Vietnam is one of the few Communist nations left in the world. Although it has employed capitalistic economic principles to fuel much recent growth, its people still suffer with continued oppression and increased social problems such as drug addiction, HIV/AIDS, prostitution, and the exploitation of women and children. This land has known great violence in past decades, and although peace now prevails, much division and mistrust exist among its peoples. The deepest spiritual loyalty in Vietnam is to worship of ancestors, even more than to Communism, and even more than to the mixture of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism traditionally practised by Vietnamese. Some might argue that rapidly emerging materialism is now the greatest passion of most Vietnamese. Christians face hard questions as they try to handle these issues biblically. Pray that the light of the gospel will banish all darkness and provide hope and purpose to all those who are lost.
Suffering and persecution has characterized the story of Christianity in Vietnam, as well as great faith and perseverance. The situation since 2005 has seen some marked improvement, yet government harassment, duplicity, discrimination and outright persecution continues to affect Catholics and Protestants today. Praise God that, through it all, the Church has persevered and grown. Pray for:
- Those in prison for their faith. There are still hundreds of Christians, almost all Montagnards and including some Christian leaders, in prison. They were convicted in sham trials for anti-government activity. Most have endured imprisonment in grim conditions. Pray for them - many prisoners have come to faith through such witness. Pray also for the families of those imprisoned, that all their needs might be met.
- Registration of churches. Beyond the two EVCN groups, seven additional denominations have been granted official registration - a governmental requirement for operation in Vietnam - yet most remain unregistered. Registration remains a difficult and divisive issue for the Church. Registered churches battle government pressure to compromise and conform to strict regulations. Unregistered churches are harassed by the police, with meetings sometimes still broken up and leaders detained and questioned. There are tensions among church leaders in both groups. Open evangelism and itinerant ministry is forbidden and contact with foreign Christians restricted. Yet the courage and tenacity of these believers under pressure rarely fails, and growth continues. Pray for a solution to this issue that best unifies and builds the Church of Vietnam.
- Meeting places. Appropriate locations for church meetings are difficult to find. Even registered churches find permits to build difficult to acquire. Unregistered churches likewise struggle to find venues for large celebration meetings. In the past, the government seized many church properties. The EVCN(S) is still contesting the confiscation of more than 250 properties.
- The ethnic minority churches, including the Hmong and the Montagnard Ede, Jarai, Koho, Mnong, Stieng and others. They have suffered particularly savage persecution, especially in the past - churches razed, congregations scattered, Christians killed. Yet people movements to Christ are still reported. Maintaining adequate fellowship is hard where meetings are illegal and few of their languages have Scriptures. This lack has led to schisms and false teaching in some areas.
The rapid growth of evangelicals - ninefold growth from 1975-2010 - is cause for praise, but it also generates some challenges of its own. Some of these threaten to undermine and divide much of what has been accomplished. Pray about:
- Unity. While in one sense, the persecution has drawn Christians together, the somewhat chaotic situation also serves to divide. The house church movement has at least 70 different streams. The early house church groups split off from the ECVN(S), the largest Protestant group, historically connected with the CMA. The government often plays these groups against one another. Pray for the essential unity of the Church and that the enemy might not drive a wedge between believers.
- Expatriate influence. A small number of foreign denominations and ministries, keen to be associated with God's workings in Vietnam, are effectively buying the affiliation of Vietnamese congregations. This introduces imported divisions, materialistic motivations and dependency. It is in deep contrast to the autonomous and indigenous expressions of Christian faith that have been normative until recently. The desire to be able to proclaim large "growth" numbers by expat groups is as problematic as the willingness of nationals to sell their affiliation to multiple buyers. Pray for integrity and accountability to be practiced by all. Pray for unbiblical agendas to be broken and God's glory to be paramount.
Leaders' development and theological training are the most urgent needs of the Vietnamese church. As numbers increase, so does the potential for false teaching and error. Opportunities for training are still highly restricted and piecemeal. The Catholics have reopened several seminaries, all monitored by the government. The only legal Protestant training institute is run exclusively for the ECVN(S). Some other registered churches are allowed to train their pastors on a case by case basis. There are informal study programmes and unofficial Bible schools in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang and elsewhere, but a standardized curriculum would be a boon. Expatriates often quietly enter the country to do leadership seminars and modular training, but their low profile limits the impact. Beyond theology, training in other leadership skills such as management, finance, accounting and vocational training is crucial. Many pastors are already responsible for multiple congregations and have no time or money for full-time training. Pray for creative, sustainable and effective means of developing a new generation of Christian leaders.
The Vietnamese Diaspora has two elements: those who fled the Communists, mostly in the 1970s, and those who more recently travelled abroad as guest workers in other Asian countries. Over three million live around the globe, where they are more accessible to ministry. Hundreds of thousands (including many from minority ethnic groups) are labouring abroad as migrant workers and have encountered the gospel in Malaysia, South Korea or other transit points, often through the evangelistic work of Vietnamese living abroad. Many overseas Vietnamese are returning to their homeland with a spiritual burden for their country; pray for fruitful and sensitive ministry to flourish as a result.
Pray for the less-reached. Present church growth is not evenly distributed - two-thirds of evangelicals are from the ethnic minority groups which comprise at most 13% of the overall population. Many other groups remain scarcely touched by the gospel, but over 12 groups have seen churches planted in the last 10 years where there were previously no believers at all.
Christian literature and media:
- Bible translation is an ongoing task. Many ethnic minorities lack the Word in their languages - 37 have a definite translation need. An easy-to-read Vietnamese Bible was published in 2008. Pray for the resources and people to complete the demanding task of translating those languages without God's word.
- Vietnamese Bibles were finally printed legally and locally in the 1990s. Since 1990, Bible Societies have partnered with Vietnamese churches to print 700,000 Bibles and two million New Testaments, yet a large need remains. Hundreds of thousands of Scripture portions and Bible tracts have also been printed. Praise God for the recent government-endorsed printing of the Bible in four minority languages.
- Christian audio-visual media. The JESUS film and video is available in 16 languages. GRN has prepared recordings in over 65 of the languages of Vietnam. Pray that these recordings, as well as players, may be circulated throughout the country.
- Christian radio programmes of FEBC have been remarkable in their scope and impact. Their ministry has been the catalyst for massive people movements among the Hmong and other northern groups. Vital for evangelizing more isolated groups and for discipling believers, Christian broadcasts are widely heard despite difficulties and government attempts to jam the signal. FEBC broadcasts in 23 different languages of Vietnam, and TWR broadcasts into the north of the country as well.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.