The evangelical church in Vietnam, numbering some 1.2 million Christians, has experienced a six-fold growth in the last ten years. Many churches have weekly days of corporate prayer and fasting, and run programmes of reading and memorising Scripture. They also have a commitment to preaching the gospel – and not just in their own country.
In one house-church denomination the pastors go through an eleven-year training programme before being ordained. While progressing through the earlier stages, a leader needs to have read through the Bible two or three times, started a home group of perhaps 8-12 people, and then planted a church of at least 20 people.
Pastor Silas, a Vietnamese pastor, recounts his experience. In 1975, when the communists took over, all missionaries were expelled from Vietnam. Churches were closed, Bibles burnt and pastors arrested. A faithful few continued to pray that God would visit their country.
In 1988 awakening came to many remote areas. There was no leading personality, church or denomination — just the Holy Spirit doing a work in the lives of God’s people, especially those whose hearts had grown cold because of difficulties, hardships and persecution.
Silas’ church began at that time, with 100 people meeting together. However, they suffered a lot of persecution from the authorities.
He says, ‘Most of the leaders who went out to plant churches at that time were imprisoned for up to a month, many times over. A few of us were imprisoned for up to three years, but the prison could not stop our enthusiasm for serving the Lord’.
He continues, ‘The authorities thought that by imprisoning the leaders they could destroy the church but the more we were persecuted the more the church grew. As Paul the apostle said, “I am in chains but the word of the Lord is not in chains”.
‘At first, when we were imprisoned for sharing the gospel, we were very afraid; but by the second or third time, we got used to it and we are not afraid anymore.’
As the Vietnamese church grew rapidly, the greatest challenge became not the persecution but how to manage the growth in numbers. ‘The secret for the church has been training and re-training’, says Pastor Silas.
In recent years, the authorities have persecuted church members — discriminating again them, and harassing and fining them. The fine hurts more than a beating. Pastor Silas says, ‘Many of our Vietnamese believers are very poor and the fine really frightens them, because how can they then feed their families?’
Another form of persecution involves the distribution of aid. Non-governmental agencies have to work through the government. However, Christians are singled out and told they must deny Jesus Christ if they want to receive the rice, clothes and medicine that others are given.
For the most part the believers choose Jesus. On one occasion, however, some Christians chose new homes and turned their backs on their faith. But after moving in, 70% of them repented and were forced to live in the forest with just forest roots to eat. But at least they found their faith again.
One of the pastors recently went to preach at a church in a Western country and was invited to be a pastor there. His response was, ‘The people are free and happy but the heart of the Christians is very cold in many of the churches. I am happy to serve the Lord in Vietnam. Even though we live under persecution and difficulties, we are very happy, very blessed’.
Another pastor summed up the spirit of this vibrant, growing, suffering church in Vietnam with this prayer request: ‘Our prayer is not that the persecution will stop, but that the Lord will give us power to continue to be faithful and continue to evangelise and be filled with courage and not be afraid’.