From persecuted to proclaiming

A note from Professor Sorum:

After dinner with Rev. Bounkeo Lor and the five elected leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church, I enjoyed a long conversation with Pastor Vang. He is one of these five leaders and serves as the secretary of the HFC. I had spent time with Pastor Vang in my last visit to Vietnam two years ago and in this present visit. Of the five leaders, I would say he is the least likely to speak. But when I started asking questions about his experiences,Pastor Vang became very open. I got all of this information in a conversation with Rev. Bounkeo Lor serving as translator. I have Pastor Vang’s permission to share our conversation in a story format as though Pastor Vang was the one who is telling the story.

I became a Christian in the early 1990’s. The people in my village were hearing rumors of this Savior called Jesus. Our village did not have a missionary. We did not have a Bible. We just heard little bits of information about Jesus from radio broadcasts. I had heard enough about Jesus to make me want to learn more about him. So I left my village and went to the city of Hanoi to try to find out more about the Savior.

In Hanoi, I met a pastor who taught me a little about the Bible. I became a Christian and also a spiritual leader in my village. I did this on my own. This was in 1997. At this time, the government did not allow people to be Christians or to teach the Christian faith in most parts of Vietnam. Because I was a Christian, and also because I was a Hmong minority in Vietnam, the government arrested me and imprisoned me first in Hanoi and then returned to my village to be kept in a prison there. I was kept in prison for one month. The Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians that he had received five times from the Jews the forty lashes minus one and that he had been beaten with a rod three times. Every day that I was in that prison, the guards beat me. This happened every single day and sometimes multiple times in a day. They used a belt. They used their fists. And sometimes they used a rod.

Every time they beat me, they told me to deny Jesus and to reject my Christian faith. They told me they would let me go if I rejected my faith. I would not do that. For many days while I was in this prison, I was very angry at God. I was disappointed in him for allowing me to be mistreated so badly. But one day I began to wonder if God was preparing me to be a leader in his church. This did not make the beatings easier to endure. But it did strengthen me to not deny my faith.

They tortured me in different ways. They didn’t just beat me. I remember these things very clearly still today more than twenty years after they happened. I do not have nightmares about these things. But I will never forget how terrible it was. My family and I still know the guards and the government people who did this to me. They come to visit my family and bring gifts to my family every Christmas. We are now able to witness to those who persecuted me. We are respectful to them. We do not hate them. These men tell my family that they never had a prisoner like me that stood up to them they way I did. I am not saying this because I am proud. I am not proud. I am very grateful to God that he kept me alive and that he gave me the strength to not deny him.

Now I am a leader in the church. I have been elected to help lead a group of 700 pastors and 200,000 Hmong Christians. This same government that persecuted me is now working with my group and with WELS to build a teaching center and to train men to preach and teach the true Word of God. I cannot imagine how this happened. How long will this support from our government last? I cannot say what will happen in the future. But I am optimistic that the government will be honorable in its promises to my group and to the WELS people. I know the government is happy to see the good effect that our teaching has on the Hmong people in Vietnam. I am eager to see how God will bless us through the WELS teaching and the permission the government is giving us to share this teaching. I ask the WELS people to pray for this ministry.

Pastor Vang, front left in both photos, collaborates with other students in the HFC leaders training.