Portrait of Renewal: Khanh Huynh
Khanh Huynh is founding pastor of Vietnamese Baptist Church in Houston where he’s served for 21 years. His church hosts a national conference, equipping pastors for greater impact.
As a child growing up on the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, Khanh Quoc Huynh had no interest in the Christian faith. Even though he was raised in a Christian home, he was plagued with deep skepticism. Because the faith he observed didn’t really exhibit God’s power, it was uninteresting to him. Instead, his energies were largely consumed with fears over the threat of communism from the north.
He came to the United States and for the last twenty-five years has been the pastor of Vietnamese Baptist Church, a praying congregation in the Houston area that is making a profound difference in the Vietnamese community through prayer-energized outreach. It is a long way from Vietnam and far beyond what he would have ever expected as a young man filled with cynicism and doubt.
Huynh’s journey toward a personal faith, Christian service, and life in the United States began in 1979 when he escaped from Vietnam on a crowded boat filled with South Vietnamese fleeing for their lives. During those early days adrift on the South China Sea, facing the fragility of life, he opened his heart to Christ.
Days into the journey, the boat ran short on suppliesand fresh water. People were dying. Huynh prayed, Lord, if You will spare my life, I will give You the rest of my days in service of Your cause. Two hours later, it began to rain. Eventually they landed in Indonesia where Huynh stayed at a refugee camp for the next few years. In the months to follow, Huynh was feeling a great burden to preach.
A Vision for Revival
While in Indonesia, Huynh encountered Indonesian believers who had come to help in the camp. These Christians spoke enthusiastically of the great Timor revival that resulted in many salvations and extraordinary advances in missions. It was also marked by many miracles (some controversial) that evoked great interest in the work of the Holy Spirit from around the globe. Huynh heard many stories of God at work in powerful demonstrations, further stimulating his interest in something more than the religious forms he was accustomed to as a child.
Huynh explains, “Those stories resonated in my heart. I knew this is what I wanted for my life and ministry. I longed for the clear evidence that God was at work.”
In 1982 he came to the United States to study. While a student at East Texas Baptist University, Huynh’s burden for revival continued to grow. He went to the school library to find books on the subject, but could only locate one. This particular volume specifically taught on the subjects of fasting and prayer. Again, it seemed the Lord was cultivating a growing desperation in his heart for something more.
In 1983, leaders from a large Baptist church in Houston visited his campus looking for someone to help them plant a Vietnamese daughter church in their area. They were willing to help the recruits finish their schooling at Houston Baptist University. Huynh felt the desire to respond to the call. In June 1983, he moved to Houston and started the Vietnamese Baptist Church. He has been there ever since.
The church was successfully established and grew steadily. Huynh was busy with all of the duties of pastoral ministry but felt a growing dissatisfaction in his heart with “ministry as usual.”
Back to Passion and Prayer
Then, at the church’s outdoor sunrise service in 1989, the Lord spoke to the young pastor’s heart. As he partook in communion with the people that morning, he felt a very strong impression that God would want him to get back to his passion for revival and specifically to start a prayer meeting with a focus of meeting God and enjoying His presence.
Immediately, Huynh led the church to begin a Tuesday night church-wide prayer time. Since 1989, the church has only missed two Tuesdays and only because of weather. They are resolute in every season and circumstance to seek the Lord for His reviving power and grace. “Every week we ‘go after God’ for revival. We cry out for Him to change our hearts, asking that He will let us live with the same faith as in the book of Acts,” he says.
In 1996, as they continued to pray, something unexplained occurred. Physical healings began to take place. “We have seen powerful visitations of the Holy Spirit resulting in salvations, restored lives, physical healings, and a greater passion for His purposes,” the pastor explains.
Vietnamese Baptist Church is affiliated with the Southern Baptists who historically defined revival in a traditional sense, such as a week of evangelistic meetings. Huynh explains that he began by focusing on revival in the sense of a powerful, supernatural restoration and renewal of God’s people resulting in a fire to reach out to the lost in every aspect of the believer’s lifestyle. This increasingly became the focus of the Tuesday night prayer time.
A Burden for Greater Outreach
With this growing burden for revival, the church sponsored two weeks of intense prayer and repentance in 1999. The pastor states, “The Lord showed up in a powerful way. The Holy Spirit moved among and within us as our prayers began to focus more on the ways we could minister to the unsaved by serving their real needs.” The church felt the Lord clearly prompting them to take these works of His grace and power beyond the church walls and into the community.
Soon, church members began to minister in a nearby mall every Saturday. They set up a table, offering to pray for people about physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, with a strong emphasis on God’s healing power. At the same time, they shared the Gospel in personal witnessing and by handing out pamphlets.
For more than fifteen years the church has continued to conduct this ministry. On average, about fifty-five people make a personal profession of Christ as Lord and Savior of their lives each week. In recent years, the Union Baptist Association (Southern Baptist) has been inviting others from many different churches to intercede and observe this amazing evangelistic ministry.
Of course, this kind of effort requires ongoing training. Pastor Huynh utilizes the principles of Evangelism Explosion to equip the people of the church for effective witnessing. He teaches them the concept of power and presence evangelism. “I train them to ask the Lord for insight in ministering to people. Our desire is that lost people will experience God and open their hearts to the Gospel.” Huynh also trains on praying for healing, emphasizing the teaching on the kingdom of God and Christ’s power over the darkness of this world.
“We have studied the approach of Jesus and the Apostle Paul in the New Testament, making them our models for this outreach,” Huynh explains. He has observed that people in the power of the Holy Spirit constantly followed these biblical models—meeting needs, speaking to the situations of the people, and working in the power of the Holy Spirit in connection with their prayers. They weren’t stuck inside religious buildings but were out among people, engaging in prayer-fuelled service and preaching.
Huynh comments openly about the reserved nature of his culture. Yet because of the empowerment they have experienced in prayer and the excitement of frontline ministry to people, they have become bold ambassadors for Christ. “We now are confronting the many idols and religions of the Asian cultures with compassion, clarity, and conviction,” he says. “We proclaim the saving power of Christ and then claim His authority to pray for their needs and difficult circumstances. We have seen many miracles.”
Outreach Around the World
The pastor notes that even though the Gospel came late to the Vietnamese people, the Lord is using the Vietnamese to witness throughout the world. He states that there are more than 180,000 Vietnamese in Malaysia and Russia. Pastor Huynh’s church supports many of the Vietnamese missionaries who are serving in many of these places. He notes, “Many of these church leaders are young people who write to us and consider us their mother church even though we have never met them and cannot support them. They have studied the model of our congregational outreach and are seeking to minister in a similar capacity in the nations where they serve.”
Many of those whose families were displaced by the Communist oppression are now going back to Vietnam. “They are using the training materials we have provided as they return to their homeland. Many are even going into North Vietnam. We have heard hundreds of stories from them about all the Lord is doing in and through them to minister to others in the power of Christ,” Pastor Huynh comments.
Thanks to technology, the Tuesday evening prayer meeting is broadcast over the internet. As a result, church members are able to stay in touch with the heart of the church even if they are unable to attend the service. Just as important, believers all around the world are made aware of this outwardly focused prayer effort. Pastor Huynh has been amazed at the number of Vietnamese believers who write to him from around the globe. Many are adopting this prayer model as an important component of their Christian life and congregational focus.
A Lifestyle of Compassionate Outreach
Beyond the weekend ministry in the mall, the people of Vietnamese Baptist Church are trained to witness, using the model of Luke 10:1–2 (NKJV)
“After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, ‘The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.’”
According to this pattern, Pastor Huynh trains the people to remain in constant prayer for opportunities to go into the harvest throughout the Houston area. He encourages them to stay focused and unencumbered in their approach to life. “I teach them to bless others with peace, get to know them, find out their needs, pray for them, and call them into the kingdom of God through the Gospel,” he says. “We have watched the Lord deliver people from the kingdom of darkness through the power of the Gospel and even work powerfully to touch their bodies as He saves their souls.”
The church has also produced numerous videos telling the story of what God has done in individual lives. Church members are trained to show these videos, and then to start a conversation with friends, neighbors, associates, and relatives on the relevance of these testimonies and the power of the Gospel to transform lives.
Struggles and Successes
This aggressive evangelistic focus in prayer has not been without struggles. The pastor notes, “People are loyal to their traditions. Like my family, many come from a Christian culture that is rich with truth and tradition, but they aren’t accustomed to living with a passion for power that leads to presence of God.” He says there is great resistance at times in getting people to pray in an outward-focused way. “In the minds of many, their faith is so weak, and they feel that they lack so much, that they do not have a vision to give their faith away.”
Still, about 60 percent of the Sunday morning attendance is actively involved in the Tuesday evening prayer service. Pastor Huynh estimates that 15 percent participate consistently in Saturday evangelism in the mall. He also believes that the vast majority of believers in his church have a strong lifestyle of witnessing.
Fueling the Vision
The church is able to track the involvement through the weekly reports of witnessing and ministry results. Through a variety of mechanisms, people in the church are strongly encouraged to share the process and results of their ministry opportunities. These praise statements are shared with the church so that all may rejoice and continue to pray for the work of God. Also, their vision is encouraged through the obedience of others.
Every Tuesday night at the weekly prayer service, these testimonies are shared with the church, resulting in great rejoicing and more prayer. The vision and faith of the congregation is regularly bolstered through ongoing reports of answers to prayer. Every Sunday morning, one of the leaders also gives the report of the previous day at the mall. These stories keep the vision for evangelism at a high priority in the life of the church and provide constant encouragement for an outreach-oriented prayer focus.
Another way of fueling the vision, both for congregants and leaders from around the nation, is Vietnamese Baptist Church’s annual revival conference. The conference—typically held in October—lasts four days. Pastors and their wives come from across the nation to receive encouragement in spiritual revival and training in taking the work of the Gospel to the streets. The work of God at this Houston-area church has been so notable that the conference is growing and serving as a tool for greater outreach in cities across America and the world, as an expression of the powerful prayer life of a local church. For more information on the conference, go to www.vbcweb.org.
(This article is from the book The Church that Prays Together by Elmer Towns and Daniel Henderson, NavPress, 2008. To order this book and discover more inspiring stories of prayer and renewal, click here.)