inexpressible and filled with glory


Reflections from a Hotel Lobby in HCMC
28 October 2009, 7:17 pm
Filed under: Persecution, Travel

I’ve finally made it to a computer, half way through my time in Vietnam. It’s been an incredible few days, both in ministry and travel and I’ll try to piece together some thoughts/themes in what follows.

Food
I have been loving Vietnamese food. When I was here last time I was with Americans; half the time we ate KFC, the other half isn’t worth remembering. I have been fortunate to be travelling with Vietnamese people this time, along with my travel companions from Australia and Europe and so we have enjoyed some Vietnamese feasts! Every meal our senses are bombarded with new sights, smells and tastes. And while we have come to appreciate some regular appearances from some lovely dishes, there are always surprises at every table. The only downside, is that there is always too much food and we’re forced to eat beyond the capacity of our stomachs! So get ready for fat Brad when I get back in a few days.

Tribal Groups
It has become increasingly clear that persecution in Vietnam is prevalent mostly in the Tribal Groups. The large cities and surrounding Vietnamese communities are predominantly free-thinking, educated, progressive places. Young students are increasingly rejecting Communism, and so the Communist government has less control in the cities. Because of this decline, the government has increased its activity in the rural areas, where the people live simpler lives. It is in these rural settings that many Tribal churches and pastors come up against stiff opposition from the Communist authorities. So while the situation for believers in the cities is generally improving, the situation for Tribal Christians is getting worse.

We have had the privilege of interviewing many Tribal believers. One of the campaign slogans that we have in Australia is “We work with criminals. Will you join us?” and these Christians are genuine criminals. There are over 150 tribal pastors currently in prison. Church leaders are regularly summoned to local police stations for interrogation/beatings and an overnight visit. Identification cards are taken away, citizenship revoked, so that believers are left with no rights and no protection from the law.

Reality
I think that it is easy to glorify the persecuted church because there are many stories of hope and joy in suffering, and victorious faith when everything has been lost. While we have met many people who have this incredible faith and smile while they recount stories of beatings and imprisonment, I have been really challenged to meet those believers who are really struggling in the midst of persecution. These are Christians who feel alone and afraid because they don’t want to be taken again by the police to be beaten; Christians whose husbands are in jail and who live in grief and fear.

It has been incredibly humbling for me to meet people like this and to realise that our ministry is not just about supporting exciting ministries in restricted nations: evangelists who have everything together and are walking right into the face of danger with the word of God, pastors who stand boldly in the face of opposition even to the point of beatings, imprisonment and death. But our ministry is also one of encouragement to the downtrodden, of hope to the broken-hearted, of justice to the oppressed. And so we don’t just interview our brothers and sisters, we sit with them and pray with them, we offer them words of encouragement, and we feel their pain with them waiting in hope together.

I have many stories to tell, but I can’t tell them here. It has been an exciting time away, with lots of adventure and fun. We’ve met some incredible people and I would ask you to pray for the church in Vietnam right now.

I miss my wife and I can’t wait to be home – to see her, to listen to her, to walk with her, to rejoice with her, to do life and enjoy grace together.

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5 Comments so far
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Brad, thanks for your reflections. They give a good perspective on things.
I think you’re right: maybe it’s easier and even more comfortable for us to think of those who are persecuted as having it together, as being evangelistic guns, while there are actually many who are weighed down by the fear you describe.
We look forward to having you back soon bro (and I’ve got to say, I have trouble imagining a fat Brad ;))

Comment by samatw

But still, in each case, God is faithful to his people. He strengthens them and gives them the grace to endure.

It may be related to different seasons in life also. Compare the 19 year old kid who is one year old in the Lord, pastoring a church and has just been beaten for the first time with a seasoned pastor who has endured many years of opposition, beatings and imprisonment. The first is terribly discouraged and scared because he is just starting to receive suffering. He has to find his feet and find his faith as he endures the trials. The second has already endured, the Lord has strengthened him and he speaks of his persecution as a joy and blessing from the Lord.

So it might have a bit to do with maturity and wisdom in the Lord. What do you think?

Comment by bradkonemann

Thanks for the post Brad – I’m looking forward to you joining my fat club.

It’s good to hear about what you’ve been up to.

It reminds me of the story in Acts where some come and bow down before the apostles and they basically say: ‘Don’t do that. We’re just men.’

The persecuted Christians and men and women like the rest of us. The only difference between us and them is they have oppressive governments above them.

It’s not as if I moved to one of those places I would instantly become more bold or corrageous as a Christian.

And so ultimately – as you say – it is a testament to God’s mighty power at work within them and their enduring faith under such oppression.

Comment by Josh Maule

Yes! I wholehaeartedly agree that persecuted Christians are men and women just like the rest of us. They are not superheroes, but they do serve an extraordinary God, just like me and you.

But at the same time that I would say that God uses persecution to strengthen his people, that as a result of their fiery trials, persecuted Christians do become more bold and courageous in the face of opposition, because it is God who strengthens them. It seems to be the way that God works, that he brings about hardship and suffering and persecution for his people to increase our dependence upon him, and so to work through us powerfully.

And so I would say that if you moved to a restricted nation, although the changes wouldn’t be instant, that God would make you bold and courageous because it would be necessary. The options are stand and suffer, or deny Christ. The situation is a lot more vague in Australia.

Comment by bradkonemann

Yes, it is the idea that God is both refining and strengthening his people. While God’s mighty power is at work within his people, it will remain hard, gruelling work for his people.

We should emphasise both the power of God and the responsibility and effort required by his saints.

As you say, Australia is different. But oppression and restriction exists here too – the sacred/secular divide we are all encouraged into. This makes me wonder whether I seek God for boldness as much as I should.

Comment by Josh Maule




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