It wasn’t your typical summer vacation. Last year (2006), eight teens—six Americans and two Australians—travelled to Vietnam to witness firsthand the persecution of Christians in the Asian nation. Their adventure—Underground Reality: Vietnam—was captured on film and is available now on DVD from The Voice of the Martyrs, a ministry dedicated to helping persecuted Christians in nations like Vietnam.
“We’ve seen a lot of reality TV over the last five years or so,” says Todd Nettleton, spokesperson for The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM). “Well, this is the ultimate reality — the reality of life and death for Christians in Vietnam. It’s the reality of Christians paying the price to live out their convictions and serve God.” The idea for a DVD was generated as VOM staff wrestled with how to present the reality of persecution to an American audience. “Many Americans think persecution existed in the book of Acts, then it stopped.” Nettleton says. “But it is still going on all the time. This DVD serves as a way of confronting the American church with the daily reality of our brothers and sisters in restricted nations.”
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) listed Vietnam in its May 2007 report as a “Country of Particular Concern” regarding religious freedom. According to Tears of the Oppressed, an Australian Christian human rights organization, although Vietnam has a constitutional guarantee of religious freedom, the State has a range of decrees and laws in place to control religious activities and detain religious leaders. Christianity is incompatible with the Marxist/Communist political ideology of Vietnam, which denies the existence of God, and so Vietnamese authorities go to great lengths to suppress and hinder Christian activities.
“The Vietnamese government wants people to be Communists first and Christians second,” Nettleton explains. “But the people we filmed say they are Christians first and everything else comes after that.” The government allows some Christian meetings but they are closely monitored and watched. These groups are subject to having the police raid their services or having people arrested and locked up. In some cases, they are even attacked physically.
One of the things that happened right before the VOM group travelled to Vietnam is that a house church was torn down by the government. “The people came in swinging clubs and some of the Christians were roughed up pretty badly,” says Nettleton. “That’s the reality for Christians in Vietnam — that’s what we wanted to capture on the DVD — what it is like for an American Christian teenager to come face to face with that type of reality.” Bethany, one of the teens who made the trip, admits she was shaken by the reality she experienced. “When I went to Vietnam, everything got shaken up,” says Bethany. “One day I interviewed a girl we called Esther. This was my greatest moment in Vietnam. Her dad was the first Christian in their village. When he started having services in their house, the police asked him to come to meet them.”
Looking at the floor, the Vietnamese girl told Bethany, “I never saw him again or heard about him for three years.”
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