Missionaries Forced to Leave
The government of the unified Communist Vietnam ordered all the missionaries to leave, and for the next 10 years few foreigners were able to enter the country until the change of economic policy, doi moi (renovation), came into effect.
Although the Communists closed half the 600 church buildings that existed when they took over, the church has grown significantly. In 1975 there were around 150,000 evangelicals, but this rose to an estimated 1.2 million in 2002. According to Operation World, there are approximately 1.5 million evangelicals in Vietnam today.
Growth Amidst Constraint
Approximately two-thirds of these believers are among Vietnam’s ethnic minority groups. The Hmong have been particularly responsive: in 1975 there were no known believers; today, more than 150,000 Hmong have come to believe, mainly through Christian radio broadcasts.
The growth of the church in Vietnam has taken place amidst considerable persecution, as Christians were seen as counter-revolutionary and a potential threat to the authorities. Pastors and lay people alike have been imprisoned, particularly among the minority groups and unregistered house churches. Christians tend to be treated as second-class citizens.
Government restrictions are most severe in the north, where there are still only about 15 registered churches, and in the capital, Hanoi, where there is only one. (Hundreds of minority congregations are currently awaiting registration.) In the south of the country there are fewer restrictions and now more than 1,000 registered churches and meeting places, including more than 50 in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).
Tolerance and Opportunities
Bibles are obtainable in Vietnam, as is the Jesus film, and in the last few years it has also become possible to publish other Christian literature. However, there is still a great shortage of commentaries, children’s materials and other books. Good, quality translated material and more indigenous writing are both greatly needed.
In 2003 permission was given to re-open one Bible college (after a 27-year break) that is able to accept about 50 students a year to be trained to become pastors. Other church leaders are trained unobtrusively through such programs as Theological Education by Extension.
The need for economic development and trade has brought opportunities for people with skills in many professions, especially English teaching. Various development and aid agencies are serving the country. Small, but growing OMF International teams are involved as professionals working in both northern and southern Vietnam. The door is wide open and more workers are urgently needed.