Peace Corps Coming to Vietnam for First Time

I’m very happy to see this development.  It’s yet another indication that Viet Nam is coming of age as a full-fledged member of the global community of nations because it reflects the government’s confidence in itself and its country.

In the past, the Peace Corps was viewed with official suspicion.  (This is not without cause, based on past experience.  In 2008, for example, it was revealed that in Bolivia, Peace Corps volunteers and a Fulbright scholar were asked by a U.S. Embassy official to provide details on Cubans and Venezuelans in that country.)

Obama-announces-Peace-Corps-mission-for-Vietnam
The announcement came during a press conference with President Tran Dai Quang in Hanoi.  Photo courtesy of of the government of Viet Nam via UPI.

While the Peace Corps is very much a part of US soft power strategy, it represents another step forward in the bilateral relationship.  The English teachers supplied by the program will help improve the English proficiency of many Vietnamese, both teachers and students.  Note that the program is initially limited to English teachers, which makes sense, given past concerns.

MAA

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In the Name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit: Saving Souls Through English Teaching in Vietnam

Why do foreigners come to Vietnam to work for the long-term?  Why do they leave their families, friends, jobs, the comforts of home in an “advanced” (i.e., wealthy) nation for life in a (poor) developing country?  Money, adventure, penance, reconciliation, professional opportunity, a chance to contribute to Vietnam’s development, love (“home is where the heart is”) and religion, among others.  For many, however, the main reason is to make “them” (the Vietnamese) more like “us.”  To find out who “us” is complete the following fill-in-the-blank exercise:   INSERT THE NAME of a country that has occupied Vietnam and waged war on its people, flora, fauna, and cultural treasures.   

In the past they have come in the name of Profit, Civilization, King/Queen, Aggression and Religion.  They are still coming to make money in Vietnam’s burgeoning “free market with socialist orientation” (emphasis on the free market) and to “lead people to Christ, disciple leaders, and then one day send some back to be missionaries in their home countries.” 

How do they accomplish the latter goal in a country that has historically justifiable reasons to be suspicious of outside influences, especially those related to politics and religion?  Easy – they either don’t mention it or they gloss over it.  It’s the Trojan horse approach to making “them” more like “us,” taking to heart Christ’s call to “make disciples of all nations.” 

It’s not enough to live a life of service and follow the basic tenets of their religion with its inherent commitment to social and economic justice, peace, forgiveness and love.  They feel “called” to become clandestine missionaries – sheep in wolf’s clothing in a manner of speaking – and go out into the world to convert the heathen to Christianity so that they, too, may be saved, belong to Jesus and have eternal life. 

In the 17th century it was the Jesuit missionaries, the main reason why there are 6-7 million Catholics in Vietnam today.  Now, it’s expat English teachers and other professionals who claim to have a monopoly on the truth and who offer goodies that Vietnam desperately needs.  Vietnam – with the need for English proficiency and 60% of the population under the age of 30 – is seen as fertile ground for this kind of low-key, backdoor proselytizing. 

English Teaching Sans Jesus

For those interested in teaching English for a secular organization or company, check out this 2010 article that appeared in Transitions Abroad magazine.  You can benefit from a meaningful cross-cultural experience, help your students learn and improve their English language skills and make some money at the same time – all without trying to swell the ranks of evangelical Christians, deplete the ranks of Buddhists and impose Western culture on the Vietnamese. 

Consider this part 1 in a two part series.  Stay tuned…