In a residential neighborhood in Hanoi, Vietnam, church leaders of the Dao ethnic group gather in a newly built classroom to learn about Christian leadership.
Afterward they stream downstairs to a communal kitchen where attendees of a women’s training program are eating lunch, the room filled with sounds of Vietnamese and the Dao’s local dialect.
This is Peter and Kim Dinh’s underground Bible school, which focuses on training ethnic minorities in Vietnam. Of the 1.57 million Christians in Vietnam, ethnic minorities make up 75 percent of that number, yet they face the greatest persecution and lack Christian resources (see “After the fall,” March 31, 2018). So the Dinhs (WORLD changed their names for their protection) have held Bible classes for the past 22 years, equipping more than 300 ethnic minorities in long-term courses and countless others in short-term trainings. They’ve watched as Christianity transformed not only individual lives but entire communities, especially within the Hmong people group: Of the more than 1 million Hmong in Vietnam, an estimated 400,000 are Christians.
The Hmong people live in Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand and are a subgroup of the Miao ethnicity in China. The Hmong in Vietnam encountered Christianity in the late 1980s through a Far East Broadcasting Company radio program. On the show, a Hmong pastor in California named John Lee read from the Bible and explained the Gospel in the Hmong language. Whole villages accepted Christ as they found this Jesus more powerful than the ancestral spirits they had worshipped: He freed them from spiritual attacks and bondage.
Yet Lee didn’t realize he had an audience in Vietnam until he started receiving a flood of mail from new Hmong converts. On his broadcast, he urged them to find Vietnamese churches in Hanoi to learn more, and despite language differences, the churches were able to provide them with Bibles and train them to lead churches. The new converts faced heavy persecution from local authorities who feared the mass conversions to Christianity would bring about Hmong separatist movements. Authorities also barred Vietnamese pastors from teaching the Hmong.
Peter first met Hmong Christians at his Hanoi church in the mid-’90s. They were traveling south to the Central Highlands to escape government persecution and had stopped by Hanoi. During a conversation with one Hmong Christian who spoke a little Vietnamese, Peter gave him his Vietnamese Bible (which was then rare) and a hymnbook. Later Peter contacted some Dutch missionaries and asked them to sneak some Hmong-language Bibles into Vietnam. Because they could bring in only a limited number of Bibles, Peter made photocopies for the Hmong villagers, and the churches would take turns reading different books of the Bible.
At first Kim resisted the idea of ministering to ethnic minorities. Like most Vietnamese, she looked down on them as poor, uneducated people living in the mountains. Yet her husband Peter would often invite them to stay at their house and teach them the Bible. Kim, then 21, grew resentful: They were dirty, they didn’t have any money to reimburse them for room and board, and Kim felt she couldn’t spend the rest of her life constantly cooking and cleaning. In their fights, Peter would try to reason with Kim: “But God loves you and so you need to love others,” he said, praying that God would change her mind.
One day a Hmong visitor finished using the shower at the Dinhs’ house and put his dripping wet clothes back on. Kim asked why he didn’t put on clean clothes, and he responded that he didn’t own any other clothes. So Kim gave him her husband’s clothes to wear. When they sat down for dinner, tears streamed down the man’s face. “He thanked the Lord that He brought him here where he could learn the Word of God and had food to eat—in his house he didn’t have rice, only banana leaves,” Kim remembered. “He thanked the Lord who was so good as to save the Hmong people and give them freedom and eternal life.”
As Kim listened, she felt a pang in her heart thinking about her negative attitude toward the Hmong. That night she prayed God would change her heart and that she’d be able to joyfully serve them alongside her husband. Soon joy replaced her bitterness.
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SOURCE: WORLD Magazine, June Cheng