“Please help us rebuild the houses of worship,” came the recent plea to a North American Christian agency in Hanoi. “All the people are eager to rebuild.”
An appeal from underground Vietnamese Christians? No, it came from enthusiastic villagers with the full support of local government officials.
Most churches today in Vietnam are full and alive. To sit in worship with 150 devout farmers and guitar-strumming youth in a small, evangelical church outside of Tam Ky in central Vietnam is to catch the vibrancy of God’s Spirit. The aging pastor, Nguyen Xuan Vong, knows the hardship, war, and re-education camps many of his members have experienced.
The concept of “enemy,” for these people, is not academic. Vong asks his people what is the Christian response to the enemy. Appealing to the example of Jesus on the cross, he exhorts, “You say to your enemies, ‘Father, forgive them.’ ”
Religious communities in Vietnam today are enjoying unprecedented tolerance and even encouragement from the Communist government, providing that activity is not critical of the government. After half a century of Hanoi’s chilly suspicion of religious groups, even the Communist party general secretary, Do Muoi, paid public visits to a prominent pagoda and a Catholic cathedral near Hanoi this year. On the other hand, the government still screens pastors, priests, or monks for ordination, and arrests religious leaders who preach unacceptable sermons or lead unauthorized worship services.
In September, according to News Network International, three Christian Americans each paid $200 fines for conducting a religious meeting without a permit in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. Police officers ...1
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