MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. Today is Thursday, March 22nd. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Last week we remembered a dark anniversary. It’s been 50 years since the massacre at My Lai: U.S. forces wiping out an entire village in South Vietnam More than 500 men, women, children. It was 1968, but the story didn’t come to light until nearly 1970. And by then, the Vietnam War was beginning to wind down. By 1975, it was over and Vietnam had fallen under communist control.
REICHARD: WORLD sent a reporter recently into Vietnam to look into the health of the Christian church there. And what she found was remarkable vibrancy. At the time of the fall of Saigon in 1975, the population of evangelicals was estimated at about 160,000. Since then, it’s multiplied nearly ten-fold. Now 1.57 million.
EICHER: WORLD’s East Asia correspondent June Cheng joins me now by way of Skype… and June, let’s talk about what you saw and experienced on that reporting trip. Describe that remarkable growth for Christianity in Vietnam since the end of the war.
JUNE CHENG, REPORTER: Yeah, so once the communist government took over the south, a lot of the churches were closed, they banned the construction of any new building and a lot of the pastors were put in prison. Actually, some of the pastors who had connections with the U.S. fled on U.S. military planes and so that led to a bit of a crisis in the church. A lot of the people were without leaders. But despite — or, in spite of the persecution, Christianity really began to grow during that time. Especially during the first 10 years when there was no communication with the outside world, you saw people who were feeling extremely hopeless, they were starving, there was — they had just lost this war and they were going through very difficult times, but the church started growing.
First it grew within the traditional churches, which are the established churches, and then in 19-88 a house church movement really started o grow quickly and to multiply and because they didn’t need a building, so it was easier for people to meet together.
And from the south, people started evangelizing to the people in the north, which is more difficult because a lot of these people have really believed that Christianity was an American religion and that it was an enemy of the state.
But, still, Christianity was able to grow in the north and they’re actually seeing a revival right now specifically with Christian drug rehab centers, which is able to help addicts completely be set free from their addictions as opposed to the government drug rehab centers, which are not effective.
EICHER: But there are areas where Christians still face persecution today…
CHENG: Yeah, so where we’re seeing persecution today is in the outer provinces, further away from international cities that the world would be able to see what’s happening. And as well as within ethnic minorities and so I think the Vietnamese government is afraid of Christianity — too many people converting to Christianity in ethnic minority groups because they are afraid of separatist movements. They’re afraid of how just through through learning to read the Bible, that these ethnic minorities might become well-educated and harder to control.
EICHER: We’ve heard about mass conversions among the Hmong people group — H-M-O-N-G, the “H” is silent. Can you talk about that?
CHENG: Yeah, so the Hmong people in Vietnam … they live in the north part of the country and they heard the gospel through radio broadcasts in the 80s and through that a large number of them started to come to Christ And so entire villages came to Christ. They were former shaman that became Christian and at first they didn’t have a Bible, they didn’t have a church, all they had was this radio broadcast coming out of the Philippines and so the radio station intentionally told them to go to Hanoi And from there they were able to connect with Christians, they were able to get the Bible and they were able to be trained and so now there’s more than 1,000 Hmong churches and there’s about 400,000 Christians among the Hmong. And so, actually, ethnic minorities like the Hmong make up 75% of Christians in Vietnam.
EICHER: Vietnam has a new Law on Belief and Religion. Is it too early to tell the effect on churches?
CHENG: Yeah, so the new religion law just went into effect this year and it requires all churches to register or else they will face a fine. And so a lot of churches have already registered. Of those, it’s more difficult, though, for churches in ethnic minority areas to become registered. And there’s also a clause in that law that prohibits religious groups to threaten like, quote, “national security.” And so that’s very vague and so there’s fears that that could be used to persecute Christians more.
But on the other hand, it gives registered churches a greater freedom to put on more activities. For instance, there’s a possibility they could establish hospitals or schools because they’re a registered religion. But it’s really going to depend on just the local authorities and how they implement this law.
EICHER: June Cheng, East Asia correspondent for WORLD Magazine. June, this is both frightening and encouraging. Thank you.
CHENG: Thank you.