Refugee Becomes Ministry Pioneer

Winston N. Bui escaped Vietnam as a boy during the fall of Saigon in 1975. Today, the former refugee leads the Vietnamese Fellowship of the Assemblies of God in the U.S. and has spent the past 20 years as a popular speaker and pioneer of different Chi Alpha Campus Ministries chapters at colleges and universities in several states.

“Chi Alpha has been my family for a long time,” Bui says. “Through it I was discipled, I learned how to preach and do ministry, and how to chase after God.”

Bui was born in Saigon to a captain in the South Vietnamese (U.S.-allied) army. On April 30, 1975, as Saigon descended into chaos, Winston’s father gathered the family and a few possessions and hurried them to the harbor. On the way, Winston recalls seeing many dead bodies and hearing gunfire amid great confusion. They boarded a boat, as did thousands of others, and escaped. The Vietcong blew a hole in the boat with a cannon, but did not disable it. Many other refugees drowned and died that day as the last U.S. forces withdrew.

The crew of a U.S. Navy vessel aided the craft and helped patch the hole. The Vietnamese boat ended up at Wake Island, a U.S. protectorate in the South Pacific Ocean. From there, the Bui family and others went to a refugee camp in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. Somehow, Winston’s father connected with a sponsor in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, who helped the family find housing and employment.

Years later, one of Winston’s high school classmates invited him to a church youth service. That evening, Winston responded to the gospel message.

“I have never looked back,” he says. “That night there was a revival fire in me, a holy hunger for God that has never gone away.”

At an Assemblies of God youth camp the next summer, Bui felt called to ministry, and after he registered at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, he pioneered a Chi Alpha group there and found his path. By his senior year, the chapter had become one of the largest student-led Chi Alpha groups in the U.S. Bui remained and led the group for several more years, marrying Kimberly D. Baldwin, a native of Oklahoma who shared his call to ministry. She is an ordained AG minister, like her husband.

The couple moved to Columbia, Missouri, to lead the Chi Alpha group at the University of Missouri, which at the time numbered nine students. Within a few years, the Mizzou chapter had several hundred students regularly involved. The same kind of numerical, relational, and spiritual flourishing happened when the Buis moved to California to pioneer a group at UCLA, which grew from a few students into hundreds.

“The key is one-on-one relationships, small groups, discipleship, and a community dedicated to pursuing God together,” he says. “A debate won’t win a campus, but the supernatural can. The gifts of the Spirit, one-on-one discipleship, praise and worship, words of knowledge, and words of wisdom all cause increase.”

Troy Singleterry, lead pastor of City View Church in San Diego, says Bui “is a voice that God is using in tremendous ways in churches, missions trips, conferences, and on college campuses.”

“Winston speaks with love and boldness, from experience,” says Singleterry, 50. “Winston is one of the voices God is raising up in a time of uncertainty, fear, anxiety, and stress.”

Today, the Buis are moving into a new chapter of ministry in the Sooner State, directing Chi Alpha at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. Winston continues to lead the Vietnamese Fellowship in the U.S., which has churches in cities such as Dallas, Houston, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Jose. He is casting vision and developing leaders with the goal of planting more AG churches across America. Bui, who is a U.S. missionary as well as a member of the AG’s Commission on Ethnicity, travels and preaches globally.

In November 2019, he returned to his birthplace of Ho Chi Minh City to speak at the 30th General Council of the Assemblies of God in Vietnam. His family retains strong ties to the country and Bui speaks there often.

“I feel overwhelmed by God’s kindness, mercy, and compassion toward a young man who was once a refugee,” he says. “I will always bless the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Chi Alpha nation for what God has done in my life.”

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