[img]https://www.sermonindex.net/images/forum/2004/may/featured_news.gif[/img]Amid the graceful pagodas, temples and French Colonial architecture, the Protestant church in Hanoi is a very ordinary building. The Vietnamese congregation sings enthusiastically, maybe unaware a government official is watching them.The pastor sits at the back of the church. "I don't have government permission to give an interview," he said, sweat running down his face even though it was a rare cold day in Hanoi. Foreign journalists are accompanied everywhere by government minders and it is dangerous for Vietnamese to criticise the government, especially during a visit to one of just 300 legal churches that service Vietnam's two million Protestants.Outside, a young woman led the way to a group of men in the courtyard. "They will only talk if I translate," she said. The men were from the Xao tribe from Lai Chau and Caobang in the far north. They had been converted to Christianity by the neighbouring H'Mong, another ethnic minority who had been Christianised when they fought alongside Americans during the war.The Xao men had come to worship in the legal Hanoi church and to apply to the government for permission to open a church of their own. The 4,000 Christians in their region are forced to worship in illegal "house churches". Christians, they said, could practise their religion in the cities but in the countryside they were being beaten for their beliefs, and forced to recant Christianity.A woman who works at the church told us she had to care for injured Christians from Lao Cai and Caobang who come to Hanoi for treatment because local authorities broke their bones or poured boiling water on them for their religion. A farmer said he'd been arrested and beaten by two policemen for five hours last March for converting to Christianity.
_________________SI Moderator - Greg Gordon