“Love (Your City)”
By Jacob Bloemberg
Summary of Chapter 2
Chapter 2: Love Hanoi – The Context
“Hanoi’s context is ancient, vast, and complex.”
In this chapter, Jacob Bloemberg outlines the changes he has witnessed in Hanoi and Vietnam in
general since his first arrival there in 1997. He calls it a transformation.
To start with, though, Pastor Jacob briefly outlines the one thousand year history of Hanoi, dominated
by successive Chinese dynasties and later the French colonialists and then the destructive bombing of
the “American War” to show why the one hundred year existence of the evangelical Christian church in
the city, which until recently was estimated to have had around 7,000 members in total (even reducing
to only 8 persons at the time of VN’s reunification in 1975) to what it is today is “truly amazing
considering the context”.
Following the reunification of the nation with Hanoi as the capital, there was extreme post-war poverty
and a stagnant economy prompting the Vietnam Communist Party in December 1986 to adopt a new
policy called Doi Moi (meaning reform, renewal or renovation). “The Doi Moi reformation truly brought
transformation to the nation, lifting millions of citizens out of poverty.” As a result, there was rapid
development with a great improvement in living standards in Hanoi for most people. Mushrooming
new developments in infrastructure as well as personal possessions (incl. luxury cars, m/cycles,
The Doi Moi Policy focused on four key transitions:
i) from centrally-planned and subsidized resource allocation to more market-based allocation;
ii) from a predominantly state-owned economy to a multi-actor economy with an increasingly dynamic
iii) from a closed economy to an increasingly open and internationally integrated economy;
iv) from centralized to decentralized governance structures.
AIM: A new development dynamism toward prosperity, creativity, equity, and democracy by 2035.
Pastor Jacob describes in some detail how the provincial city of Hanoi is now governed and the
relationships between the different levels of responsibility of departments, committees, etc. in
different urban and rural districts. Hanoi’s is a complex system of who does what and how decision-making
works. He explains that knowledge of this structure is vital for church leaders when planning any
events or social programs. As an example, he details structure of The Government Committee for
Religious Affairs which is agency under the Ministry of Home Affairs. That committee has 15
departments one each for different religious groups plus those for various activities (e.g. education,
publishing), relations (e.g. international, information), policy making or administration. By building and
keeping regular relationships with all sectors of the government in which the church may come into
contact, “promising signs of a growing friendly posture (develop) between church and state”.
Apparently, Vietnam is one of few countries in the world with a religious law. Pastor Jacob explains
that this is comparatively new (Jan 2018) and “provides for the right to freedom of belief and religion;
belief activities and religious activities; religious organizations; rights and obligations of agencies,
organizations and individuals relating to belief activities and religious activities.” The law differentiates
between religious practice, religious activities and religious organizations. It is necessary for religious
organisations to be registered and its activities (e.g. ordinations) must be reported. While in theory,
churches could register schools, hospitals and NGOs could be registered, the limits to these in practice
still need to be explored.
In giving a more detailed history of protestant churches in Hanoi, Pastor Jacob reflects that most, if not
all, denominations which set up their churches did so to provide existing believers with a place to
worship and were concerned in “saving souls” – as one faithful person put it “with God’s blessing, souls
can be saved”. This quote, he says, provides insight into the question why the dichotomy between
sacred and secular is so strong among the evangelical churches in Vietnam. It was the Mennonites who
paved the way for non-traditional mission work, such as charities, healthcare, and education. During
the war period, World Vision, World Relief, and other Christian organizations came to provide care for
the wounded and relief for the nation.
However, with so many different wide-ranging Christian groups and various splinter-groups, “for a long
time, their leaders and groups were suspicious of each other. In 2009, a number of house churches in
Hanoi and other parts of the north formed the Hanoi Christian Fellowship. Through the work of the
Holy Spirit, a strong sense of unity and collaboration is experienced among the evangelical churches in
the city and nationwide.”
Doi Moi had brought foreigners to Hanoi including a few Christians. In 1995, a group of evangelical
expats felt the need to form an unofficial home-based contemporary styled worship group. Adopting a
faith statement based on that of the Evangelical Church of Bangkok, the international church called
Hanoi International Fellowship (HIF) was born. Jacob, with his family, arrived in 1997 (to work at an
orphanage) and became members of this group. By 2005, there was a congregation of 150 people and
Jacob was asked to become their pastor. The church was suffering from an “identity crisis, realizing
that for its first decade HIF had been primarily inward focused. The leadership experienced God’s call
for HIF to become outward focused in reaching fellow expatriates and serving the city.” (While they
could not decide on a plan, they did decide to call it ‘Love Hanoi’.)
From a conference he attended in UAE, Pastor Jacob learnt more about how HIF could become more
externally focused. “I personally experienced a new paradigm shift to think missionally about HIF’s
vision and practice. It is this missional journey that has brought me and HIF to the posture of seeking
the peace and prosperity of the city in collaboration with the citywide church and city government.
Over the years, it has become so evident that our peace and prosperity is directly related and
dependent on the peace and prosperity of the city (Jeremiah 29:7)”.
Briefly, Pastor Jacob relates some of the activities the Church has accomplished in their “Love Hanoi”
project. Together in unity with other Hanoi churches, a new transformation is happening, especially
with alleviating drug addiction.
In the final paragraph for this chapter, he writes, “With the increasing openness of the government
towards the participation of the evangelical community in society, it is the right time to explore the
opportunities the new Law on Belief and Religion provides, particularly in the social, health, and
education sectors. Lord willing, within a few years the evangelical community in Hanoi will see the
founding of many Christian non-profits, clinics, and schools. The “Love Hanoi” campaign helps to keep
our focus external, to love the city and her citizens unconditionally, and to collaborate across various
boundaries for the peace and prosperity of Hanoi.
*Next chapter: Chapter 3: Love Hanoi – The Steps