Why one believer returned to the communist village he was forced to leave

July 16, 2020 by Lindy Lowry in Asia

In Vietnam’s Central Highlands region, we discover an unassuming yet bold evangelist.

 

The first time we meet A Lam, he brings us Oolong tea, a regular practice of hospitality and reflection of the graciousness of the Vietnamese people and our surroundings. We are in the country’s largest tea-growing area.

A Lam stands at no more than 5 feet, 6 inches. He wears a plain white cotton button-down shirt and khaki work plants. He serves us one by one from a white ceramic teapot, patiently pouring the steaming, comforting liquid into each cup. The second time he appears, he’s smiling, holding a plate of freshly sliced guava fruit.

We didn’t come to talk to A Lam today. We’ve traveled to this church to interview Pastor Ngoc*. But we soon realize that the young man who volunteers his time to serve with the pastor also has a story. A story we can’t pass up hearing. And he is kind enough to sit down with us and share his powerful witness of persecution and faith.

Following Jesus in a communist village

Communist propaganda billboards like these dot the Vietnamese landscape, especially in provinces and rural areas where the government exerts  its control over local leaders, calling them to stamp out Christianity in their villages.

The first thing we learn about A Lam is that he was the first Christian in his family. And that this man who looks much younger than he is has already endured heavy persecution for his decision to follow Jesus. He has also faced personal trials and grief.

He shares how he grew up practicing his family’s tribal beliefs and going to the witch doctor in his village anytime he was sick or needed something. It wasn’t until he was in his early 20s that A Lam first heard the gospel from nearby church missionaries who showed him the JESUS Film. He listened to them out of curiosity, he says.

“People in the church came to me and shared about Jesus, and I prayed to believe in Jesus,” he recalls. “I wanted to follow this Jesus.”

A Lam was so moved that, just like the Samaritan woman at the well who found Living Water, he rushed to tell others about what he had found. He brought the film back to this village and shared about this Jesus he had just met with the crowd that had gathered.

But soon, he learned what being a Christian in a communist village looks like.

In a communist village, the government has provided the land and has absolute control over the village—often exerting that control without hesitation. No faith that would challenge government allegiance is allowed – including Christianity.

So when the village leaders heard that someone in their community had converted to Christianity and was preparing to show a film with “Jesus” in the title, they rushed to the scene to stamp out any glimmer of faith. First, they pressured A Lam, hurling insults at him. Then they quickly let the crowd know the consequences: “If you watch this film, you will become a Christian,” they said. “And if you become a Christian, the police will come and put you in jail. The government will indict you. It’s better for you if you don’t become a Christian.”

For the first time in A Lam’s life, his village leaders were threatening him. And he wasn’t prepared for it. When he prayed to accept Jesus, he never thought that decision would heap so much trouble on him, as well as his family. A Lam renounced his newfound faith.

“Finally I said, ‘Okay, I’m not Christian,’ but in my heart I still believed in God.”

For six years, A Lam prayed to Jesus in secret. Outwardly, he followed his family’s tribal rituals; inwardly, he held in his heart the Jesus he had found.

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‘I’m a Christian’

A Lam married and he and his wife Y Ca* soon began to want children. Following the village customs, the couple went to the local witch doctor to ask for a child.

“We spent a lot of money on sacrifices to him,” he says. His voice lowers and his eyes look down, as he shares the pain of losing two children. Their first baby died during childbirth. Their second, they lost during the pregnancy.

With some reticence, he approached his wife, pregnant with their third child, and suggested they go to the church and let the pastor pray for her. Out of desperation, she agreed. Throughout the pregnancy, A Lam prayed fervently for a healthy baby. His dark eyes shine when he shares their son was born with no complications.

It was all he needed to publicly confess the Jesus he had followed secretly over the last six years.

“I stood up and said, ‘I’m a Christian,’” he shares. His wife also decided to follow Jesus. Together, they began attending worship services at the local church in a nearby village.

But just a few weeks later, trouble started once again for the young family. Village officials summoned A Lam for interrogation. As he approached the area, he saw everyone he knew, their eyes fixed on him, including his family and friends. The community he had grown up in was now an angry mob poised to accuse and attack.

“They planned to beat me,” he says. “They had already prepared four or five strong guys to attack me, but I thank God that did not happen.” Standing in front of the community he had grown up in, A Lam was accused, publicly denounced and ‘sentenced’.

“They told me that because I had become a Christian I had to leave,” he shares.

For those from Asia who are taught from a young age to value honor even more than their own lives, public denouncement is often even worse than a beating, our partner in Vietnam explains. “It’s like being found guilty and you bring shame to your whole family.”

That day, A Lam and Y Ca left their home, taking only a few things, and moved in with the pastor of their church.

Evangelism, threats and secret believers

A Lam tells several stories of sharing Jesus, followed by persecution, in the new village. He has learned the truth of Matthew 10:22 firsthand—that those who confess the name of Jesus will be ‘hated and despised’.

He remembers leading a young man to Christ. When the local government found out, they encouraged the man’s mother to confront A Lam. “She came to me with a knife and said she would kill me or destroy the house,” A Lam remembers.

Another time, A Lam shared the gospel with a family and they trusted Christ. Again, local leaders were quick to intervene. Despite threats, the family still follows Jesus, he says.

Through prayer, conversations between the village leaders and A Lam’s pastor have diffused the situation for A Lam and the many new believers he has brought to Christ.

“They just ask a few questions and then they let it go,” he explains.

God has also opened the door for him to go back to the communist village where is from and the whole area around him—A Lam has taken those opportunities to share the gospel. In his former village, he tells us that he has secretly led almost 60 people to Jesus. The room fills with audible amazement as we realize how God is working in this young man who has been faithful to answer the call to follow Jesus—and to be His witness.

But A Lam quickly reminds us of the danger of these decisions. “I pray for them because they’re new believers, and they’re scared they will face persecution,” he says, asking us to remember them as well.

He also asks for prayer to grow in his knowledge of the Bible to continue to stand firm and help others do the same. And he requests prayer for the many families who are suffering as a result of the country’s COVID-19 lockdown. The area’s manioc (a potato-like vegetable grown throughout Southeast Asia) factories closed. As a result, the harvest workers also lost their jobs, including A Lam. Currently, he is working on his small farm.

“I praise God that I still have land to toil,” he says.

A Lam closes our time together, sharing a paraphrase of his favorite scripture: “Jesus said if anybody wants to be His disciple he must sacrifice himself and take up their cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). It is his faith verse, he says.

“That verse really encouraged me to stand up and be willing to take risks to follow Jesus. Jesus said that I must daily take on His cross—I pray I can always follow Him.”

*representative names used for security reasons

Pray with A Lam and the people he’s reaching

  • Pray that A Lam would continue to follow the Holy Spirit’s promptings to share his story with others. Pray specifically for boldness and perseverance.
  • Ask God to increase A Lam’s and Y Ca’s understanding of God’s Word—that they would find new insights in Scripture as they read the Bible together and raise their family.
  • Pray for A Lam as he disciples these new believers. Pray specifically for protection and trust that no matter what happens, God will walk with them through their fear.
  • Pray for the families in A Lam’s area who are struggling because of the COVID-19 lockdown. Pray for provision for both food and for new jobs. The situation is very difficult throughout the country for believers who are struggling to feed their families; we have reports of Christians in Vietnam being denied government aid because of their faith.
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