Over the past two years I have taken six trips into countries near Cambodia that do not have religious freedom and whose governments actively persecute the church of Christ. On a few occasions I have been able to join groups of people smuggling Bibles into Vietnam.
What a joy to be able to bring them God’s Word! Although by the letter of its law Vietnam has religious freedom, in practical terms this is not the case. Even in the capital city I heard many stories from Christians about how they have been persecuted. One pastor’s wife shared how she had grown to trust in God over the years.
She said that when she and her husband first began having meetings in their home she was very scared of the police and lived every day in fear. It did not take long for the secret police to show up at her doorstep — and on top of that they came when a meeting was taking place!
They told her that they knew she and her husband were holding illegal gatherings in their home upstairs and that they (the police) needed to go upstairs and take the names of everyone there.
She said she told them, ‘Only those who believe in Jesus Christ can go upstairs. Do you believe in Jesus Christ?’ The police responded that they did not.
‘Do you want to believe in Jesus Christ?’ Again they responded, ‘No’. And so she told them, ‘When you believe in Jesus Christ you are welcome to come in and go upstairs, but until you believe you may not enter’.
The police threatened her by saying they would take her to jail. She replied, ‘Thank you! Then I can share Christ with all the people who are in the jail!’
‘We will kill you’, the police said, taking their threats to a new level.
‘Thank you! Then I will be with my heavenly Father!’
After talking for a while longer the police finally left. The pastor’s wife said she has never been afraid since. ‘They can do whatever they want to me, it doesn’t matter, because I have Christ!’
As a westerner I once used to glamorise the persecuted church and her suffering for Christ. But now I realise that the persecuted church is far from glamorous and far from perfect. It has many struggles — problems over church unity, false teachers and bad doctrine.
It has many of the same struggles that non-persecuted churches face, but added to them is an authoritarian government that oppresses for complex reasons. For example, in Vietnam minority people groups tend to be singled out and persecuted both for their faith and for political reasons.
Also the oppression varies in intensity, depending on the province and even the city — it is also worse in the north than the south.
But in the midst of the complexities stands the church — a people persecuted for their faith in Christ. They are put in prison and labour camps and even killed, because they name Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Joyfully they endure these hardships -knowing that Christ has riches in store for them beyond their -imagination.
Over the past two years I have been learning ways of practically helping the persecuted church by taking Bibles to them, praying for them, and encouraging them. I look forward to continuing learning just how God would have me serve them.