Pictured Above: Aspire Vietnamese Baptist Church congregation
JACKSONVILLE–No one knew there was a need for a new Vietnamese church in Jacksonville, but when a Vietnamese businessman moved there from Denver, God’s plan began to take shape. A plan that would change a family, a church and a city.
Prior to 2022, Chinh Nguyen was living in Denver where he owned and operated a construction and landscaping business and was active in his church – teaching Bible studies, doing outreach and serving the community, and occasionally preaching when the pastor was away. Nguyen enjoyed his lay role in the church but said that he was often encouraged by friends to become a pastor. Even his senior pastor suggested that pursuit, praying that Nguyen would hear a call from God and go into full-time ministry.
“I told him that is not something I want, but if that is what God wants then I am willing. If God calls me then, yes, but I don’t see the call,” Nguyen remembers.
In January 2021, Nguyen and his wife took a trip to the Southeast to visit a few cities and weigh their options for leaving Denver and starting a new life outside of Colorado. They visited Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and then drove to Jacksonville where they had their initial introduction to the Vietnamese community.
Besides the warm Florida weather and scenic coastlines, Nguyen said what struck them most was the fact that there are more than 10,000 Vietnamese in Jacksonville, but only one Baptist church (First Baptist Church of Jacksonville) that is equipped to reach them.
When they returned to Denver from their visit, God’s call on Nguyen’s life became clear.
“I sat with my wife, and I asked if she was willing to sell our business, move to Jacksonville, and take care of the whole family so that I could pursue the ministry full time – she said ‘Yes’,” he recalled. “I believe if God called me, He has also called my wife and kids. I needed to make sure she agreed.”
In June 2022, in obedience to God’s call, the Nguyen family left Denver to start a Vietnamese-language church in Jacksonville, unsure of where God would have them lay the cornerstone of the new ministry.
Around that time Gary Lee Webber, senior pastor at Aspire Church in Jacksonville, was contacted by First Coast Churches to see if his congregation could provide local support to a new Vietnamese-language church. In past years, Aspire had worked with peoples from other parts of the world and, as a result, had developed a heart, a mission and a process for reaching immigrants and refugees moving into Jacksonville.
‘We have embraced our role as an urban church and have a heart to reach those people God is bringing from all over the world to Jacksonville.’
“When First Coast reached out, we felt we were ideally positioned to help Pastor Nguyen because we have embraced our role as an urban church and have a heart to reach those people God is bringing from all over the world to Jacksonville – many, literally, living within the shadow of our steeple,” said Webber. After meeting with Nguyen and his wife, Webber said he felt an instant confirmation of God’s call. When Nguyen informed him that families drive from Jacksonville to Savannah, Georgia, to attend a Vietnamese-language Baptist church, Webber saw a natural fit between the Aspire Church ministry and Nguyen’s calling.
The two then coordinated with Craig Culbreth, East region catalyst for the Florida Baptist Convention, and James Peoples from the North American Mission Board, to begin the process of launching the new ministry.
“Establishing a new church is a complex process and so it is not fast,” said Webber.
“But I believe Pastor Nguyen’s radical obedience to God – answering the call to full-time ministry, moving from Denver to Jacksonville, and starting a new church to reach immigrants from Vietnam – is a major factor why the Lord moved with amazing speed. What would normally take a year happened in a matter of weeks.”
Aspire Vietnamese Baptist Church held its first service on Sunday, October 2, in a newly finished space on Aspire Church’s campus in the San Marco section of Jacksonville. Each week the service and Bible study are held in Vietnamese, and since much of the younger generation speak English, they participate in Aspire’s Next Generation program for children and students. The church is growing, reaching the community and already seeing fruit.
“Thank God that Aspire Church and Pastor Gary opened their arms to support us,” said Nguyen. “We already see God moving and bringing people who live near us to our church.”
Building relationships and trust
‘Before people know God, they know us.’
Pastor Nguyen is passionate about reaching out to Jacksonville’s Vietnamese community, many of whom are Buddhist, Roman Catholic or have never heard the gospel. He believes that forming relationships and building trust are keys to building the ministry, so he plays on a soccer team twice a week, does outreach at the local Asian markets, and spends time talking with those fishing along the banks of St. Johns River. Nguyen also invites people to his house or volunteers to use his background in construction to assist in home repairs or landscaping projects.
“To me, before people know God, they know us. They don’t know who we are serving, but we just try to make friends and help them out. Because Jesus, when He was on earth, that’s what He did – He helped the people first before He talked to them about the gospel.”
Quang Nguyen, pastor for the Vietnamese Ministry at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville since 2006, has been ministering to the local Vietnamese community since 1988. Over the years he has established a well-rounded and successful ministry that includes weekly services, Bible studies, outreach and fellowship, counseling, and teaching American Christians to reach immigrants from Vietnam. The seasoned pastor is excited to see another Vietnamese fellowship launch in Jacksonville.
“I think it will be a benefit for spreading the good news to the Vietnamese community in Jacksonville,” he said. “I look forward to working together with Pastor Chinh to reach the Vietnamese for the kingdom of God.”
Webber also looks forward to working with the new pastor and his wife to reach the Vietnamese in the community.
“When we worked with the Karen peoples from Burma, God brought us the people first and the pastor later,” said Webber. “This time, it worked in reverse. God brought us the pastor before we even knew why – no one in our congregation knew there was a lack of Vietnamese churches in Jacksonville. But God knew, so he brought Chinh to us. Now we get to work together to build the church and reach those God is bringing to our doorsteps.”