A policeman in northern Vietnam who used to go to villages to threaten and arrest Christians now goes to the same villages to tell people about Christ – under threat of harsh punishment.
For years officer Thien Nguyen* had followed orders to infiltrate worship services to search for pretexts for arresting church leaders and shutting down churches.
He had cited house churches that were unregistered because they didn’t have the minimum number of members for legal recongition. He’d cited other congregations that had failed to merge with the government-designated area church. He had arrested evangelists proclaiming salvation in Christ for undermining cultural unity.
In the process, Thien had heard enough sermons that he began to see the basis for belief in Christ – and the unworldly grace and kindness that flowed from Jesus and from congregation members. After retiring last year, he put his faith in Christ, and soon he was going to the same villages to tell people how God had changed his life.
As he was telling residents in one area about Christ, the village head came and approached him.
“You must stop your testimony,” the official told him, according to Thien.
He told the village head that he was only sharing about his new life. The official beat him and slashed his head with a knife.
“He had to go to the hospital for 10 days,” the leader of a local ministry said. “We visited him when he went back to his house, and he said that his head still ached. We prayed for him and supported him three times with $500 to pay for the hospital expenses.”
Thien said his suffering was worth the spiritual fruit he witnessed.
“After I became a Christian, I shared the gospel with many unreached people,” he said. “Praise the Lord, there was a family from one tribe with four people that received Christ, and another tribe where 88 people became new Christians, too.”
Losing All for Christ
The native ministry leader whose charges planted the church where Thien received Christ said many Vietnamese Christians have been persecuted in mountain areas along the border with China and Laos.
“If someone believes in Christ, the local government official kicks him and his family out of the village, and they have to camp out in the jungle,” he said. “And they lose almost everything – motorcycle, bicycle, rice, cows, pigs, chickens.”
Denominational leaders met with the federal government ministers and members of Vietnam’s National Assembly about persecution in the region, and the officials visited the area, he said. But when Christians driven into the jungle were able to return to their homes, it was too late.
“After one or two months they were able to come back to their village, but their houses were destroyed,” the leader said. “Their life got very difficult. Some Christian families had to move to a Christian village.”
Local authorities persecuting Christians work with tribal villagers who practice animistic folk religions, 45 percent of the population of the communist country. Most of the more than 51 percent of the population that the Joshua Project characterizes as Buddhists also practice some form of traditional tribal religion. Evangelical Christians make up less than 3 percent of the population.
Vietnam’s 2018 Law on Belief and Religion gave antagonists more weapons for persecution, such as forcing religious groups to report on routine activities like festivals and conferences, according to the U.S. Committee on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
“For unrecognized groups, the law criminalizes activities not approved in advance by the government, effectively closing the gray area in which they had previously operated,” USCIRF reported in 2019.
The new religion law has been used, for example, to prohibit church leaders from making home visits to lead services, according to USCIRF.
“Throughout 2018 local authorities cited the law to justify prohibiting informal religious activity that the previous legal framework had tolerated, if not endorsed,” the committee’s 2019 report states.
Opposition from tribal animists can be so intense that many new Christians feel compelled to go to other villages to share the gospel to avoid being expelled from their own, the ministry leader said.
Exceptions, however, abound. In another area of northern Vietnam, a villager rejected local missionaries’ message of eternal life until they persuaded him to begin visiting their church in another area, and six weeks later he put his faith in Christ.
“He was very happy and went back to his house, where he shared the gospel with his family, and his wife and six children received Christ,” the leader said. “After one month, there were another eight families who received Christ because of his new life. And now there is a new church there, where people gather to worship the Lord in his house.”
Such local missionaries are overcoming opposition to proclaim Christ throughout Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Please consider a donation today to provide aid to them, family members of arrested church leaders and other Christians persecuted for their faith.
*Name changed for security purposes.