EDITORS’ NOTE: The following story is one of six released by the Southern Baptist International Mission Board in support of this month’s International Missions Emphasis, with the theme of “That All Peoples May Know Him: Seek God’s Passion.”
HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam (BP)–Scarlet coils of incense dangle from the temple ceiling. Acrid smoke wafts from the multitude of candles and incense reverently lit in front of gruesome statues.
In one corner, an elderly Chinese woman holds a bundle of incense sticks and executes a series of snappy bows. She then places her bundle before the idol to Quan Cong, an ancient Chinese general-turned-god. As the woman exits the temple, she passes between two words etched in towering Chinese characters: faithful and righteous.
More than 1 million Chinese live in Vietnam. Of those, fewer than 3,000 are Christian. But as Vietnam opens its borders to more tourists, Chinese believers there are gaining boldness and training on how to truly revolutionize their country, says James Lee,* a leader in one of the Chinese Christian groups in Vietnam.
Although many Chinese in Vietnam converted to Christianity in the late 1970s, Lee sees fewer Chinese presently choosing to follow Christ. Vietnam’s restrictive policies against the church account for part of the slowdown. Churches are not allowed to evangelize outside their church buildings, ordain ministers or conduct leadership training. But even regulations cannot stop a movement of God.
Lee’s church has joined a growing number of Chinese congregations that are secretly training Christians to lead churches.
EMBOLDENED TO SHARE
Rambunctious children laugh and scream in the street as school classes dismiss. They skip past food vendors hawking their items and clanging rusty bells. Mangy dogs roll and scratch in dusty ditches. Orphans wander from person to person pleading for a morsel of food.
But inside a building, 20 people are earnestly praying for Vietnam. Undisturbed by the din outside, the Christians focus on one thing — learning how to better lead their churches and win the Chinese to Christ.
They know that meeting for such a purpose can bring government reprisals, but they are willing to risk it.
“It’s a calling,” Lee says. “Once a month we study the Bible for a whole week, from morning to night. But it’s forbidden; we must meet quietly.”
Boldness is even invigorating church members to share their faith with family and friends. Chang Tuan* owns a hardware shop along a bustling commercial street. His wife and children assist the dozens of customers who shop there for nuts and bolts.
Above their heads, written in large gold characters, hang two blazing Bible verses.
A CHANCE TO SHARE
“Customers always ask about the Scriptures,” Chang says. “It gives us a chance to share about Jesus Christ.”
Lam Mang’s* greatest desire is to see his older brother accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Lam’s parents followed traditional Chinese religion that combines elements of Buddhism with ancestral worship.
As the eldest son, Lam Mang’s brother, Lam Vien*, is expected to continue the traditional family beliefs. He maintains the family’s ancestral altars and regularly presents offerings of food and incense to family idols.
Lam Mang is the only Christian witness his family sees. “It’s difficult to have a good Christian life among family since they are always looking to me,” he says.
Before Lam Mang’s parents died, they also accepted Christ. Now, Lam Vien has begun to question the power of his idols.
‘I WILL WAIT’
“In the future I may choose to believe in God,” Lam Vien says. “But I will wait until all my sons get married and I have no responsibilities to them — then I will convert.”
Young people who do choose to follow Christ sometimes encounter resistance from non-Christian family members. A culture of materialism and deep-rooted traditional beliefs keeps Chinese blinded from truth.
“It’s been difficult to be a Christian; my parents are old-fashioned,” says Sharon Young,* a student in Lee’s church.
Young’s father disapproves of her faith.
“He says, ‘People in the United States trust God and Sept. 11 still happened,'” she says. “He’s a businessman — he’s materialistic.”
“Many think Christianity is the religion of the West,” explains Lee. “They think, ‘We are Chinese; we are Buddhist.'”
BUILDING A TEAM
David Burch,* a Christian worker, is assembling a team of other believers to bring the gospel to Chinese in Vietnam.
“We’ve got to have a New Testament view,” he says. “We’re looking to build house churches where people train people who train people. Ultimately, we see hundreds of churches started so that in the end we see a church-planting movement happen among the Chinese in Vietnam.”
Part of Burch’s plan is to recruit Chinese believers from China and nearby countries to come train believers in Vietnam.
Meanwhile, Chinese Christians in Vietnam ask for prayer.
“Pray for the faith of Christians in Vietnam,” says Chang, “so we can have strength to share the gospel.”
*Names have been changed to protect their identities. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: MUSICAL PRAISE, NO FEAR and FINDING A WAY.
— For Chinese believers in Vietnam to courageously share Christ with family and friends.
— For church leaders and laymen to boldly lead churches and train fellow believers.
— For Vietnam’s government to loosen restrictions placed on the church.