Missionaries of the Christian and Missionary Alliance began work in Vietnam in 1911. By 1929 their work resulted in the establishment of an independent Evangelical Church of Vietnam.
Over the years other missionary societies joined in the work of church-planting and by the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 there were 154,000 Evangelical Christians. Many of these belonged to underground churches, which had sprung up alongside the ‘open’ Evangelical Church of Vietnam.
The government of the now-unified communist Vietnam ordered all the missionaries to leave, and for the next 10 years few foreigners were able to enter the country — until the change of economic policy called doi moi (renovation) came into effect.
Although the Communists closed half the 600 church buildings that existed when they took over, the church has since grown significantly in numerical terms and is now over five times the size it was in 1975.
With growth has come increasing persecution, for Christians are seen as counter-revolutionary and a potential threat to the authorities. Pastors and lay people alike have been imprisoned, particularly those in the underground church — comprising tribal hill churches and unregistered house churches. Christians tend to be treated as second-class citizens.
Government restrictions are not so severe in the south as in the north, where there are only about 15 registered churches open. In the capital, Hanoi, there is only one. There are many house churches however. In the south of the country there are about 285 registered churches open, 40 of them in Ho Chi Minh City.
Bibles are obtainable in parts of Vietnam, but Bible commentaries, children’s materials and other Christian books are desperately needed. Christian radio broadcasts are listened to, although those who do so risk persecution. Local Christians are not allowed contact with foreigners and are not allowed to evangelise the hill tribes.
Suitable literature is translated into Vietnamese and often printed and distributed secretly. Leaders are trained unobtrusively through such programmes as Theological Education by Extension. In 2003 permission was given to re-open the first Bible college. 50 students are training to be pastors there.
Many aid and development agencies serve Vietnam, and more Christians need to be involved in these. The door is wide open for professionals in most walks of life — teachers of English in particular are needed.