HIF'S HISTORY 1995-2005
From the days in Antioch until today, God has been spreading the great news about the Lord Jesus through expatriates and the international church. Whether for economic, diplomatic, social, or political reasons, almost one billion people today live away from home. You and I are among them and walk in the footsteps of the Christians of Antioch.
Like the Antioch church, Hanoi International Fellowship (HIF) was launched with humble, unassuming beginnings in an expat’s living room. What HIF has become today is the result of countless hours of service by thousands of brothers and sisters from around the world. We truly have a local impact as we choose to love Hanoi while we are here and a global impact as we send people forth to their next destination.
Prior to the establishment of HIF, all expat Christians attended an ecumenical group at the UN apartments in Van Phuc. Since it was liturgical in style, those from evangelical traditions discussed ways to create a service in an evangelical style.
As a result, HIF was started on 27 August 1995, with a dozen people meeting in the home of Stewart Stemple on Tran Hung Dao Street. After 2 to 3 months the group rented a room in the HITC building on Xuan Thuy Street, experiencing immediate growth with the addition of Filipino brothers and sisters.
The Bureau of Religious Affairs was kept informed about HIF activities. In the absence of an ordained pastor, people took turns leading Bible studies, preaching and worship. An early HIF member recalled that before the end of the first year, separate lessons were being held for the smaller children during the sermon and the group often ate together afterwards.
In late 1996 HIF rented a banquet room at the Asean Hotel on Chua Boc, increasing to 50 to 60 persons. Attendance continued to increase to 70 to 90 and HIF moved to a ballroom in the Daewoo Hotel by the end of 1997.
Many nations were represented during this time: Korea, Germany, Malaysia, Holland, Canada, Singapore, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, China, Ghana, India and Kenya. Guest preachers visited from Bangkok, Hong Kong, USA and Europe.
The HIF family included diverse occupational domains: teachers, businessmen and women, diplomats and NGO officials. By the year 2000 weekly attendance averaged between 120 to 150. Each Christmas HIF was joined by the Hanoi International Church for a Christmas Eve celebration at the Daewoo Hotel. As many as 300 people participated.
Although by this time there were a few ordained ministers within the congregation, they did not officiate as pastor. As chairman, however, Pastor Bob McCoy informally served as HIF’s pastor. By 2003 Pastor Doug Nelson was called (USA) and served for 18 months. During this period, HIF suffered a financial and identity crisis and could no longer afford to support a fulltime pastor. As a result, following prayer and soul searching, HIF responded to the Lord’s direction to become a missional international church. Jacob Bloemberg began as interim pastor in August 2005. Since that time he has provided leadership for HIF.
HIF’s congregation grew from about 50 to 200 during the “Daewoo Days” in the Daewoo Hotel from 1998 until 2003.
The congregation stayed around 200 while at the Bao Son Hotel, which was much more gloomy with karaoke rooms for KidzQuest!
The Bloemberg family in 2003
Evolution of the HIF logo as designed by Pastor Jacob, who has a professional Graphic Design & Printing background
As he reflects on an amazing journey brought about by 10 years of pastoral service, Pastor Jacob shares his memories of the ongoing change and growth that have become part of the fabric of life at HIF.
Back in 2005 when you took on the role as pastor of HIF, what were your expectations?
It was my hope and that of HIF leadership that my term would be extended. But as I had not been a pastor previously, I was asked to be interim for 6 months. That was then extended for another 6 months, then another year, and then another until my home assignment in 2008/9. The church continued to support us generously with the expectation that we would return for another 3 years.
I was expected to lead HIF through the transformational change, implementing the new vision and structure. My online academic studies (MA in Organizational Leadership) and experiential learning through Missional International Church Network (MICN) dovetailed at just the right time to benefit HIF.
What were the key issues and milestones for HIF in the period 2005-2010?
Moving HIF out of the Bao Son Hotel had been a goal since we moved there in 2003. Though it served us well, it had a depressing feel and the karaoke rooms were used for Sunday School! We became outward-focused and missional in action. City Partnerships was established to implement this missional vision.
The present vision statement, created in 2006, was based on our prayer and fasting meetings, elders’ discussions and MICN language. We changed from the standard annual business meeting to a Vision Sunday, moving from reporting the facts to envisioning the future, which resulted in increased attendance and excitement. A Strategic Intent document was developed and handed out to everyone on Vision Sunday.
In 2005 we changed from a church board structure to an eldership team model. We focused on relationship-building, sharing meals and praying together before going into business and adding retreats 2 to 3 times per year. This tremendously increased our leadership capacity and trust. However in 2007 the team turned over completely. Leadership transition was difficult and continues to be so as the team turns over every 2 to 3 years.
The first logo was from the Daewoo days. In 2010 we redesigned the logo to what it is today.
Renting office space and adding staff enabled us to provide more support to volunteers and bring greater consistency. In 2008 I read Ray Bakke’s “A Theology as Big as a City”. This opened my eyes to think about Hanoi and blessing it. I created a sermon series, “God of The City”, which coincided with the release of the worship song by that title. It was a start to what later became Love Hanoi. Since 2012 I have been a doctoral student at Bakke Graduate University with my focus on city transformation.
Moving to the InterContinental Hotel in 2009 was the best move for it provided us with a beautiful facility amidst the expat community at Westlake.
Why has HIF seen such phenomenal growth over the years?
The move to the InterContinental Hotel drastically impacted growth. From meeting in a rundown hotel that nobody really knew about, to worshipping at a prominent, visible, accessible and high-profile location was a great change. We went from 250 to 450 in two years.
Applying the same principle to center ourselves within the expat community (part of our vision statement), we decided to launch a second site in My Dinh. This also contributed to our growth.
How has the history of our church shaped your own ministry?
Two years prior to 2005, the Lord led me through a ministry paradigm shift. For two years I had been promoting marketplace ministry and holistic entrepreneurship which focuses on equipping believers for ministry outside the church structure and walls. The missional international church vision just brought me to a new level. My MA enabled me to lead an organization. My doctoral study is helping me to lead a movement and think at the societal level.
I have grown in many ways: my capacity to lead an extremely diverse church and teams; my pastoral skills and experience; preaching skills and effectiveness; public relations skills; and global networking with other international churches and networks. I cannot imagine doing anything else, anywhere else. God has used HIF to shape who I am today.