Chuck Colson
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You?ve seen on television in recent weeks the scenes of the helicopters evacuating Americans from the embassy rooftop in Saigon. Military action in Vietnam came to an end just thirty years ago last month. Unfortunately, for one loyal American ally, it marked just the beginning of even greater troubles.

In the 1960s, the United States needed a way to keep North Vietnam from re-supplying its troops in the South through neighboring Laos without violating Laotian neutrality. So, it recruited an ethnic group called the Hmong to fight the Communists. By 1969, more than 18,000 Hmong soldiers had been killed. They did this because they loved freedom and believed us when we said that we would always be there for them.

We weren?t. After Vietnam and Laos fell to the Communists, their new governments vowed to wipe out the Hmong, and tens of thousands of Hmong died fleeing the Communists. Credible reports of chemical weapons usage were explained away in the Western press as ?bee feces? raining down on the Hmong. Sure.

While 250,000 Hmong eventually made it to the United States, a similar number remained in Laos, and millions more are in Vietnam and Southern China. Their status as ethnic and political outsiders has made life especially rough.

Now, there are reports of yet another reason for these governments to persecute the Hmong: their faith. By some estimates, half of the Hmong in Vietnam have become Christians, with nearly all of the conversions coming in the last thirty years. This last part is important because, under Vietnamese law, only those Hmong who converted before the end of French rule in 1954 are officially recognized as Christians. The rest are regarded as subversives.

The persecution of the Hmong Christians starts with confiscating Bibles and quickly escalates from there. The fortunate Hmong are ?only? fined the equivalent of four months? salary and have their livestock confiscated. Beatings, imprisonment, and torture are commonplace. For some, the torture includes drug injections. A witness said that ?those that were injected said that they experienced symptoms of chest pains, headaches, and a loss of feeling in their limbs.?

Even worse, there are reports of worshippers being attacked with chemical weapons. The chemical agent is said to cause ?seizures and uncontrollable shaking.? More than one hundred worshippers at two separate services required medical attention after the attacks. Given the history of the Hmong, and now adding their Christianity, it?s not hard to believe these accounts.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. government announced an agreement that it had finally concluded with Vietnam on religious liberty. The announcement was accompanied by the release of six Hmong Christians from prison. Good.

In the agreement, the Vietnamese government promised an end to the ?forced renunciation of Christian faith.? Despite this commitment, Human Rights Watch reports that such forced renunciations are still occurring among the Hmong and other ethnic minorities. That highlights the real issue: Will Vietnam?s ?commitments? amount to more than words?

That?s where we come in. Christians need to keep the pressure on our government to keep the pressure on Vietnam. This time, we should we keep our word to the Hmong.


For further reading and information:

Today?s BreakPoint offer: Learn more about the problems in Vietnam and what you can do. See Christian Solidarity Worldwide?s letter-writing guide.

Compass Direct, ?U.S. and Vietnam Reach Agreement on Religious Freedom,? Christianity Today, 12 May 2005.

CNSNews.com, ?Vietnam Dodges Sanctions for Religious Freedom Violations,? Townhall.com, 6 May 2005.

?Vietnam: Catholic prisoner of conscience released after 18 years? imprisonment,? press release, Amnesty International UK, 11 May 2005.

See Human Rights Watch?s coverage of Vietnam.

BreakPoint Commentary No. 040917, ?Thinking about Vietnam: Hanoi and the Church.?

?Rice required to act on Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Eritrea by March 15,? press release, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, 7 February 2005.

?Vietnam Intensifies Religious Persecution Against Hmong Christians,? press release, Center for Religious Freedom, 1 October 2003.

Joanna S. Wong, ?Torture by Injection of Vietnamese Hmong Christians,? Christian Today, 19 March 2004.

?Hmong Christians Suffer Chemical Attacks in Vietnam,? press release, Voice of the Martyrs.

See BreakPoint?s page on ?Helping the Persecuted Church.?

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Chuck Colson

Chuck Colson was the Chief Counsel for Richard Nixon and served time in prison for Watergate-related charges. In 1976, Colson founded Prison Fellowship Ministries, which, in collaboration with churches of all confessions and denominations, has become the world's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, crime victims, and their families.
 
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