Vietnam’s Christians: A Century of Growth in Adversity
by Reg Reimer
William Carey Library, 1605 E. Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104, 2011, 144 pages, $12.99.
—Reviewed by Richard R. Cook, associate professor of church history and missions, Logos Evangelical Seminary, El Monte, California.
Reg Reimer’s small but potent book, Vietnam’s Christians, packs in a tremendous amount of information. He provides a brief and coherent overview of Christianity in Vietnam, including a chapter on the four hundred years of Roman Catholic history. His primary focus, however, is the Protestant movement that started in 1911 and in 2011 celebrated its centennial. Reimer draws on both his over four decades of experience serving as a missionary in Vietnam and extensive research. The book is easy to read, footnotes are held to a minimum, and the tone is enthusiastic and urgent. Nonetheless, Reimer provides a balanced and compelling narrative of the churches in Vietnam.
Reimer convincingly demonstrates that the story in Vietnam is a story Christians around the world should know. Vietnam is the thirteenth most populous country with eighty-six million people. Roman Catholics have suffered 130,000 martyrs and now number some eight million followers (pp. 17-24). The Protestant churches have also suffered, and since 1975 have experienced miraculous growth. Reimer provides yet another piece of the story of the dramatic shift of Christianity to Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The book is not designed to be comprehensive, but Reimer helpfully points readers to additional resources, such as indigenous novelists who portray Vietnamese culture and informative websites. The book is especially strong in at least two areas.
First, Reimer provides insightful analysis of the religious policies in Vietnam. Particularly valuable is his discussion of new regulations adopted around 2005. As Vietnam was planning to host the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in 2006, the government was under international pressure to improve its human rights record. The new regulations brought some hope for improved conditions for the churches (pp. 100-103). Reimer shows that five years later, however, the situation has not changed substantially and the churches continue to suffer (pp. 105-106).
Second, Reimer brings to life numerous stories of believers and brief vignettes describing house church meetings. One powerful story involves the internationally known “Napalm Girl” from the iconic photo or a little girl running naked and screaming from a napalm fireball during the Vietnam War. Phan Thi Kim Phuc’s story has been told in many forums, but here Reimer tells part of the story that is not as well known. He includes photos of Kim and her family today and recounts her harrowing story, including her extraordinary conversion to Christianity (pp. 62-65). The book is replete with stories of tragedy and redemption.
Reimer provides an apt conclusion to his book: “[O]ur story has made quite clear that religious freedom as enjoyed in Western democracies is not necessary for Christians to flourish nor for churches to grow. Indeed, since Vietnam was united under communism thirty-five years ago, Protestant Christians have multiplied nine times.…Vietnamese Protestant churches… are joining the wider Christian mission to take the gospel to the whole world” (pp. 106-107).
Check these titles:
Hayton, Bill. 2011. Vietnam: Rising Dragon. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
Moffett, Samuel Hugh. 2005. A History of Christianity in Asia: 1500 to 1900. 3 vols. Vol. II. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.
Robert, Dana L. 2009. Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion. Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell.
EMQ, Vol. 48, No. 3, pp. 376, 378. Copyright © 2012 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.