WEA International Director Visits Vietnam, Converses with Key Church Leaders

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Contact Information:
Marion Uzac, Press Secretary. E-mail:
[email protected]
Sylvia Soon, Chief of Staff. E-mail: [email protected]

During his first visit to Vietnam since becoming WEA’s International Director, Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe met with key church leaders in Ho Chi Minh City in early April to inquire into the situation. He also invited a number of leaders to come as observers to the WEA General Assembly in Thailand later this year.

Dr. Tunnicliffe found that Christians felt they were benefiting from Vietnams’ laws and regulations on religious freedom reportedly liberalized since 2005. Thankfully, in the last three years, government-sponsored programs to force Christians to recant their faith have virtually stopped.

The first Protestant church since the liberalization, the Danang-based Christian Mission Church, received full legal recognition in late 2007. A small Baptist denomination followed in January 2008. These two denominations joined the Evangelical Church of Vietnam, both the northern and southern organizations [ECVN(N) and ECVN(S)], to make four fully recognized Evangelical church bodies. Four other house church organizations have a lower level of registration called “permission to carry on religious activities” nationally. This still leaves several dozen without registration.

Many of those still without are in no hurry to register, having observed the problems of those who did. They say that registration has sometimes been used as a means of government control and interference into internal church affairs.

Unity among Vietnam’s estimated 1.3 million Evangelical Christians remains elusive. Virtually united under the ECVN(S) during the “dark decade” following the 1975 communist victory, the church began to splinter with the development of house churches in 1988 and the growing number of foreign interveners. The trend was recognized and somewhat reversed with the establishment of the Vietnam Evangelical Fellowship (of house churches) in 1998, representing about 200,000 Christians. The VEF is the one group at present that appears actively interested in furthering Evangelical unity. Dr. Tunnicliffe complimented and encouraged the VEF to work toward even greater inclusiveness to qualify for WEA membership.

ECVN (S) leaders presented Tunnicliffe with an unprecedented world-wide appeal for prayer for a change in government treatment of their organization and members. This is more remarkable in that the ECVN(S) has had full legal recognition for full seven years.

The letter appeals for prayer for (1) action on the churches longstanding request for action on the 265 church properties confiscated at the communist takeover, (2) for blatant government interference into internal church affairs, and (3) for redress for the physical abuse in 2007 of a pastor and his congregation in a Mekong Delta town in full view of government officials. In all cases the church has worked quietly behind the scenes to engage the authorities, but has been simply ignored. No action is taken.

“It seems clear that there is a way to go yet before Vietnam’s believers enjoy world-class religious freedom. Vietnam could gain more confidence from religious believers that things were really changing if it would just consistently implement its regulations,” observed Tunnicliffe.

Tunnicliffe was impressed that in spite of these challenges, church leaders he met conveyed a spirit of optimism. They noted that their strong confidence in God came from experiencing His keeping power in very dark times.

World Evangelical Alliance (WEA): World Evangelical Alliance is made up of 128 national evangelical alliances located in 7 regions and 104 associate member organizations. The vision of WEA is to extend the Kingdom of God by making disciples of all nations and by Christ-centered transformation within society. WEA exists to foster Christian unity, to provide an identity, voice and platform for the 420 million evangelical Christians worldwide.