God is good – all the time! While we read many stories of hardship and suffering, maybe to the point of despairing that we'll ever see God at work in the world, occasionally news surfaces to give us hope and encouragement. We really only see the tip of the iceberg – both with situations of persecution, and also with testimonies of God's sovereignty in the world.
Vietnam - tighter restrictions
The ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) published two draft decrees on religion in early June, inviting comments from government departments and the public. An information seminar was held for unregistered house churches in northern Vietnam, when they hoped to convince more groups to register.
One draft decree stipulates that while unregistered churches would remain illegal under Vietnam's Law on Belief and Religion and subject to severe criminal penalties, the new draft decree would worsen the situation for registered churches by extending and tightening government regulation over all their religious activities, including online meetings.
The other draft decree stipulates remedies and punishments for administrative infractions of the Law on Belief and Religion and other rules. According to Morning Star News, 'It is already nicknamed the "Punishment Decree".' Morning Star News reports that when an original version of this 'punishment decree' was floated three years ago, it received such a negative response that it was never passed or enforced, and 'the current draft is hardly better'. The punishments range from warnings through fines to the shutting down of organisations and institutions.
There are other restrictions: mandatory study of Vietnam's "revolutionary history" and Vietnamese law must be included in all training curriculum for clergy. Foreigners are limited in their activities with Vietnamese co-religionists. The amount a foreigner puts into an offering plate at a worship service must be reported, as must all financial contributions from abroad.
According to The Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, this only shows how incredibly disconnected the authorities are from reality:
"In Vietnam, as in China, the reason churches refuse to register with the authorities is because the conditions they would be obliged to comply with are unreasonable, onerous and, for most, unacceptable. Furthermore, because the onerous registration process requires that the names, contact details and movements of members be recorded, registration can set churches up for government surveillance and targeted persecution."
Vietnam's record on human rights, especially religious freedom, is known internationally to be very deficient.
Morning Star News states that the root problem is that Vietnam puts on full display its embarrassing dogma of having to control all aspects of religion because it is still interpreted as a threatening and dangerous social phenomenon.
Persecution is most intense in ethnic minority areas. Dozens of pastors are in prison for their faith; others have had their passports confiscated, or been dispossessed; and most have suffered violence at the hands of security personnel or their 'Red Flag' proxies.
Most recently, an ethnic Hmong family of 13 in Vietnam's Nghe An province has been expelled from their village by local authorities on account of the family's refusal to renounce Christ and return to traditional religion. It is the culmination of three years of relentless persecution, which began after the family applied to join a registered church.
Compounding the crisis, Vietnam's revised national security laws (enacted January 2018) and its new Cyber Security Law (enacted January 2019) have made getting information out of Vietnam a very risky business indeed. Consequently, Vietnam has essentially 'gone dark'. Like the ruling Communist Party in China, the ruling Communist Party in Vietnam is less committed to ideology than it is to retaining power and privilege.
The idea that registration would prevent persecution and facilitate cooperation must surely now be laid to rest. Can a totalitarian Marxist-Leninist atheistic regime ever be the Church's trusted friend or partner? 'Can a leopard change its spots?' (Jeremiah 13:23).
Pray for Vietnam
As repression intensifies and the darkness deepens, may the Holy Spirit lead and empower the Church in Vietnam to grow in faith, wisdom, prayerfulness, and obedience. May the devil have no victory here!
Lord, draw close to those Christians who are suffering for promoting righteousness, liberty and human rights, including pastors who have been beaten, threatened, intimidated and dispossessed. Grant officials the confidence, clarity and courage to promote religious liberty.
The Lord who walks amongst the lampstands says: 'Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades' (from Revelation chapter 1 ESV).
But God is at work in Korea
Jung-Hwa, the 'Madonna of Korea', converted to Christianity from Buddhism. She attributes this to Christian friends who prayed for her and led her to the Lord, and the Holy Spirit drawing her. In the 1990s, she was the queen of the music industry and one of the most popular celebrities. Her most recognizable singles were "Poison" and "Invitation".
Then in 2010, Jung-Hwa contracted thyroid cancer, which damaged her voice. She took an eight-month hiatus, during which time she dedicated herself to helping others and overcoming her discouragement.
Prayer and patience helped leading up to her surgery in May, 2010. Following the procedure, she recovered her voice enough to relaunch her singing career.
And God is at work in India
A Dalit Christian woman has become the youngest ever mayor in the history of Chennai, India's fourth-largest city. Priya Rajan, 28, a member of the Evangelical Church of India, was sworn in as mayor of the city of 10 million inhabitants on 4 March. She is the third woman to hold this office. Chennai, formerly Madras, is the state capital of Tamil Nadu in southern India. In January 2022, the Tamil Nadu state government passed an order reserving the post for a Scheduled Caste (Dalit) woman.
Scheduled Castes, including Dalits, are viewed as having the lowest status within the Hindu caste system. The National Council of Churches in India estimates that about 70% of the Christian population of India is from a Scheduled Caste background. Although many Dalits have embraced Christianity, they are still identified primarily by their caste by a large section of society and suffer severe caste-based discrimination and violence.
Give thanks for these testimonies of God at work in the world, and pray for infilling of Holy Spirit wisdom, that Jung-Hwa and Priya may shine the light of Jesus in their communities.