Being Hmong and Standing for the Gospel in Vietnam
"They will take my land ... because I believe in my God.”
In Vietnam, more than a million people are part of the Hmong group. Over the last 30 years, increasing numbers of Hmong have converted to Christianity from the group’s traditional religion of animism (belief in the spirit world and the interconnectedness of all living things). As this report from our partners in the field shows, turning from animism to believe in Christ and share His gospel can come at great cost.
When Thao*, his son and daughter-in-law became Christians in 2016, his younger brother reported them to the local authorities.
And then one day, his brother showed up at Thao’s house with a mob.
For Thao and his family, choosing to follow Jesus meant suspicion, threats and violence from his community.
“[The mob] tied me with a rope and a part of that rope was used to fiercely hit me six times,” Thao recalls. “After beating me, they brought me to the village culture hall, and I was forced to sign a paper [renouncing my faith].”
The village secretary threatened Thao that if he didn’t give up his new faith, he and his family would be expelled from the village.
Thao says that while he was searching for a new place to live, his brother raped his daughter-in-law. Though he has forgiven his brother, Thao decided he and his family could no longer stay in the village. And Thao’s story is hardly an isolated incident in this part of Vietnam, where God is moving in powerful ways.
Jesus Among the Hmong
In the late 1980s, Christianity started spreading among the Hmong in the highlands of northwest and central Vietnam in through a Hmong-language Christian radio program broadcast from Manila and has led to “a remarkable religious transformation … in the past three decades,” according to academic Seb Rumsby, writing for The Diplomat.
Among the 1 million Hmong, there are now an estimated 400,000 Christians, and “the social, economic and political impacts of religious change—from persecution and migration to lifestyle changes and new gender relations—are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore,” Rumsby noted.
The Vietnamese government has reacted to the surge in conversions by publishing anti-Christian propaganda and maintaining restrictive policies, making it almost impossible for churches to register.
The government says its new Law on Belief and Religion, due to come into effect in January 2018, will help its administration of religious affairs—for example, it will theoretically simplify the registration process. However, Vo Tran Nhat, executive secretary of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, told World Watch Monitor last year that the law will add another layer of repression and control to an already pressurized Church.
Ethnic groups like the Hmong are also “very protective of their customs, their regions, and they have a lot of authority in their local governments,” Tim Muret of Open Doors USA told Mission Network News. “They view Christianity as a threat basically, something that is challenging their culture, their heritage.”
Rumsby described how new Christians abstain from drinking alcohol—seen within the tribe as an important part of male bonding—and no longer take part in traditional religious rituals and ceremonies. “Many Hmong shamans [which means “father/master of spirits”] and non-Christians fear that their culture is being lost,” he said.
Perhaps that provides a glimpse into why persecution is so prevalent for Hmong believers.
Repression Among God’s People
Vang*, a 28-year-old father of two from the same village as Thao in northwest Vietnam, was the first person in the village to convert to Christianity.
In April last year, shortly after Thao’s beating, Vang was targeted as well. He says his brother hit him so hard that it has left his arm permanently disabled.
Following the beating, the mob also destroyed his house, smashing to pieces the wooden ceiling, walls, doors and windows.
Vang says that the destruction of his house was meant as a “warning” to other villagers not to turn to Christianity.
After he decided to leave the village, Vang says, “the government told me they will take my land and my animals [without compensation] because I believe in my God.”
Christians like Vang and Thao are just two examples of many new believers who are living out their faith in dangerous circumstances. And yet as part of the global body of Christ, they do not stand alone. Please link arms with your Hmong brothers and sisters, praying that:
– New converts among the Hmong will be treated as equals.
– Leaders of the Hmong and the Vietnamese government will hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and cease persecution of the church.
– Christians all over Vietnam will be able to forgive their persecutors and find hope in the darkness
*Names changed for security reasons.