The Rev. Pham Xuan Thieu, president of the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South), died of a heart attack June 24 in Ho Chi Minh City. He was 61.

The Rev. Thieu, a professor of theology, had been elected president of the ECVN (South) in February 2001. He was hospitalized with a variety of infirmities only weeks before his election, which he reluctantly accepted. He later testified to being healed of "many weaknesses" after he accepted the leadership of the church organization.

After the government confirmed the legal recognition of the ECVN (South) in April 2001, the Rev. Thieu had the task, as he described it, of "rebuilding a building out of complete rubble." For 26 years since the fall of South Vietnam to the communist regime, the ECVN (South) had been alternately ignored, harassed and persecuted. The Rev. Thieu kept a heavy schedule of visiting churches and of receiving pastors of harassed churches from around the country.

A friend close to Rev. Thieu recently remarked that he feared the pressure on him was unbearable. Some of the pressure was from ECVN members whose expectations following legalization were "unrealistically high." Government authorities have kept the church heavily restricted, and a few pro-government pastors were lobbying against Thieu's leadership.

House church leaders criticized the Rev. Thieu for his visit to the U.S. in May with the Bureau of Religious Affairs. But he told friends that he feared consequences from the government for not going would be worse than criticism for going.

ECVN (South) members are very concerned about the immediate future, a source reported. Thieu's successor, ECVN (South) first vice president the Rev. Doung Thanh, is considerably older than Pastor Thieu, physically infirm and ...

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