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.



Plans and Paths
23 October 2009, 12:53 pm
Filed under: Persecution, Travel

It’s now the last day of the General Assembly in Seoul. After one day of business, we have been hearing country reports over the last few days from our National Contacts in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Arabian Peninsula. It is incredible to hear stories from all over the world of God’s faithfulness to his people through persecution.

In addition to the full days of meetings, I’ve had the opportunity to go out each night and see a different part of Seoul. On Tuesday night we went out to Dongdaemun Stadium which is a fashion/shopping district. The favourite part of the evening for me (which won’t surprise anyone who knows me) was catching the subway and seeing how this city of 15 million people runs for those who live here. Although the shopping didn’t really interest me, it was great to get outside. There were heaps of people out on the street and neon lights everywhere. The district was a mix between street markets and shopping malls. One thing that I love about Seoul is the effort put into the appearance of the city, and this was accentuated in the beautiful trees in the area. I grabbed a coffee, headed off by myself and tried to walk around as much of it as possible. We only had an hour but I was done a long while before that, and my feet were very glad to retire by the end.

On Wednesday night, we went out to Yoido Full Gospel Church which is the largest church in the world. We didn’t get to attend one of the big services, just a mid-week service attended by 200-300 people. The church was founded by David Yonggi Cho. I’ve seen his books in Koorong but don’t know a lot about him. South Korea is home to 10 out of the 11 largest churches in the world and is currently one of the largest sending bases for missionaries. I’ve heard that the prosperity gospel is really big here. I obviously couldn’t understand a word that was being said last night, but there was a lot of prayer, done very differently to what we’re used to at home (ask me about “Chu Yo”).

My favourite aspect of the night was getting to walk from the subway station to the church along the river. It was a beautiful area with bike paths, walking tracks, parks, and nice bridges. It was really good getting to walk along here talking to VOM people from different parts of the world.

Last night, we did all the preparation work for the Balloon Lauch. We had 100,000 gospel flyers that needed to be scrunched and packed into the balloon bags to be sent across the border into North Korea. After all our North Korea events in August and raising over $30,000 for the Balloon Launch projects, it was incredible to now be here, touching the very flyers that will be sent across the border in a few days. One of the most amazing things about the experience was getting to work alongside persecuted believers from all over the world to serve the people of North Korea. Even though these Christians have suffered so much themselves and work in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, they were so joyful and excited to be involved in the Balloon project.

One of the best parts of the week, however, is that I have been greatly challenged by the people I have met. It is all too easy for me to leave God out of the picture of my life, to do my work and live my life by my own strength and my own purposes and plans. I have been really challenged to see life and ministry as God’s work, to trust in his timing and strength and to do all things for his glory.

This is much easier said than done, but how true it is that we should be living every day and taking every step trusting in God – whether it’s driving to work, eating dinner with Katherine, heading to LiVE, writing an article at work, or anything else (great or small) that we may be doing. I need to invite God into these circumstances and hand it all over to him rather than doing it by myself. It reminds me of the many proverbs that repeat the idea that man makes his own plans, but the LORD determines his paths. I hope to trust the Lord more and more to direct my paths rather than trying to make my own way through life.

It has been a wonderful week of fellowship, meeting believers from all over the world, hearing about our exciting work and praying for the persecuted church. Praise the Lord!

Our team flies into Vietnam tomorrow. Please continue to pray for us, that we might be a great encouragement to the believers there, that God would also challenge us as we meet with persecuted believers and mostly that his will might be done to his glory.



I’ve Arrived
20 October 2009, 1:43 pm
Filed under: Persecution, Travel

After nearly 30 hours of travel, 2 flights and a stopover in Vietnam, I am now in Seoul, South Korea. A number of things immediately caught my attention about this monstrous city, home to 15 million people and Asia’s fourth largest economy.

I walked off the plane into Incheon International Airport and was very surprised by the cleanliness. Everything was spotless. There was even a cleaner dusting the screens of the Arrival/Departure TVs.

Driving from the airport to Seoul, however, I was shocked as we moved from the cleanliness and modernity of the airport, to the industrial wasteland outside of the city. We drove past factory after factory spilling out fumes into the atmosphere and poluting the waterways of Seoul. I couldn’t believe that a country so focused on cleanliness in some areas, could also pump out so much pollution just around the corner.

And just as we turned another corner, rounding a hill, the industrial mess was gone, and the city of Seoul emerged before us, skyscrapers reaching for the sky, mountains overshadowing them, the valley floor revealing pockets of trees.

We are in a reasonable hotel for the week-long conference, which has started today. I was able to enjoy rest yesterday, falling into a deep coma-like sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow in the afternoon. I have had fantastic opportunities to meet VOM staff from all over the world and I have been greatly encouraged by conversations with many of these brothers.

One thing that has taken me by surprise is the weight of my longing for Katherine. I knew that I would miss her as I will be away for two weeks, but I didn’t expect the longing to come with such suddenness. I feel almost alone here, and my heart aches for my wife.

Although the time away from Katherine has been difficult already, it has also been really good for me. I have been able to spend extended times in solitude and reflection, reading the scriptures, journalling, reading and exercising. For this, I am extremely grateful as Katherine and I have come through a tough season of busyness, where my spiritual life has been dry. Now I thirst for the Lord as in a dry and weary land, and I am thankful for the abundance of his grace.

One final thing for which I am grateful, every night we have the opportunity to explore different parts of Seoul, so I won’t be spending the week just in the hotel.

Ok, back to business.



Korea and Vietnam
16 October 2009, 6:00 pm
Filed under: Persecution, Travel | Tags:

What follows is an email that I sent to those who are supporting me in prayer while I travel to Korea and Vietnam over the next two weeks:

As many of you will know, I am leaving for a short trip to Korea and Vietnam on Sunday morning. I’m sending this email to you because I would appreciate your prayer support while I am away.

While in Korea, I will be attending the international General Assembly of Voice of the Martyrs. I don’t have a role to play here, but the Director of Voice of the Martyrs Australia has asked me to come along to be eyes and ears. I will be learning a lot about how VOM functions internationally and hearing about a lot of our work from every region in which we work. I am going to meet some incredible people who are working in VOM offices around the world and also our National Contacts who live and work in restricted nations. Please pray for me, that I would be a humble learner and participant in the GA. Also, that my time networking with international staff will be encouraging and profitable for my ministry with the youth department in Australia.

This will be my first trip back to Vietnam since I first went there in 2006. I am really looking forward to meeting believers from a different part of the country this time (we’ll be spending half our time in the highlands north-west of Hanoi) and hearing first hand what life is like for the underground church in Vietnam. It seems like the situation in Vietnam, like many restricted nations, is complex and it is difficult to make generalizations about the situation. So, for example, in Vietnam, there was a big evangelistic rally held in Ho Chi Minh City for Easter this year. And we hear things like this and think that on the whole things are improving for the church there when in fact rural churches and pastors are facing as much opposition as ever for their gospel work. So I’m looking forward to appreciating more of the complexity of Vietnam and coming back to be able to communicate that to Australian youth.

I’ll be meeting a lot of young people in Vietnam who face persecution. Please pray for me that I might be an encouragement to the believers that I meet. Pray that God would lead and guide our team to those who most need our support and those whose stories truly represent the situation in Vietnam. Pray that my heart my be stirred to a greater love of Christ as I am challenged by the boldness and courage of Vietnamese youth, and that God might allow me to come back to Australia with a message that will particularly challenge Australian youth as they follow Jesus.

As I go, I carry your voice with me, a voice of encouragement and support to our brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering for Jesus. Please continue to remember the persecuted church, to uplift them in your prayers and be a voice for them in Australia.

I may have the opportunity to blog while I am away, so keep up with that at https://bradkonemann.wordpress.com, otherwise ask Katherine how I’m going.

I do really appreciate your friendship and support, and I look forward to reporting back after I get back on 1 November 2009.