ICC NOTE: Vietnam is listed as one of the worst nations to live in as a Christian, ranking 16th out of 50. Yet, while the government continues to crack down on church activity through intimidation, regulations, and violence it seems that they are fighting a losing battle. According to the government’s own census, Christianity has grown from 410,000 in 1999 to over 1 million today. While they continue to face increased regulations and intimidation, especially in the north, according to one local pastor nearly 20,000 come to Christ on a yearly basis. The growth of the church in the communist nation only shows how powerful the word of God can be regardless of where it is spoken and in what environment.
11/23/2015 Vietnam (UCA News) – It’s a Saturday night in Ho Chi Minh City, and the kids are starting to gather at the Tan Thuan evangelical church in District 7. They pull up on shiny motorbikes, clothes neat, hair slicked back. They cast shy looks at strangers, greet friends exuberantly, and sprawl across the pews.
“Here, the brotherhood is close, I have a lot of friends,” said Tin, 24, who attends the church’s Saturday youth services regularly with his 27-year-old brother Dinh.
One night a week, services are just for youth. One night, they’re for new members. One night: the elderly. There are early morning prayers every day and several services on Sundays. During the week, there are scheduled missions to spread the word of God.
The experience is vastly different to what the brothers grew up with in Quang Ngai province in central Vietnam, where authorities routinely blocked access to church and cut off evangelizing trips.
“In the past, the local government wouldn’t let us gather in a group and wouldn’t let us attend our house church. There used to be one there, but after 1975, the government took it and turned it into a community center,” recalled Dinh.
For decades, local authorities refused to return it and it wasn’t until 2009 that they returned the land and allowed the house church to be rebuilt.
“Here, it’s more free,” he said.
Protestantism is thriving in Vietnam. The government’s own census shows an increase from 410,000 in 1999 to 734,000 adherents a decade later. Today, the government puts that figure at around 1 million, while church officials insist it is closer to 2 million. Churches themselves report booming membership, with Sunday services often spilling out the doors as new members crowd in.
Despite the best efforts of the authorities, Protestantism has shown particular growth among Vietnam’s ethnic minorities. While reliable statistics don’t exist, the U.S. State Department wrote in its last religious freedom report that “based on adherents’ estimates, two-thirds of Protestants were members of ethnic minorities.”
But such growth has come in spite of major obstacles. While Protestantism is one of the 38 religions officially recognized by the Vietnamese government, its activities are frequently banned outright by local authorities. Most evangelism is considered illegal and members report their activities are monitored and curtailed. The government has put pressure to prevent a merger of the Northern and Southern evangelical churches, a move aimed at keeping the north (which is more heavily restricted and has not seen the growth of the south) under check.
In rural areas, particularly in the highlands, repression is rife. A report published in June by Human Rights Watch outlined a systemic persecution of ethnic minority Christians who “have been subjected to constant surveillance and other forms of intimidation, arbitrary arrest and mistreatment in security force custody.”
Even in the relatively open Ho Chi Minh City, Christians have faced push back. Pastors and church members see their movements monitored and have been detained for handing out tracts. Those who are members of churches not officially recognized by the government have faced particular pressure. In January, a prominent Mennonite pastor who has long been a government target was brutally attacked and the perpetrators never arrested. The previous year, his Bible college was ransacked on seven different occasions.