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Christian Workers Overcome Difficulties in Vietnam

May 4, 2017

 Destroyed church building in Vietnam.
Destroyed church buildings are just one difficulty facing Christians in Vietnam.

Vietnam's new law on religion has generated much debate in the human rights community, but church leaders know for certain only that difficult realities will continue — and that they can speak of them only in hushed tones.

The new law passed in November crystallizes previous ordinances on church registration and controls, and little is expected to change when it takes effect on Jan. 1, 2018. Registering with the Communist government will continue to be difficult if not impossible for some churches, and those that do will be hampered by prohibitions on Sunday school classes and taking Communion, especially in rural areas.

Church leaders unwilling to submit their congregations to religious freedom violations accompanying registration then leave themselves open to arrest. The leader of an indigenous ministry in the Central Highlands said several pastors remain jailed or are being monitored because of their faith.

"This difficult situation has not changed," he said. "All these pastors' families are still living under surveillance and are watched closely."

The families of pastors jailed or under surveillance are thankful for financial support that concerned parties have managed to secretly pass to them, he added. The director recently learned that some pastors have been released from prison, but only because their sentences had been completed or because they were seriously ill and were sent home to die.

"At the same time, other pastors have been secretly captured and taken away at night," he said. "Additionally, some churches were destroyed in a city, and the persecution is worsening."

As peoples who have been associated with separatist movements, Central Highland tribes such as the Hmong have long suffered government harassment and discrimination. That's one reason the government has monitored, interrogated and discriminated against them, and local authorities in a country that is majority Buddhist have seized their land and withheld social services due to both their ethnicity and faith, according to the U.S. State Department's latest International Religious Freedom Report.

An estimated 45,000 to 50,000 members of the Hmong and other tribes have fled northern provinces to the Central Highland since 2007 to avoid heavy persecution, the director said. About 90 percent of them are Christians. With assistance from Christian Aid Mission, the indigenous ministry provides encouragement and financial support to imprisoned pastors' families who suffer from poverty and hunger. The support it provides to imprisoned church leaders sustains many who would otherwise die of malnutrition and disease.

Protestant Christians make up only 1 to 2 percent of Vietnam's population, and Roman Catholics 7 percent, according to the religious freedom report.

Slightly more than half of Hmong families in Vietnam have a Bible, and many of them have only copies that are old and torn, the director said. Most Hmong families are large, with 7 to 10 children, all of them sharing one Bible.

"We continue printing and buying Bibles for the Hre and Hmong tribes in Vietnam, both suffering heavy persecution for their faith," he said. "Our goal in the next few years is for each family to have two newer Bibles."

As churches have emerged and disciples have multiplied, the need for skilled pastors has put leadership training at the heart of the indigenous ministry.

"With so many people accepting the Lord as their Savior, they need someone to guide them on their pilgrim journey," the director said. "When the leadership is not nurtured and discipled, misconceptions and false teachings may develop. Pastors, church workers, and missionaries all need proper biblical instruction to combat the wiles of the enemy."

Vietnamese believers worshipping.
One of a growing number of house churches in Vietnam's Central Highlands.

Training sessions shift to alternate locations to avoid interference from authorities. With donor assistance, one prospective leader can be trained at a cost of about $200, he said.

The ministry has expanded outreach and training to Cambodia and Laos among the Bru and Khmer tribes, and the training of house-church leaders has grown with it. Attendance has grown to 25 in each of the training sessions in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

"As part of the training, the students routinely witness in the surrounding areas and have brought many to Christ," he said. "Two new house churches have been planted, with 141 new believers."

Teams also minister in Malaysia, where poor laborers from northern Vietnam are lured with false promises of high-paying work, deprived of their passports upon arrival, and forced to toil 10-12 hour days — for less than $100 a month. The ministry reaches out to these countrymen, helping to care for them and those who have ended up on the streets or in jail for trying to escape without a passport. Workers also help connect them with officials from the Vietnamese Embassy so they can return home.

Once some of the most gospel-resistant people in the country, when they return home from Malaysia as Christians they are some of the most fruitful evangelists in the north, often sharing their faith in their home villages, especially around Hanoi, according to Christian leaders.

"Many have started their own house churches," the director said.

He preaches in many churches each year, reaching hundreds of Central Highland tribal people who have never heard the gospel.

"I actually received permission from the central government to speak to over 1,500 people in an auditorium of the largest hotel in one town, where 821 people accepted Jesus as their Savior that night," he said. "Additionally over 1,000 souls professed faith in Christ at several different locations in the Christmas season. Please continue praying for these new believers to stand firm in their faith."

To help indigenous missionaries to meet needs, you may contribute online using the form below, or call (434) 977-5650. If you prefer to mail your gift, please mail to Christian Aid Mission, P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Please use Gift Code: 740MIV. Thank you!


SC: MIR