Vietnam ranks 18th on the Open Doors World Watch List (WWL) of persecuted Christians. Yet, with active harassment, oppression, and persecution of Christians within its borders, prayer for Vietnam’s body of Christ has seemingly gone silent. Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA, attributes some of that to improvements made on the human and religious rights fronts. “Over the last five years, we’ve seen them open up registration to additional churches. We’ve seen less persecution. We’ve seen some very large Christian meetings held in Hanoi.” Still, “The reality is: there is persecution, and it is a Communist country. “
Nettleton went on “In Communist countries, the issue with regard to religion, is control. When the Church says, ‘Our first loyalty is to Jesus Christ, not to the Communist Party or government,’ that makes them very uncomfortable and they respond with harassment and persecution to try to regain control.” Last year Vietnam implemented a new policy which provides the government with additional legal tools for control and repression. By impeding the functioning of church groups with even tighter reporting, registration, and permission restrictions, there is the increased risk of diminishing the rapidly growing size and number of churches within its borders.
However, Nettleton notes, “The Hmong tribe is among the significant ones that has had a great revival over the last 20 years. Tens of thousands of Hmong people have come to Christ. The government doesn’t trust them because they’re part of this minority tribal group, and then they don’t trust them even more because they’re Christians and they’re involved in church activity.” A case in point: Ho Chi Minh City Bible School has often been the target of police activity in recent years. The Bible school leader, Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang, said last month the school was attacked and destroyed for the seventh time since June.
Nettleton adds, “The government sees this Bible School as a threat.” After large scale attacks last June, the water and electricity for the school were cut off, and in October, all roads to the school were barricaded. Why? Nettleton explains, “One of the things that pastor Quang is involved in is training the church leaders from some of the minority ethnic tribal groups across Vietnam, and then they go back to their villages to plant and lead churches.” Even with the heavy intimidation, school leaders have continued to operate the school, and students continue to study faithfully, intent on their mission to share Christ throughout Vietnam.
The new policy continues to restrict and penalize religious groups and their organized activities. Christians and their church leaders in Vietnam suffer harassment, and imprisonment, all under the guise of national security, public order, unity, and national tradition. What can we do? “We can pray for godly wisdom among those church leaders to help them know the best ways to help them do that,” says Nettleton. Pray that the faith of these Vietnamese believers will become more fervent despite the government’s attempts to implement further restrictions and repression, bringing forth greater blessings to the church as a whole.
ALL TAXIS IN THIS CITY ARE REQUIRED TO HAVE A BIBLE VERSE PAINTED ON THEM
A city in the Philippines requires a Scripture to be painted on the city’s main public transportation method—three-wheeled motorcycles. Any driver caught without a Bible verse is fined or has their license revoked. The city wants the world to know how much they love God’s Word. Smack in the middle of the Philippines, 395 miles south of Manila, lies a tropical paradise dripping with natural beauty. It’s easy to see why the island province of Bohol is one of the country’s famous tourist destinations. Mile after mile of pristine white sandy beaches and crystal clear water attracts scores of outdoor enthusiasts from around the world.
But the tranquil island getaway is also famous for the thousands of noisy but fast, three-wheeled motorized taxis. “They can get you to any part of the island. It’s cheap and you can fit between 4 and 7 people at one time,” said Dennis Cantina, who has built the tricycles for 10 years. But he will tell you these are no ordinary tricycles. “Not only is this the most reliable form of transportation, but on the back of every tricycle is a message of hope and that makes me very proud to build them,” he said. Twenty-two years ago, officials in Bohol’s capital Tagbilaran passed an ordinance requiring that a Scripture be painted on the back of all tricycles.
At Tagbilaran’s City Hall, Samuel Belderol has been handing out tricycle licenses, along with Bible verses, for the last 20 years to drivers who want to operate the three-wheeled taxi. “This is the only city in the Philippines that has such an ordinance. We want the world to know that we are a God-fearing city and that these Bible verses help us draw closer to God,” Belderol said. Belderol said any operator who refuses to put one on will be fined or his or her license revoked. “We only issue 3,000 licenses every year and each one must have a unique verse on it, no duplicate verses allowed,” he said.
When a tricycle driver gets his new vehicle, he goes to city hall. There officials give him a permit and a Bible verse. He then takes the verse to Mr. Buala who paints the Scripture on the back of the vehicle. Buala said “As I paint them on the tricycles I also get inspired by them. This is the Word of God and it gives us guidance.” The Scripture verse for today is from John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “Years ago people used to paint obscene messages and images on their tricycles but the city ordinance changed that. Now when you read the Word of God you can’t help but feel alive, even a little bit of God’s Word makes you happy.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by many drivers and tricycle passengers. “People thank me all the time for my Scripture verse,” Crisenel Escudero, a tricycle owner, said. One resident of Tagbilaran said she was “happy to read the Bible passages, especially when I have a problem. It gives me hope.” Locals admit the tricycles are noisy and at times can be an eyesore. But apart from their convenience, Cantina and others here say it is the message on the back that residents and visitors alike should focus on. “It reminds us of the importance of the Bible and that we can focus on the goodness of God and all the things He has done for us,” he said.
GERMAN’S FED-UP WITH ISLAMIZATION OF THEIR COUNTRY
There is a mounting public backlash over what many perceive as the government’s indifference to the growing influence of Islam in German society. This backlash represents a potentially significant turning point. Despite efforts by German politicians and the media to portray “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West,” (PEGIDA) as neo-Nazi, the group has taken great pains to distance itself from Germany’s extreme right. The group says that it is “apolitical” and that its main objective is to preserve what is left of Germany’s Judeo-Christian culture and values.
Thousands of German citizens have been taking to the streets to protest the growing “Islamization” of their country. A movement leader Bernd Lucke professor of macroeconomics at Hamburg University said “Many people in Germany have legitimate concerns about the spread of radical Islamic ideology, which promotes violence against non-Muslims, robs women and girls of their natural rights, and seeks to require the application of Sharia law. Because the rule of law, tolerance and freedom of religion are fundamental Western values, the PEGIDA movement must leave no doubt that it is precisely these values that it seeks to defend”.
Recently in Dresden more than 10,000 people defied freezing temperatures to express their displeasure with Germany’s lenient asylum policies. Germany—which is facing an unprecedented influx of asylum seekers, including many from Muslim countries—is now the second most popular destination in the world for migrants, after the United States. PEGIDA, has been organizing so-called “evening walks” through downtown Dresden every Monday evening since October, and has seen the number of protesters increase exponentially from week to week.
PEGIDA was launched by Lutz Bachmann, a 41-year-old with no background in politics, after government officials in the eastern German state of Saxony announced that they would be opening more than a dozen new shelters to house some 2,000 refugees. Bachmann says that he is not opposed to legitimate asylum seekers, but that he is against so-called economic refugees who are taking advantage of Germany’s generous asylum laws in order to benefit from the country’s cradle-to-grave social welfare system. According to Bachmann, most of the asylum seekers in Saxony are males who have left their families behind in war-torn Muslim countries.
PEGIDA’s motto is “We are the people!”, the same slogan used by East Germans to bring down the Berlin Wall in 1989. In a classic case of shooting the messenger rather than heeding the message, German politicians have dismissed PEGIDA protesters as ignorant and racist. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière characterized PEGIDA as “shameless,” adding: “We have no danger of Islamization, certainly not in Saxony or Dresden with 2.2% immigrant population.”
CAN NEW NIGERIAN MUSLIM PRESIDENT DEFEAT BOKO HARAM
A northern Nigeria Muslim leader who promised to pursue a nonreligious agenda as president will now have to deal with an Islamic terrorist insurgency that has wreaked chaos in the country’s north. Muhammadu Buhari, 72, a former military ruler and a Muslim, beat incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, 57, a Christian from the country’s south, in an election for the presidency of Nigeria held under the shadow of Boko Haram violence. Not all Nigerians are happy with Buhari’s election. He was president from January 1984 to August 1985. During that time, he imprisoned journalists and opposition activists without trial and executed drug traffickers by firing squad.
But Nigerians, both Christian and Muslim, hope he is better-suited to battle Boko Haram, despite being a Muslim himself. During a campaign rally, Buhari criticized the insurgents for attacking churches and mosques and killing schoolchildren in their sleep.” And while in the past he supported Shariah in the north, he has denied that he is a radical Islamist. Many people from the north, the epicentre of Boko Haram violence, have described him as a man of decency, integrity, with a sense of justice, who could fight the Islamists. Christian leaders hope Buhari can quickly tackle Boko Haram.
“The people want Buhari to deal with insecurity, then corruption,” said the Rev. John Bakeni, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church. Earlier, Catholic bishops in a statement had urged all political parties to accept the results and keep the peace. “This is the only country we have and it is everybody’s task to keep it as one” the statement said. Abdallah Kheir, from Nairobi’s Kenyatta University, said Christians were disappointed with Jonathan. “There were no tangible attacks against Boko Haram during his period,” Kheir said. ”Buhari, by contrast, was known to be good at building rapport when he was president.
Al Shabaab, the Somali-based Islamist terror group, attacked Garissa University in north-east Kenya on 2 April killing 147 people. Local reports indicate that the militants launched the attack at 5.30 am by throwing explosives at the university’s main gate before storming the facility, firing indiscriminately and gaining access to the student hostels. According to several reports, the assailants separated the students based on their religion and allegedly released Muslim students, while killing several non-Muslims on the spot and taking others as hostages.
Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said: “We extend our deepest condolences to the families of those killed and injured in this attack. CSW deplores such a cowardly attack on civilians. The separation of hostages according to their faith echoes previous Al Shabaab attacks and highlights the group’s deadly and divisive sectarian motivations. We welcome the statement by President Kenyatta assuring the nation of the deployment of the necessary security apparatus and call upon the international community to support the Kenyan government as it formulates policies to address this heinous threat.”
Al Shabaab attacks in Kenya have increased since October 2011, when Kenya’s army joined international efforts to stabilise Somalia following the cross-border abductions of foreign tourists by the group. It formally aligned itself with al Qaeda in 2012, although reports of foreign fighters amongst its ranks predated this announcement. There have been three other attacks in the last two years in which the group has separated hostages according to religious identity and murdered them accordingly. The attack on the University comes as the terror alert in East Africa was raised by the US, UK and Australian governments.
ROBERT SCHULLER, FOUNDER OF THE CRYSTAL CATHEDRAL, PASSES AWAY AT 88
Crystal Cathedral founder and televangelist Robert H. Schuller has died after a battle with terminal cancer. He was 88. Schuller was best known for his message of “possibility thinking.” He started preaching in 1955 at a rented drive-in theatre. By 1970 he had a TV ministry called, “Hour of Power,” which at its peak reached 20 million viewers. Schuller had been suffering from cancer of the oesophagus. The landmark glass-paned Crystal Cathedral in Southern California was the hallmark of Schuller’s ministry. The church was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in 2011.
In a Facebook post before his passing, leaders from Shepherd’s Grove, the ministry’s new home, asked for prayer for the family. “Please join us in prayer for the entire Schuller family during this difficult time. May our most precious Lord and Saviour grant them peace and comfort. Schuller was born in Alton, Iowa, in 1926, and was ordained by the Reformed Church in America in 1950. He was pastor of Ivanhoe Reformed Church in Chicago from 1950 to 1955 before moving to California. Besides his son, Schuller and his wife, Arvella, had four daughters, Sheila, Jeanne, Carol and Gretchen. His wife died Feb. 11, 2014, after a brief illness.