One of the more inspirational people I’ve met here is a very quiet, humble man named Than (not his real name). Than is the pastor of two different churches and in his spare time teaches at the underground Bible school near Hanoi started in 1997 by Dallas Theological Seminary. He has a wife, two daughters (ages 14 & 13) and a one year old son.
His story is like many here; he has endured much hardship with a stoic, almost resigned, resolve. During the 1980’s he made a decision to leave his country and go to Hong Kong as a refugee and seek a better life. While he was in the squalor of the refugee camp he met a Vietnamese pastor who had come from his home in the US to care for the people of the camps. Than was led to Christ there and his life changed forever.
He told that as much as his flesh did not want to do it, he felt the Holy Spirit telling him to return to his homeland and share with the vietnamese this good news he had been given
Now officially, Than doesn’t pastor anything. That’s because both of his churches are unregistered with the government, and consequently illegal. He has tried to follow the rules, but the local officials gave him this instruction: fill out the endless forms and papers, tell us where and when you meet and we will then consider your request. And oh by the way, this process will take at least 20 years.
20 years! Tell us where you illegally meet and then…maybe.
(I’m sorry, but at this point I couldn’t help but think about how upset I was when Comcast told me they couldn’t come out until next Tuesday for a service problem.)
Than is one of 5 original members of the VCF, the Vietnamese Christian Fellowship, made up of any evangelical believer in this area. He was joyful in telling us that although “officially” there are about 2000 Christians in Hanoi but realistically there are more than 7000 followers of Christ.
He was proud to say every denomination came together in 2009 for a gathering; permission was denied but they met anyway. For this the authorities became furious.
Two years ago the authorities found out about the bible school and became very upset. Than was one of nine leaders of the church who were arrested and beaten. When he was released he was told to stop meeting as a church and no more teaching; additionally he can not leave Vietnam until 2014 and is required to report to the authorities if he moves around outside of this city.
At this point I had to reflect on how difficult it is for us as Americans to grasp this concept of asking permission to move around your own country. Can you imagine needing documentation to drive to Atlanta, simply because you are a Christian?
Than believes the unity of the church in this area strikes fear in the government. He made this comment, “They don’t like Christians because they know that once you give your life to Jesus, you follow what the bible teaches and not necessarily what the state tells you.”
I asked Than to tell me what he would say if he could speak directly to the church in Savannah. His response was stirring.
“Please pray that we will remain solid in our faith in our trials. That Jesus will equip me to lead his church well.”
At this point, he choked up a little, regained his composure, and continued.
“I don’t fear the police but it hurts me deeply that my two daughters have suffered because of my role in the church. When they are mistreated by teachers or other students they come home crying and it always makes me cry too.”
He added this amazing statement, “Pray that we will love God so much that we will also be able to love the people who persecute us.”
In America we hear stories of amazing people like Pastor Than but sitting across a table from him, speaking in quiet tones because we aren’t sure who is watching, inspires me. For whatever reason we aren’t all asked to leave everything behind or endure serious persecution, but what if we were? What if I was?
What am I willing to endure…to sacrifice, if Jesus requires it?
Pastor Than sees his role as nothing more than the necessity required to share Truth with people in spiritual darkness. Basically, he was telling me the Vietnamese people “don’t know what they don’t know”.
He then made a statement which made me chuckle…then pierced my heart.
“Life for our people is like the bird who flies around thinking he is free but can never leave the cage.”
Pray for your family in Vietnam and around the world who endure so much to advance the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.
As those called to take up our cross and follow Jesus, it’s really the very least that is asked of us.
“We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.” 1 Corinthians 4:12-13