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An Unexpected Leader

Que Nguyen, who immigrated to the U.S. as a teen, is the new leader of the AG Vietnamese Fellowship.

Grieving her mother’s death, Que N. Nguyen was 17 when she boarded a plane in Vietnam with her father and two younger siblings.

They came to the United States with only $50 and the suitcases they’d been allowed to bring. Her dad, Vy, spent years in a hard labor camp after the Vietnam War. Immigrating to the U.S. proved to be a new opportunity for him and his family.

Yet culture shock combined with grief overwhelmed the teenaged Que, who’d left behind everything she’d ever known.

She didn’t expect that the journey eventually would result in a saving relationship with Christ and ministerial leadership positions.

Nguyen is pastor of the Vietnamese Christian Center in Worcester, Massachusetts, and new acting president of the Assemblies of God Vietnamese Fellowship.

Born in 1974, about six months before the war ended, Nguyen lived in Ho Chi Minh City, known as Saigon before the end of the war. Her father served as a captain in the South Vietnamese Army, assisted by U.S. troops. After the war, the victors dispatched Vy to a prison reeducation camp. The newly victorious government also took away Que’s grandma, a colonel of the women's armed forces corps.

Nguyen was 7 when her mother, Nga Mai, woke her one morning to say her dad had returned.

“I looked at this man I’d never met before in my life,” Que recalls. “I wasn’t sure what to do.” Although polite, she didn’t hug him.

Que had little hope about a U.S. relocation program, so she focused on her studies in school in the Communist nation. A photo of the North Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh had to be the largest picture displayed in every household.

Her exposure to Christianity came through a tract titled “Unconditional Love,” which she found in her mom’s closet. She later heard a prayer before a friend’s birthday party meal. She believes these represented God planting seeds.

In 1989, her mother became ill and died. Nguyen, then 15, says she turned into a depressed, isolated person.

“I didn’t want to talk to anybody,” she says.

When her family — including sister Hang and brother Khanh — emigrated from Vietnam in 1992, Que faced more pain, leaving behind friends and relatives in a time before social media and text messaging.

“It was a really low point in my life,” she says.

They settled in Jersey City, New Jersey, and her dad worked 10-hour days washing dishes in New York City. The British English that Que had learned in Vietnam didn’t sound like the dialect Americans spoke, so she had difficulty understanding people.

Six months after their arrival in the U.S., Vy Nguyen’s former army buddies moved the family to Worcester. Life became more settled.

“But for me, emotionally, I was a wreck,” she says.

Her life’s trajectory changed after her dad met pastor Samuel Dong Truong and his wife, Esther, at an English as a second language class. The Truongs told Vy about Jesus.

Suddenly, Que’s father began going somewhere each Sunday afternoon. He said little until Memorial Day 1993, when he asked Que if she wanted to attend a church picnic. She didn’t.

But in mid-June, the pastor invited the family to breakfast. Que agreed to go. There, Esther Truong told Que how Jesus died to pay for sins so those who believe have eternal life. She asked if Nguyen would like to pray to Jesus and receive Him as Lord and Savior. Nguyen says she felt a push in her heart and prayed.

Nguyen began attending Vietnamese Christian Center, was baptized, and joined the worship team. The pastor had his son, Phuong Truong, teach Nguyen how to drive a car.

Phuong told his mom that Nguyen talked too much. But after he finished with the driving instruction, he continued to call Que.

Nguyen graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute with a degree in biochemistry in 1997. She and Phuong Truong married in 1998. For seven years, she worked as a research associate for a drug company, before returning to school. She graduated from pharmacy school in 2007. She’s been a clinical pharmacist for 15 years.

Meanwhile, Nguyen served in various church roles, including as a translator after her father-in-law moved to Florida in 2003 for health reasons. While leading children in worship in 2009, Nguyen says she heard God’s call to raise up future church leaders.

She took classes through the Southern New England Ministry Network School of Ministry for two years. After the pastor resigned, Nguyen believes God told her to step up to leadership.

“I didn’t want to,” she says. “I’m a woman and this is an Asian church. In the Asian culture, the men are always the leaders.” But she received her ministerial credentials and Vietnamese Christian Center church members voted her in as pastor, a role she assumed in 2013.

Nguyen still works full time as a pharmacist for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Worcester. The outpatient clinic’s regular daytime office hours allow her to have the dual role.

In 2011, Nguyen and her husband became parents of Timothy and of Josephine in 2014. More recently, Southern New England District Superintendent Nicholas W. Fatato encouraged Nguyen to apply for ordination.

At the behest of Dennis J. Rivera, director of the AG’s Office of Ethnic Relations, Nguyen in May became interim president of the AG’s Vietnamese Fellowship, a month after she received her ordination.

One of Nguyen’s goals is to develop training materials in Vietnamese for those called to be ministers. She is encouraging prospective church leaders to be credentialed with the AG and to work with Global University to provide an online training program for them.

“Language evolves,” she says. “We need training materials for ministers, written in Vietnamese for American Vietnamese. We have adopted some of the culture/values here. So we’re shaped a little bit differently than the people who live in the old country.”

Nguyen also wants to connect ethnic churches to their local districts/ministry networks and the General Council, which can provide programs, training conferences, and other information.

Daniel T. Lam, treasurer of the AG’s Vietnamese Fellowship, pastors the Vietnamese Assembly of God in Boston.

“Que is an excellent leader,” Lam says. “She’s very well organized. She knows how to bring people together. Her ethics are well known and respected. She has a good relationship with many people and many pastors respect her. She is a very easy person to work with.”

Tammy Real McKeighan

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune in Nebraska, where she has worked since 1981. She is a member of Full Life Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Fremont. She has two sons, Michael and Zachary.