This article is from Issue 59: Sep/Oct 2012

Persecuted but Prospering

Admidst the worst persecution in a century, why is the church in Southeast Asia flourishing?

Persecution is a foreign term to Christians in the United States. When asked about religious persecution, the first thing American Christians might imagine is the early Church—the Apostle Paul in prison or Stephen getting stoned.

Others might think of modern-day Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey or another country in the Middle East. Or even violence in Africa—like the recent attacks in Nigeria that left more than 50 Christian worshippers dead in Easter bombings and more than 20 others shot and killed at a church service just weeks later.

More often than that, they might think of persecution as something that happened long ago in countries far, far away.

But persecution is happening right now, with much of it happening in countries that don’t draw much international media attention on the subject.

So says Todd Nettleton, the director of media development for Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), a nonprofit committed to assisting persecuted Christians around the world and serving as a bridge between the Church in the U.S. and the Church in “restricted” and “hostile” nations.

VOM maintains a map on its website to indicate which countries are currently considered “restricted” or “hostile”—and their current list includes the overwhelming majority of Southeast Asia.
“A ‘restricted nation’ is one where the government is doing the persecution (saying, ‘You can’t be a Christian’),” Nettleton says. “What we call a ‘hostile nation’ is one where, at least in theory, the government says it’s OK, but within the country there are significant people who are opposed to the Gospel and/or attacking Christians.”

Nettleton cites Indonesia as an example of a hostile nation—it’s a place where the government is not opposed to Christianity, but radical Islamic groups within the country attack Christians and burn down churches.

Two or three times a year, Nettleton travels to countries where Christians are being persecuted. In the past year, among other places, he visited Vietnam and Laos.

“In Vietnam, we met several types of people, including the wives of Christian pastors who are imprisoned. They’re allowed to visit their husbands once a year, and some of them are in prison for years,” Nettleton says. “We also worked with people of the Hmong tribe—a tribal group that is heavily persecuted for being an ethnic minority but also largely Christian.”