Good Morning Vietnam!
For several reasons, preaching the gospel in Vietnam is a daunting proposition. Here are some of the challenges.
The call sign of a US Army radio broadcaster in Saigon during the Vietnam War sadly did not bring a “Good Morning” to this war-torn nation. The communist victory resulted in many South Vietnamese fleeing the country, often by boat, searching for more hospitable shores.
One of these vessels ran aground in Indonesia and ended up in Australia, where a remarkable story began to unfold for a young Vietnamese teenager. A kind-hearted Christadelphian introduced Onesiphorus (a pseudonym for security reasons) to the gospel. While the two waited for a bus, he shared his Hope. He then talked of the Truth while in transit, sharing his seat with his young student. Later, after his baptism, Bro. Onesiphorus took to heart the Great Commission to share the Good News in his native country.
Just as Bezaleel and Aholiab were equipped with unique skills to construct the Tabernacle, providentially, this brother was equipped to build the Body of Christ in Vietnam. His business and sports abilities enabled him to make many connections with important decision-makers.
For several reasons, preaching the gospel here is a daunting proposition. Here are some of the challenges faced in Vietnam.
Our members are not a recognized denomination. Fearful of social unrest, the government has cast a broad net to quash any movement that could destabilize the country. Although Christadelphians are no threat, unrecognized Christian groups have come under heavy scrutiny, and consequently, our preaching efforts must remain under the radar.
Numerous Vietnamese brothers and sisters have been arrested, beaten, and jailed for their allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. At the time of writing, a recent crackdown has resulted in the suspension of Sunday services in the delta, and a brother presently remains under house arrest.
The country is steeped in Buddhist culture. The words of Isaiah come to mind: “For, behold, darkness covers the earth, and thick darkness is over the peoples.” (Isa 60:2 BSB). Preaching the truth as it is in Jesus is seen as an unwelcome challenge to the status quo.
There is a language barrier with English, only sporadically spoken in the large urban centers. On a brighter note, English instruction is now mandatory in schools because the government seeks stronger economic ties with the West. Although Bro. Onesiphorus is bilingual, North American visitors are at a distinct disadvantage in sharing their Hope in their native tongue. All teaching is done in Vietnamese.
The growth of the brotherhood in Vietnam is an untold story. To safeguard the brothers and sisters, no personal names or photos are included. Currently, there are eight ecclesias and over three hundred brothers and sisters. The Asia-Pacific Christadelphian Bible Mission (ACBM) is the primary support for Vietnam.
A Williamsburg Christadelphian Foundation (WCF) team recently visited four ecclesias in the southern delta region and the Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) base of operations. This city serves as the meeting place of the HCMC Ecclesia, and as a hostel for brothers and sisters who require medical treatment in an urban center. An array of literature translated into Vietnamese can be found here, including a Sunday School syllabus. Providentially, these materials have received governmental endorsement.
On arriving at a rural ecclesia in the delta for lunch, an assortment of footwear was left at the threshold. The instruction to Moses at the burning bush came to mind: “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” (Exod 3:5 NKJV).
The facility was indeed set apart for God. A caretaker couple calls it home during the week. Still, with extra washrooms and a large commercially sized kitchen, it serves as an ideal ecclesial meeting place, away from prying eyes. It is also holy in another sense, in that Christ is present when brothers and sisters meet and reflect his character. We were touched by the warm fraternal hospitality of the ecclesia members, who took a day off from their work or school to welcome us.
These ecclesial facilities were generously purchased and donated to the members of Vietnam. The ecclesias were also equipped with the means to earn a livelihood. We visited three cottage industries near the meeting places—a pork farm with an adjacent rice paddy field, a shrimp pond, and charcoal kilns to provide fuel for domestic cooking. These activities grant brethren an essential livelihood while providing dignity and a sense of self-worth.
An invitation to lunch and Bible study at another rural ecclesia had to be cut short because of a visit by an inquisitive local authority, ostensibly arriving to sell lottery tickets. The appearance of Westerners off the beaten track had attracted attention in the local village. Our Bible study was canceled, and we simply became Westerners out to sample a rural lunch. As we were leaving the ecclesia, an afternoon propaganda broadcast echoed across the fields from loudspeakers, encouraging the farmers to be more productive. Indeed, the fields are ripe for harvest—but of a different sort.
The rapid growth of the Truth in Vietnam is due, in part, to seeds planted by Indigenous White Fields workers—local missionaries who use the touch-to-teach model of the Lord Jesus, which addresses both material and spiritual needs. A dozen brethren receive a small stipend and the use of a scooter to preach. They provide pastoral support and serve their local communities. These workers know the lay of the land, the language, and the culture. This advantage offers a continuing presence in their communities without drawing attention to themselves. These are skills and knowledge that Westerners lack.
On Sunday morning, we remembered Christ’s sacrifice at a hotel in an urban center in the Mekong Delta. The hotel is owned by a Christian of a “recognized” denomination, who was not afraid to rent us a room. This venue enabled brethren from the local ecclesias to join for worship. We arrived and departed two or three at a time to avoid attracting attention.
One side of the room was shoehorned full of Sunday School students, and the other was full of brothers and sisters sitting on the floor while the more senior members took seats on the beds. The heat hopelessly overpowered the air conditioners and fans, so the windows were open to catch the breeze. Our guardian angels kept us safe as the English exhortations translated into Vietnamese drifted down to the street. Hymns were read, rather than sung, and our service ended without a feared knock on the door by the authorities.
What Can We Do?
What can we do to further the effort in Vietnam? Without the ability to navigate the political landscape, the presence of North Americans would be a liability, and any attempts at public preaching would result in prompt incarceration. We can, however, pray for God to give the increase and to encamp his angels about our Vietnamese brethren and deliver them from persecution.
We can also help materially. In Romans 15, Paul stresses the importance of reciprocity—the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit. Because the Gentiles had benefited from the Jews’ rich spiritual heritage, the Gentiles were to respond by offering to the Jews what they had in abundance, namely their material resources. How does this apply to our brethren in Vietnam and the developing world?
Looking at our aging Christadelphian demographics in North America, we can be encouraged by the growth of the Truth elsewhere in the world, beyond the malaise of our Western post-Christian humanist culture. We will pass our baton to these younger, faithful brothers and sisters in the developing world. They offer us a growth trajectory; we can offer them our material blessings, which we have in relative abundance. Contributions may be made through the ACBM or the WCF.
The needs in Vietnam are considerable. Most brethren in the Delta live a life of subsistence. They remain dependent upon outside support for healthcare. In times of crisis—drought, typhoon, or pandemic there are no personal reserves to fall back on.
During the recent pandemic, many of these brethren who work as subsistence farmers were confined to their homes and could not plant or tend their crops. This situation provides an opportunity to fulfill the Biblical mandate to care for the poor in practical ways and steward the resources God has given us. Dental decay is rampant and is sadly characteristic of many Sunday School students. Our Lord held a special affection for these little ones, and so can we.
In addition to physical needs, there are also ongoing spiritual needs. Bibles we take for granted must be purchased from a recognized denomination, and each copy registered. A leaders’ study planned for next year will require the added expense of safety measures—considerations that in North America are unnecessary.
The Sun of Righteousness
One day, the phrase, “Good Morning Vietnam!” will ring true. The Sun of Righteousness will appear with healing in his beams to begin the work of restoring the earth as it was originally intended. And the Vietnamese brothers and sisters, together with all nations, will benefit from a new world order of peace and righteousness. It will be a world where brothers and sisters from the four corners of the globe will constitute that great apocryphal multitude and will stand “before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands… crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”(Rev 7:9, 10 ESV). But Christ has not yet returned, so our window of opportunity remains to express our gratitude for all that the Lord Jesus has done for us. Your prayers, your participation, and your financial support.
North Toronto Ecclesia, ON