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Answering God’s Call in Hanoi, Vietnam

It was a burning desire to expand God’s presence in an area of the world where Christianity has traditionally been absent that originally led Jacob Bloemberg and his wife Linda to take the life-changing leap to serve in the large, diverse city of Hanoi, Vietnam, where they’ve been living and working since 1997. The cultural hub has a rich history—and now a thriving Christian population, which they’ve helped grow in part thanks to their educational backgrounds and training from Regent.

Once at the center of what the Vietnamese called the “American War” throughout the 1950s and ‘60s, Hanoi has morphed into a major cultural destination. Jacob and Linda Bloemberg have played a major role in the city’s transformation into a place that’s welcoming to Christians.

Today, the alums are continuing to share God’s gifts with Hanoi, and they’ve both carved out spaces for themselves to address the city’s challenges and further strengthen their community.

From the Rural West to the Big City in the East

Jacob and Linda met in Amsterdam in the early 1990s, where they worked at Youth With A Mission (YWAM), which runs a discipleship training school and emphasizes global outreach.

Jacob used his background in outreach ministry and his creative skills to support YWAM’s presence, while Linda used her background in social work and psychology to counsel youth coming out of the infamous Red Light District.

For a long time, the couple had a shared desire to serve in a nation lacking strong Christian roots.

“We felt called to serve in a country where almost no missionary could go,” Jacob explained.

He remembered meeting a man in New York whose organization was involved in various social work projects in Hanoi. When given the chance to work at a children’s home, the Bloembergs jumped at it.

“It was like an answer to our prayers, to find a place to serve where we could use our professional skills.  After graduating in 1996, we joined that organization and arrived in 1997,” Jacob expounded.

At the time, Hanoi was far from the modern, multicultural city it’s become today. 

“Hanoi was like a giant village, surrounded by rice fields. There was nothing familiar there; we needed to adjust very quickly,” Linda recalled.

Though the initial adjustment wasn’t easy, especially with two small children in tow, the young family quickly became enamored with the mixture of old colonial architecture, French influence, and welcoming people.

Jacob and Linda raised their family in Hanoi; both Bloemberg children attended Vietnamese international schools and grew up as third-culture kids, or children of expatriates raised in a culture different from their parents, and their third child was also born in Hanoi.

Stepping Into the Call at Hanoi International Fellowship

Jacob earned a master’s in organizational leadership from Regent in 2008 while working at Hanoi International Fellowship (HIF). Linda graduated with her master’s degree in education from Regent, as well, acquiring invaluable skills in teaching and curriculum development.  Thanks to generous scholarships, Jacob and Linda completed their studies while remaining debt-free.

While experiencing the provision of Jehovah Jireh, the Bloembergs committed to walking in the footsteps of Christ by serving and teaching the gospel at HIF, which was known as a tight-knit community of Christian expatriates.

Breaking into the Christian scene in Vietnam was a challenge, but one Jacob was ready to take on. The international church was small, and there weren’t many opportunities to get actively involved in the community as a foreigner.

“At that time, foreigners could not go to the Vietnamese church, and Vietnamese could not go to the international church. If they did, they would be followed by security and police and questioned,” Jacob said of those early years.

Even so, he quickly became involved in international leadership. After HIF went through an identity crisis in 2004–2005, God opened the doors for him to step up and become the pastor.

“What the church really needed was leadership,” he said.

Even though he never wanted or planned on becoming a pastor and attended Bible college with the hope of being a missionary, God had a plan for him.  Under his leadership, HIF’s congregation continued to grow. Though originally a church solely for the expatriate community, roughly 10–20% of the congregation is now Vietnamese, according to the Bloembergs.

Jeremiah 29:7 has become a powerful thematic verse for the church, with God reminding the exiled Israelites to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.”

“The peace and prosperity of Hanoi were directly correlated with the peace and prosperity of our congregation,” Jacob noted. He also detailed how much Hanoi’s wider Christian community has grown.

“When we came, the city had two million people, with maybe 2,000 Christians. Today, the city has a population of 10 million, with 10,000 Christians…Since Hanoi International Fellowship’s humble beginnings, it’s become one of the largest Christian congregations in northern Vietnam, with over 600 regular attendees…It’s really exciting. The churches are here, working together, collaborating, and even meeting and impacting government.”

HIF has also been involved in missionary work in other developing nations, such as Iraq, and a few Vietnamese Christians have even become part of the church’s regular staff and gone on mission trips.

“That’s something we never could have imagined,” both Jacob and Linda commented.

Guiding International Students to Be World-Changers

Linda first began her journey by working at a Vietnamese school that taught children in preschool through first grade. As members of the Christian expat community, she and Jacob were involved in some of the early conversations about establishing a larger school.

In 2011, Linda helped found the Lutheran-influenced Concordia International School. It remains the only Christian-founded nonprofit school in Hanoi. Linda initially taught, but she now works as a middle school counselor on the campus, which is located just outside of Hanoi’s city center where HIF is based.

The prestigious institution offers an enriching, high-quality education to students in preschool through 12th grade, and the curriculum includes academically challenging AP classes. The student body comes from wealthy Vietnamese families, and many are also the children of diplomats and international business leaders. Many Concordia graduates go on to attend prestigious universities in the U.S.

“For me, the passion is working with third-culture kids as well as Vietnamese and just empowering them to look at life through a different lens, to look at how they can be a kind person and contribute to their community and society,” Linda stated.

“The expectation is that the kids [at Concordia] will be very high performers. My challenge is to show them, ‘You can do really well, but you can also be a really good person,’ Linda noted. “My passion lies in helping kids grow and become all they can be.”

Linda enjoys the rewards and challenges that come with counseling middle schoolers.

“There’s a joy and sincerity there, and I think tapping into that and helping them to understand who they are and who they can be is a gift,” she said.

Linda also takes a lot of pleasure in reconnecting with old students and seeing how they’ve grown up and used the seeds she previously planted in their lives.

Love Hanoi: Spreading God’s Love in Vietnam

Jacob and Linda’s impact in the community hasn’t ended with their day jobs, and with the support of the community, they’ve been able to expand their ministry and take their work to the next level.   

From early on, Jacob sought to integrate the church into the local culture, and he’s been at the forefront of the networking efforts between the church and various stakeholders.

“We would identify partners we could work with, like local churches, local nonprofits, charities, or private initiatives, so our church members could be involved, and we could support those different projects. It became a network, and I realized no one else was doing this kind of networking,” he noted.

How to best serve the local community was always at the forefront of Jacob’s mind. One of HIF’s big breakthroughs was the creation of a free English club, which has not only allowed professionals in the area to gain valuable language skills but has also helped them learn more about Christianity and create a kind of “on-ramp” to church membership.

He first got the idea to launch a citywide movement after coming across the book To Transform a City by Eric Swanson, which describes how a group of Christian leaders started “Love Boulder” in Boulder, Colorado. The small movement sought to unify pastors and church leaders so that they could better support nonprofit organizations and city residents alike.

He was also inspired by citywide movements in The Hague and Singapore. And from the beginning, it was important that the Vietnamese movement stay local.

“We felt we could spearhead it and get a movement started, and then over time, have local churches join us, and eventually we’d hand it over to those local churches so that we would be part of it but not always be the ones leading it as foreigners. That was the idea from the start,” he explained.

Jacob’s Love Hanoi campaign was created in 2012, and it laid the groundwork for the two-day Love Hanoi Festival in 2017, which represented the first mass evangelism event in all of Vietnam’s history.

“Our biggest milestone was when Franklin Graham came in 2017, and we had over 30,000 people come to a small stadium to hear the gospel, and over 4,500 people came forward in response to the altar call,” he fondly recalled.

Jacob’s 2020 book, Love [Your City]: 5 Steps to Citywide Movements, has been a big part of the Love Your City Vietnam campaign, which has since morphed into a major movement aimed at providing mission leaders and Christians of every flavor with the tools to transform cities into places where God’s love can truly shine.

The movement has inspired Christian leaders around the world to kick off their own movements and build something new and powerful.

Growing the Church and Advancing His Kingdom in Hanoi

This year, Jacob and Linda have been blessed with the unprecedented opportunity to build a Christian community center in the city’s new diplomatic quarter. Jacob hopes the 500-seat center will help further expand HIF’s influence and impact in Hanoi and strengthen its connections to the local community.

The new neighborhood housing the facility will hold 14 new embassies, including ones representing the Middle East and Malaysia, and the new National Government Center will be built across the street.

“It will be a very international area, where there are a lot of middle- to upper-class Vietnamese. The city’s police colonel over religious affairs is very excited that we’re moving into the same building where he lives, and he’s been a real support to us,” Jacob mentioned.

Though the church has grown, the questions remain the same: how can HIF remain missionally engaged, and what services can it provide to the community?

Jacob hopes the new center can help address more pressing societal issues like familial abuse and breakdowns, depression, suicide, and addictions. He also plans to continue HIF’s Alpha Marriage, Alpha Parenting, and mental health programs.

Mental health remains crucially important to HIF, and one of its partner organizations has set up a mental health program designed to help parents recognize and react to crises.

“Especially during COVID, there were a lot of suicides among young people. There is definitely an increase in the need to learn new parenting skills,” Jacob said.

Linda has led the Alpha Parenting class at school and experienced firsthand the cultural shift that’s occurred around parenting concepts. When she started teaching the class, she had three parents. This past spring, she had up to 40 parents—every week.

“People are trying to learn new skills because they realize that they don’t know what to do with their kids, and they want help. That’s been a huge change in the past 7 years—how people are open to other ways of interacting, of looking at mental health, of supporting their families. It’s an exciting point in the culture to see some of that shift,” she said.

Looking Back and Looking Forward

The Bloembergs have done much for Hanoi in the decades since they arrived in the ‘90s, excited to chase what once seemed like an impossible dream. As Hanoi continues to evolve and grow its economy and Jacob and Linda look back at all their progress, the couple is eager to see what lies ahead.

“He’s been pivotal in the unity of the churches in Hanoi and the relationship with the government,” Linda said of her husband.

She described how Jacob was recently approached by a denominational leader from Ho Chi Minh City who expressed interest in replicating Hanoi’s church-building efforts there.

“Part of what is unique here is that all of the denominations are in our congregation. We’ve had over 90 different nationalities come to our church. Our congregation is modeled on unity,” Jacob explained.

HIF is nondenominational and serves both Vietnamese citizens and expats. Historically, the different denominations in Vietnam have been in conflict, but thanks to HIF and a local government that’s relaxed some of its restrictions on religion, the Christian movement in Hanoi has become more diverse and inclusive than ever.

“I never wanted to become a pastor or preach, but what I came to realize is that we had this great international congregation here that included ambassadors, diplomats, World Bank and IMF directors, oil company executives, local business leaders, NGO directors, and teachers. Our church is impacting every stratum of society, from the president and prime minister to the poorest of the poor,” Jacob stated.

When asked what advice he’d give to younger Christians interested in sharing God’s love with the world, he stated, “I’d encourage students to be on a mission. You don’t have to leave your country to reach the nations anymore in today’s global diaspora; they are everywhere. Every village in the U.S. has international students. There’s a tremendous opportunity for impact from using your skills and being missionally engaged as you faithfully serve God.”

As the Lord continues to guide Jacob and Linda in their journey and Hanoi further evolves, they plan to continue to help people in the community become aware of God’s mission for them. They also credit Regent for much of their success in Hanoi.

Jacob has since earned his doctor of transformational leadership from another university, but he still had this to say about his time at Regent.

“The decision to get our master’s really set us up professionally for the paradigm shift that has taken place here in Hanoi. For Linda to become a teacher and then a counselor at an international school and for me to lead the congregation through the various stages of growth, I still fall back on a lot of the concepts that have been taught at Regent. It definitely was a turning point.”

Linda concluded, “The degree you get at Regent is what is going to open the door. These countries aren’t accessible without it.”

For more information or to support the Bloemberg’s efforts in Hanoi visit

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