A Catholic church in Kontum City, Central Vietnam
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE CHURCH IN VIETNAM
1500-1700 – Christianity introduced to Vietnam by Dutch and Portuguese traders
1859-1954 – French colonial rule brings Catholic missionaries
1911 – The first Protestant missionaries arrive in Vietnam
1975-1985 – As Vietnam becomes a Communist state, many Christians are imprisoned, sent to re-education camps, forced to flee the country, or killed
2009 – In the last recorded census, 6.2% of the population identified as Christian, but because of the persecution they face, many do not report their religious affiliation
2019 – The World Christian Database says 8.9% of the population of Vietnam are Christians. That’s 8.5 million Christians in a country of over 96 million people.
ONLY A HANDFUL OF BIBLES
When Vietnam became a Communist state in the 1970s, religious practices were outlawed, believers were imprisoned, and Bibles became scarce.
One believer remembers entering a competition to win a Bible for his mother. “I was a teenager,” he says. “And not that interested in God’s Word yet. My mom was a devout believer. She loved the Bible and it gave her great heartache that in the house church we attended there were only a handful of Bibles. Very few people had their own copy.
“When I saw how much she longed to have her own Bible and when our secret church organized a Bible memorization contest, I decided I wanted to win it. Not for myself, but because the main prize was a Bible. I memorized tons of Bible verses and was able to give my mother the Bible.”
Later in life, this man fell in love with God’s Word, and now he is one of Open Doors’ partners, helping persecuted believers on your behalf.
The days of his youth are long gone and the face of persecution has changed drastically in Vietnam. Persecution has become much more subtle. But a change of face doesn’t mean a change of character.
Today, our church family still face high levels of monitoring and restriction from the government, and believers from rural areas often face discrimination and violence from their families and neighbours.
And yet, despite the challenges they face, our brothers and sisters in Vietnam are continuing to be salt and light in their communities.
‘IF I STAYED, I COULD SHARE THE GOSPEL’
Vuong* is a believer who lost everything after he became a Christian. He was once a member of the Communist Party, but after he became a Christian, he lost his membership in the party, his job, his standing in the community, and faced constant harassment and abuse from his neighbours.
But he didn’t leave. For several years, he stayed. “I thought if I stayed, I could share the Gospel to others.”
This is the courageous faith of our church family in Vietnam. But to keep persevering under such ferocious persecution, they need the continuing support and prayers of their global church family.
A FOREIGN RELIGION
Christianity is seen as a foreign religion in Vietnam and regarded with suspicion. Many denominations of the church are seen as American – America is still regarded as an enemy since the US-Vietnam war of the 1970s.
Vuong*’s children were bullied for being ‘American’. “My children were very scared,” he says. “Their friends bullied and taunted them, saying ‘Why do you study here? Go to an American school!’”
Later, their house was set on fire by an angry mob making the same accusations. The mob shouted, “This is an American house! We are at war with the Americans! Your roof is from Vietnam! We have the right to destroy it!”
The other challenge that faces many of Vietnam’s Christians is that they face the double vulnerability of being both Christian and from an ethnic minority. Many of Vietnam’s ethnic minority groups fought on the side of the Americans in the war, and some would like to set up their own autonomous state, so the government regards them as trouble makers. It is estimated that two-thirds of all Protestant Christians in Vietnam are from ethnic minority groups.
Pastor Quan* is from the Hmong ethnic minority group, and experienced this ‘double trouble’ as he tried to bring Bibles in the Hmong language to the believers from his tribe.
‘THEY DO NOT WORSHIP OUR ANCESTORS ANYMORE!’
As well as facing added pressure from the government, believers from ethnic minorities also face persecution from their communities for leaving their traditional faith, which is often a form of animism or ancestor worship.
Choj*, another Hmong believer, used to sacrifice pigs and chickens to the gods, as was the custom in his village. But when Choj’s daughter became unwell, she was not healed through animal sacrifices, but through the prayers of a pastor in a church. Choj says, “I thought: ‘This must be God’. I decided to follow Christ.”
“My oldest brother said, ‘They don’t worship our ancestors anymore! He doesn’t worship our mother and father! He is against the family!’”
When Choj refused to go against his faith in Christ, his relatives destroyed his house. He and his wife and daughter are now living with his wife’s parents. He has received support from Open Doors to help him build a new house. He says, “I don’t know how to express my feelings but it means a lot that you are there for me. Thank you and may God bless you.”
The support and prayers of their global church family are helping Vietnamese believers to stand firm in the face of fierce persecution.
Anh* is a Vietnamese believer who felt called to move to another part of the country to share the gospel. When young people from the community started taking part in her church’s activities, their parents reported them to the authorities.
Anh had attend a Standing Strong Through the Storm (SSTS) seminar organised by Open Doors before this incident, which helped her to prepare for this kind of persecution. “I thank God for SSTS all the more now after facing persecution from local authorities. The course helped me know about the reality of persecution. This allowed me to be calm and bold. That’s why we were able to respond with kindness when the government officials came and persecuted us. I was even able to share about the Gospel to them.”
HOPES AND DREAMS
Knowing that they have brothers and sisters around the world who are supporting them with gifts and prayers is a huge source of encouragement to our church family in Vietnam. Pastor Thang says, “I thank God I’m not alone, because there are many people standing in their secret places to pray for me and the ministry.”
And the fierce persecution they face has not dampened their desire to reach others with the gospel. Pastor Thang says, “My hope for Vietnam is that God will show Vietnam His love and mercy and people will see that and will accept Jesus as their saviour.”
*names changed for security reasons
Open Doors supports the persecuted church in Vietnam through:
- Christians literature translation
- Biblical training
- Equipping children, youth, and women
- Socio-economic development
- Emergency aid relief
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