The first Christian public library has opened in Vietnam, after a six-month approval process last year by several agencies of Vietnam’s Communist Government.
“We hope it will be a symbol of Christian unity and Christian learning in Vietnam,” says Vu Le, executive director of Bible Society Vietnam, which established the library with local Protestant business people.
“For the Vietnamese Protestants, this is the first time they pooled collective efforts in order to establish a proper library in Vietnam.”
Via Zoom with Eternity, quietly spoken Le is enthusiastic about the library in the CBD of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s biggest city.
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“For the Vietnamese Protestants, there is no other alternative.” – Vu Le, Bible Society Vietnam
Since opening in July 2020, it is already stocked with around 5000 titles, including Vietnamese texts and resources in biblical studies, theology, ministry, translations and history. It also has a room full of English-language books, such as commentaries, as well as humanities disciplines, including philosophy, sociology and languages.
The library is a subscription member of the Global Digital Theological Library, an online archive of high-quality religious study material for academic institutions in the developing world (made available at a discounted rate). Le adds that a digital archive of Vietnamese Protestantism is also being planned.
“For the Vietnamese Protestants, there is no other alternative,” says Le, when Eternity asks if there are any other avenues for Vietnamese Christians to access such an archive of materials.
Theological colleges and seminaries have libraries which are not open to the public, while local churches have not been able to offer the volume or range of a well-stocked library.
“In the past, the churches only have what they call ‘reading rooms’, with very few books,” says Le, who has led Bible Society Vietnam for three years since finishing a five-year theology doctorate.
The main religion in Vietnam is Buddhism, with Christians accounting for about 10 per cent of the population of around 97 million. Catholics make up most of that number.
Christian churches must register with the government for official status as a religious organisation. Bible Society is unable to receive such a status because it is not a church. So operating as a business, Le and his team work with churches to support what they do.
Being a Christian in Vietnam, then, can be “complex”.
“On the one hand, religious persecution is real and all Christian operations are working in a politically hostile environment,” says Le. “There is always a risk of being shut down suddenly.
“On the other hand, the State tolerates some of our activities, such as operating a Bible Society and opening a library.”
“I hope it will be a centre of Christian learning.” – Vu Le
Many Vietnamese Christians have already donated to the library as “word of mouth” spreads about the value of contributing to its shelves.
“They have their own personal library and they decided they wanted to put it in the Christian library because it would be a place for all,” Le explains.
“One pastor in the Mekong Delta has a very special collection of all of the hymn books ever published in Vietnam. The first one was in 1936 and he has collected them all, up until now.
“He decided that he wants them to be in the library so other people can look at that collection.”
Le hopes the benefits of the library will flow to all sorts of Christians in Vietnam, but with different outcomes for those who stop by to borrow.
“I hope it will be a centre of Christian learning,” says Le.
“Through the library, we want students of the theological programs [of house churches] to have resources for their studies; church workers to engage with more biblical and theological materials; thoughtful lay people who would like to know more of the Bible and Christian theology.
“We also want Vietnamese Christian business people to engage and collaborate more with the Christian ministries, and for the Bible Society to continue to promote the work of Bible engagement in Vietnam.”