Resurgence of Hope in Vietnam

August 08, 2013

“Su” knows what it feels like to stare at the four walls of a darkened prison cell, sick and alone. His only visitors were the ones he preferred not to see–interrogators who came every day to press him for information about his “co-conspirators.” After a round of questions and a beating, they left him bloodied and bruised with the promise that they would return the next day with more of the same.

“Sometimes I asked God, why me? Why do I have to go through all of this?” said Su, a Vietnamese Christian who has been in and out of prison for several years for sharing his faith. “God was the only comfort for me during those times.”

This committed servant of the Lord loved his countrymen so much that he was willing to pay a heavy price to tell them the good news of his Savior.

One day Su received word that the police were going to kill ten inmates in his section of the prison–and he was in cell #7.

He heard the shots fired at the first prisoner. Then the second one. He prayed as the police proceeded down the row of cells.

Just before they reached his location, the shooting inexplicably ceased and the police left. God had spared his life.

When he was released from prison after serving his last stint, a two-year sentence, Su weighed a mere 90 pounds. He was so weak he could not walk. He had to be carried out of the prison to freedom.

Many people would not fault Su if he had chosen to retreat for a while and hang up his evangelism shoes. But that was not his desire. Having deepened his relationship with God during the prison years, Su was eager to be about his Father´s work.

Su is not alone in his remarkable dedication. He knows of about 60 pastors who are currently serving time in Vietnamese prisons. Some Christian leaders have served a decade or more. Upon their release, they return to their churches or to the mission field among unreached tribal groups in the country´s highlands.

Christian Aid Mission donors assist some of these gospel workers. Despite the challenges, Su and his team of missionaries have planted hundreds of churches throughout rural Vietnam and trained tribal pastors to make an impact in their communities.

The need is great as Vietnam has one of the most diverse minority populations in Southeast Asia. Of 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam, Su said only 32 of them have Christians. A handful of the groups are believed to be completely unreached with the gospel.

Many of these ethnic groups live in remote mountain villages and still practice the animist traditions of their ancestors. However, indigenous missionaries like Su have found the highland tribes to be very receptive to the gospel, especially in the last ten years. Through their efforts, there are now thousands of believers in these areas.

Equipping tribal pastors is the primary focus of Su´s ministry. These leaders can in turn disciple others and plant new churches among their people. Thus far, more than 10,000 individuals have participated in the Christian education program, which receives support through Christian Aid. More are waiting to receive training as funds become available for course materials and other related expenses.

While there are registered churches operating in Hanoi and other cities, the government fiercely opposes efforts to establish churches among the country´s tribal peoples. Some of these tribes sided with the United States during the war and the Vietnamese government still regards them with suspicion.

Su said in one mountain tribe, 29 people became Christians and began meeting together for worship and Bible study. Local officials told them their activities were illegal because they were not registered.

However, when the pastors of 40 churches recently met with communist leaders to receive legal registration, their request was denied, said Su. Each of the churches has a congregation of over 500 members. A letter sent to top officials in Hanoi also met with no success.

Attempts to restrict the growth of Christianity have actually produced the opposite results. When a congregation is ordered to shut down their building, they often branch out into small fellowships. Those house churches then grow independently, and in a matter of a few years, they may have 200 members.

Su points to two major reasons behind the rapid emergence of Christianity in the past three decades. “People realize they are missing something spiritually. They need something to depend on. They are hungering for something more than their pagan god who cannot give them an answer to their problems.”

“Just as significant, the Vietnamese people are looking at Christians, at the relationships they have, the blessings they enjoy,” he said. “They can tell a difference between God´s children and unbelievers. This makes them curious to find out about God, and that has led to an explosion of the gospel in Vietnam.”