August 2nd, 2013, 11:41 am ·
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Bill Welsh, pastor, Refuge Calvary Chapel, Huntington Beach: To say the least, it was ironic to read the Register article, “U.S., Vietnam work toward trade agreement” [Washington, July 26]. I had just returned from a 10-day trip to Vietnam on Thursday, July 25.
I am the senior pastor of Refuge Calvary Chapel in Huntington Beach and have been aware for some time of the continued persecution, suppression and intimidation of Vietnamese Christians who dare to live their faith openly, to the point of publicly evangelizing outside the confines of their church property.
Everywhere we went, we met courageous pastors and leaders who had been jailed for simply following Jesus’ command to share their faith with all mankind. The purpose of my team’s trip was to encourage these Vietnamese Christians and leaders, to assist at a medical outreach, an evangelistic concert event and to seek ways to come along side these wonderful people in this beautiful nation.
Here’s the irony: as President Troung Tan Sang was boasting to President Barack Obama about the freedom of religion within Vietnam’s “registered” churches, we were witnessing the bullying of some of those same groups by government forces under President Sang’s leadership.
Our team, which included three Vietnamese Americans, whose families fled Vietnam in the mid-1970s, was twice forbidden to mix with these brave, compassionate Vietnamese Christians.
First, we were told that if we merely showed our faces on the clinic site, the police “could not ensure our safety.” Then, on another day, the Vietnamese organizers of a concert event were informed by secret police and other government officials that they knew there were “foreigners” on the property and that if we were allowed on the platform, the event would be shut down, and there would be further repercussions to the local congregation.
Though our part in the event was a minor element, it was decided that only the Vietnamese members of our delegation would mix with the Vietnamese congregation. Although we were all ready to show our solidarity with our Vietnamese brethren, at the suggestion of the organizers, we stayed out of sight and prayed for the gathering as well as for the government officials. The following day (Sunday) the police shut down the dirt road leading to this church, making it difficult for worshippers to attend their regular weekend services.
Vietnam appears to have a long way to go to achieve religious freedom, along with China, North Korea and the Islamic nations of the Middle East. President Obama must do his due diligence and look beyond the handshake and smile of President Troung Tan Sang and beyond the possibility of a stronger trade agreement to the more important issue of human rights for 92,477,857 Vietnamese souls.
Let’s hope and pray that President Sang is truly ready to lead his nation to freedom of thought, freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
With hope for the true freedom of Vietnam.