country, and by “minefield,” I literally mean that. During the Vietnam War, his community was burned to the ground and so many mines were laid in the area that even to this day people worry about stepping on one.
Ho Phay committed his life to Christ in 1971—just four years before the Communist party started restricting the Christian religion—and founded a church in 1980. As believers were kicked out of churches by the government, they began meeting in homes. But today, Christians have more freedom—at least in the south, where many were forced to take refuge after the war. So long as they don’t proselytize, officials leave them alone.
“Now it’s very easy,” he said. “The government never comes. They recognize the church now.”
Activities that were once impossible are now permitted…and in some cases encouraged. Pastor Ho told us of a time he was invited to a public school to show 400 students a cartoon about the Christmas story. He even got to share a few words about Jesus, and his presentation was well received by both students and teachers.
Nevertheless, going public with one’s faith is still a walk through a minefield. Overt evangelism is usually frowned upon. For this reason, he keeps a water tank in his yard and a medicine cabinet in his house. Instead of inviting neighbors to a worship service, he invites them to come for clean water and medicine. It’s the Gospel in action—and Cross International is supporting it. As the poor are blessed by these Cross-funded services, they experience the love of the Christian community and want to learn more. They take the initiative to visit a service and discover for themselves the source of this generosity.
This outreach strategy reminds me of Jesus’ words in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”