‘When I wouldn’t say no to Jesus…’—Chu’s story of persecution & perseverance in Vietnam

July 1, 2020 by Lindy Lowry in Asia

“When I wouldn’t say no to Jesus, he hit me with it again and again.” 

The “he” that Chu* refers to is her then-husband—they were married for more than 30 years. The “it” is the heavy stick he grabbed, most likely from the teak wood trees that cover Vietnam’s northern region, in an attempt to force her to deny her faith. 

Chu* shows us where her husband beat her with a stick because she wouldn’t renounce her faith.

I wince as this mother of 11 points to the places on her neck, head and arms where she was beaten. As she recalls each vicious blow, Chu remembers how she screamed in pain.

But for this secret believer from the northern tip of Vietnam (near the Chinese border), the beating wasn’t atypical or even a surprise. Married at only age 15, she tells me she endured years of domestic abuse.

“My whole life I was beaten up by my husband many times,” Chu says, looking down at the tile floor as she talks.

This time was different, though. This time after being beaten for her faith in Christ, Chu left, with only the clothes on her back.

Each day we’re together, she is dressed the same: in a vibrant purple-and-white, polka-dotted blouse held together by a row of silver safety pins, covered by a darker purple, soft, velvet jacket and plain black pants. She likes bright colors, she says. The earrings she wears each day look like tribal artifacts passed down through the generations. Instead, they are her favorites, she tells me, because she bought them for herself.

Chu freely shares many details about her life, but most heartbreaking is what has happened in the last week. Only days before she got on a bus to travel 14 hours south to talk to us, she learned that her youngest children will remain in her husband’s custody; she would not be allowed to see them. She has three sons and five daughters. Chu has already buried three children.

The pain of the moment feels so real I can almost touch it—her eyes full of hurt. Her husband doesn’t love his children, she explains. Her face, tanned and weathered by years spent working on farms in the 80- and 90-degree tropical heat, looks especially worn today.

Chu breaks down as she talks about her youngest child, a 12-year-old son. He gets sick a lot, she says through tears, nervously folding calloused hands one over the other.

“I just want to take care of my baby,” she says, gasping for air to speak.

 

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Following Jesus in a communist country

Chu is one of the thousands of Christians in Vietnam who are indirectly yet intensely persecuted by the communist state. Growing numbers of believers in places like northern Vietnam and the country’s Central Highlands are facing this kind of persecution today as the communist government exerts its power to control those in local government, especially in provinces and villages.

“This is what persecution looks like in Vietnam today,” says an Open Doors’ ministry partner in the country. “The communist government is cracking down on churches in the cities, requiring them to be registered and watching their every move. And in rural areas governed by tribal leaders, authorities threaten to ‘demote’ or ‘retire’ leaders who allow Christianity in their villages.”

When police came to Chu’s village, pressuring them to stamp out Christianity in their village, local leaders summoned Chu’s husband. Chu remembers the day: February 7, 2020. When her husband returned home from the meeting, she knew he was angry.

“I asked what the government said,” she says. “He said, ‘It’s because of you that we’re being threatened, because you follow Jesus.’ Then he picked up the stick.”

Deep roots

The day Chu accepted Jesus she never thought that only a few years later she would be one of the millions of Christians around the world persecuted for that decision. Before that day, she says she worshiped the devil and her ancestors. Chu is part of the Hmong people group, the white tribe specifically. The Hmong often practice animism (the belief that objects, places and creatures possess souls). The local shaman required her family to offer livestock for his protection.

“So it cost us a lot before we knew about Christianity,” Chu says.

Her walk with Jesus began as an adult when a man, Pastor Kua Qang*, shared the gospel with her, as well as her parents. “Pastor said to me, ‘If you follow Christ, you will not worship the devil; and sickness will no longer overcome you.’”

For Chu, having just lost a child to illness, that initial introduction was all she needed to believe in Jesus. She was the first person to become a Christian in her village. And as she prayed, listened to Pastor Kua and became part of the church, the roots grew deeper.

She even shared the gospel with her husband. For two years, he “believed,” she says. But he is an example of the seed that fell on rocky soil in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. As soon as tribal leaders pressured him, he renounced Jesus and denied his faith.

No turning back

Having walked through decades of abuse, and now persecution for her faith, Chu may be weary. But she is not weak. This beautiful woman in her mid-40s displays mettle that has been forged in the fire. Her heart—for her children and for following Jesus—makes her strong. Even knowing that her husband would likely beat her, she still refused to deny Jesus.

“I refused to deny my faith,” she says, “because I didn’t want to be tempted by the devil. And I don’t want that for my children either.”

After she fled her home, Chu went to the authorities to show them her injuries and file a report. When they said they ‘didn’t know anything about it’, she didn’t stop there. She went to two more levels of authority, fighting for her rights; each said they would ‘try to handle it’. But after waiting a long time with no action, Chu divorced her abusive husband.

When I talked to Chu in late February 2020, she was living with her parents in another village. Now, three months later, our ministry partner shares that she is living in her church’s local parsonage. For her safety, she must live miles away from the area where she lived with her husband. Because of the divorce and her faith, the tribal leaders in that village said she needed to leave.

“They told me, ‘If you stay here, you could be killed.’” She knew the threat was real. Only months before, the houses of two of her adult sons were destroyed because they follow Jesus.

If she renounced Jesus now, would she be able to return to her community? Chu’s thoughtful response reveals that the roots have indeed gone deep: “If I go back to everything as before, they will accept me back into the village. But because I already follow Christ, there’s no turning back.

“I believe that when we believe in Christ and we are willing to abandon all things for the sake of God, that’s when we become a child of God.”

I tell Chu that so many women throughout the world need to hear and be inspired by her story. She offers the truth she has learned firsthand: “My encouragement for them is to continue to lean on God and keep faith no matter what.”

Mourning into dancing

Every day, Chu wakes up to praise God, she says. She is illiterate and cannot read her Bible, but she listens to the Word of God from the radio. She wants to stand strong for Jesus, she says. She also asks for prayer that her persecutors—her ex-husband, relatives and the tribal leaders—would know ‘my Jesus’.

As I talk to her, she sobs long and hard as she asks for prayer to one day have a house of her own. It’s clear this devoted mother is thinking of her children, not her own comfort. She dreams of having a home and her children around her.

“Even though not all of my children could come, I wish that at least some of them could come and stay with me,” she tells me.

Three months since she shared that dream with me, I learn that after much prayer and many conversations with her ex-husband and his relatives, three of her children are now living with her at the parsonage. And that her dream of having a home may soon be a reality. Pastor Kua has asked his church members to help build a home or buy land for Chu.

For 90 long days, this mother was without her children, with no hope of ever having them with her again. Ever since I met her, I’ve prayed for my sister to be reunited with her children—and now, as the psalmist wrote, God has turned her mourning into dancing.

This mother, my sister in Christ, is emotional as she learns that Christians throughout the world have been praying for her. And she is thankful for the support she’s received. A few weeks after meeting Chu, Open Doors partner provided her with food relief and financial assistance. The food was especially needed during Vietnam’s COVID-19 lockdown. Everyone in her village suffered, she says.

“The support you brought me really helped during those difficult times.”

When Chu first met Jesus years ago, she admits she was so desperate she didn’t think much about it. “I just wanted to believe in Christ because I hoped that when I believed in Him, my life would get better,” she remembers.

In many ways, her life is not ‘better’, even with her children now with her. She is banned from her village, divorced, surviving on one small farming income and without her own home. But in her grief, there is also hope. In the absence of her community is the presence of her Savior. And in her pain, there is now trust.

“No matter the hardships I’m going to face, I know that when I pass away, I have a place with Jesus.”

Thanks to your prayers and support, Open Doors local partners continue to walk with Chu, and other believers in Vietnam who face discrimination and attack for their faith. 

 

Stand with Chu and believers like her

  • Pray that Chu would know God’s peace beyond all understanding, that she would feel His arms around her.
  • Pray that she would be comforted and strengthened in her resolve to not turn back from Jesus. Ask God to give her parents and other believers in her church the words to encourage her.
  • Praise God that Chu has been reunited with her children. Ask God to protect and provide for her family.
  • Pray for boldness and discernment for Chu and her church as they continue to share the gospel and their testimony with others.
  • Pray the faith of these believers in these villages would become deeply rooted as they pray and ask God to reveal Himself in their lives.
  • Pray for protection and wisdom for Christians living in communist countries where they are not welcome and are often persecuted for their allegiance to Jesus.
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