Vietnamese UMC celebrates its own home, debt-free

By Amy Forbus

FORT SMITH—After 13 years as a congregation, a lot of fundraising and a year and a half of working weekends on construction, the people of Vietnamese UMC Fort Smith on Oct. 13 consecrated their new building for the worship of God and for the service of all people. And they did it without incurring any debt.

To reach their goal, they began their fundraising within the membership of the congregation, then expanded. To raise money from outside the church, they sold orders of eggrolls and fried rice, often delivering the hot food to other local congregations after worship. And on the first Saturday of each month, a local restaurant owned by church members gave its proceeds to the building fund.

The sanctuary, which can hold 110 people, leaves room for the 50-member congregation to grow. On Consecration Sunday, they needed almost all of the folding chairs from the fellowship hall to accommodate the well-wishers from sister churches.

Worship at Vietnamese UMC includes bilingual singing, with each song sung first in Vietnamese, then in English. The Rev. Bud Reeves, superintendent of the Northwest District, served as guest preacher, with church member Do Van Le providing translation into Vietnamese.

“This church is crossing into new territory today,” Reeves said. “You’ve accomplished a lot, and you’ve been through a lot just by being here today. Today is a crossing point into engagement with the mission field in Fort Smith.”

During the liturgy of consecration the Rev. Terry Gallamore, pastor of Vietnamese UMC, asked God that “all that is said and done here may always bring honor and glory to your holy name.”

Reeves asked God to sanctify the new space, and also to save the congregation from a vision that would limit their worship to within the walls of the building.

“Send us out from here to be your servants in the world, sharing the blessings of Christ with the world he came to redeem,” he prayed.

Gallamore recognized the hard work and generosity of the members and the community. Before worship began, he and the congregation thanked a number of churches and people who helped, including an electrician who is a member of a Vietnamese Baptist church and donated his labor to wire the building. A sister church, St. Paul UMC Fort Smith, housed the congregation for several years, and some of their members attended to help celebrate.
Members and friends celebrated following worship with a potluck dinner in the fellowship hall. The hall includes a kitchen, as well as a meeting room that may one day be converted to a nursery space. A small office sits at the rear of the sanctuary, just off the narthex. The church paid for labor on certain specialized work such as HVAC, concrete and plumbing, but because of members’ work, the church now owns a building with an estimated value of $650,000—significantly more than they spent, Gallamore said.

There were moments along the way when Gallamore and others weren’t sure how the building would actually become reality. But whenever they hit a tough spot, he said, that handful of faithful people—the 17 or 18 families that make up the congregation—moved forward even when they thought they were stuck.

“With God’s math, it works,”Gallamore said. “God provided a way for it all to come together.”

After the service, Do Van Le stopped for a moment to reflect on the day. “This is our dream for a long time,” he said. Because the people of Vietnamese UMC have worked so hard and relied on faith, he believes they will continue to move forward now that this dream has come true.

“We will work together to bring the gospel to our people,” he said. “That’s the main purpose of it. We will do our best to serve him—praise the Lord.”