Taking Up the Cross of Christ

October 28, 2009

EXAMINING the lives of believers in Vietnam, Laos, and Burma, we can begin to understand the nature and cause of persecution many Christians experience. All three countries have military dictatorships at the helm of government. Both human rights and religious rights are often trampled. In Burma persecution by Buddhist monks adds to the burden of government harassment. These corrupt governments are trying to maintain control and power by inhumane treatment of Christians and other minority groups.

Christian Aid Mission helps to provide for the needs of many ministries whose workers encounter danger and suffering, but who serve the Lord faithfully knowing that their lives count for the kingdom. As Tertullian said, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."

Christianity is seen as a foreign, and particularly western, religion. Fear of cultural change can generate persecution, as some think the new believer will try to alter the lives of others. Sadly, sometimes the harshest persecution comes from the family of the new believer.

Christians in rural Vietnam meet in secret under a bamboo bush.

The Hmong tribal people

Vietnam has recently become more lenient in its treatment of Christians, possibly because of international pressure. Yet the government continues to harass and persecute the Body of Christ. In March a third letter of its kind was sent to the authorities by the major Protestant church, listing grievances such as church buildings and Bible school buildings being confiscated.

Ethnic minorities in Vietnam, especially in the North, have suffered greatly. The Hmong are a tribal, hill people who live in the jungles of Vietnam, Laos, Burma, Thailand and China. They have been especially targeted by the Communist governments because of a lingering resentment of the help Hmong men gave to the USA during the Vietnam War.

A congregation in a Southeast Asian country gathers to pray on the foundation of their meeting place that was destroyed.

As the Hmong people embraced Christ, the persecution increased to the point of near genocide. Chemical warfare was used to try to exterminate the Hmong population in Laos, and thousands died from the poison the government spread by helicopters. Not only men, but many women and children were the victims of this devastation.

Laos is considered among the top 10 countries in persecution of Christians. Recent raids upon villages in tribal hill territory have resulted in many Christian families being rounded up and removed from their homes. They were loaded into trucks for relocation and some suffered starvation.

Brutality comes in many forms.

Whereas the Constitution of Laos promises religious freedom, the government allows local officials to do their best to destroy Christianity. Typical persecution involves difficult jail time and families are separated without knowledge of the whereabouts of loved ones.

Pastors sometimes just disappear and their bodies are later found. Others endure brutal torture while imprisoned. One pastor described the kind of treatment they received as "being chained with their feet in stocks in stinking cells without any sanitation." This was the price he paid for refusing to renounce his faith in Jesus. At the same time many were able to share their faith with other prisoners who were led to Christ.

While progress is being made in some provinces of Laos, still in other places there is a "zero Christians" policy. To eradicate believers some stringent measures are taken. One example is a native missionary in Burma who was denied a national identification card, which is needed to prove Burmese nationality. Without this proof of citizenship virtually nothing happens. No identity card equals no job, no food, no trade, and no viable life. One cannot move about freely without having to show this precious card. Christians can quickly become non-persons if this card is withdrawn or never issued.

Suffering for Christ

This meeting place where Christians gathered for teaching and fellowship was closed by authorities, forcing believers to meet outside where they could be seen and harmed by antagonists.

The story of one Christian martyr in Laos is reminiscent of the Apostle Paul´s life. Trained in Russia to advance their doctrine of Communism, this Lao leader returned home to take up a government post. God had other ideas for him. The man fell in love with a Christian woman in a certain Lao province and was introduced to Christ. Educated to eradicate Christianity, missionary Aloun proceeded to spread the gospel of Christ in all of the areas where he had previously sought to erase it!

After his conversion, he began to plant churches in Laos. Within a matter of five to seven years, the number of new believers grew to nearly four thousand. Aloun became a serious problem for the authorities. At one point he was arrested and put in jail for over a year for his faith. Upon his release he continued preaching despite warnings and frequent threats upon his life.

After preaching at a church in another district during the Christmas season in December 2005, Aloun started for home to be with his family. He never returned. His family and relatives searched for him.

His body was found in a dried creek bed. He had been stabbed near the heart and his throat had been slashed. His face was bruised and beaten. The former Communist Lao leader, who dedicated his life to Christ, went home to be with the Lord.

Martyrdom not in vain

Praise God that Aloun had laid much groundwork before he was so violently taken from his family. His wife continued the work by providing their home as a gathering place for the church in that area. God is at work in that province in a mighty way.

Later in 2006 for the first time ever, a three-day assembly of pastors and church leaders was allowed to take place. Christian Aid Mission is helping this ministry to grow and bring the saving knowledge of Christ to more people. Through gifts sent by donors, a training center was built for this area; more churches are sure to follow.

House church meeting where adults and children gather to sing praises to God.

Sadly, however, more Christian families have been removed by force near this same area in recent times. The persecution has an ebb and flow, depending upon international pressure when atrocities are discovered and made known to the world at large.

Believers in Christ and Buddhists in Burma

In Burma, a predominantly Buddhist country, there have been many cases of forced conversion from Christianity to Buddhism. This has involved violence and deprivation. Modes of persecution include forced labor, denying permits to build churches, and the closing of churches. Houses are burned, as well as churches. It is also illegal to print or import Bibles in native languages.

Church planters and pastors are the most visible targets of persecution. These hostilities are often carried out by the local governments.

Christian Aid Mission helps to support 14 ministries in Burma. Despite the persecution, many are turning to Christ. One church leader has this to say regarding the recent relief work in post-Cyclone Nargis: "In one place where we have our relief work carried out, we were even invited by the victims to start a church. This is an unusual blessing." The Lord has used this tragedy to show how the love of God can manifest itself in times of need. It is a way in which Christians can show their compassion and caring.

Giving thanks for our blessings

How many of us have more than one Bible available to read, attend Bible studies at will, and feel safe in our churches and at home? Our children can attend schools, and we are free to work without fear of government intervention. These are things many of our brothers and sisters in poorer lands do not share and will never take for granted. Pray that one day every believer will be able to worship the Lord freely and without fear of persecution.