Vietnamese Christians fear increased harassment following new restrictions
By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
MCLEAN, VA. (ANS) -- The condition of the Church in Syria is becoming more and more desperate. Christians, their property and their churches continue to be the targets of violent attack.
According to a prayer bulletin from Barnabas Aid, a group which provides assistance to the persecuted church, a senior church leader reported some disturbing facts.
Christians in Syria also face "inflation, poverty, growing of sectarian enmity, shortages of supplies of food and fuel, cold weather, revenge, kidnaping for big amount of ransom, risks of traveling, frequent Internet cut off and (more)."
Barnabas Aid reported that while the Christian population of Homs was once 50,000-60,000, just 80 Christians remain in a Christian neighborhood of the old city in Dec. 2012. They are being held hostage by rebels and prevented from leaving. They're dying one by one as a result of serious hardships and lack of medication.
A Barnabas partner said they are being kept there as "human shields" by Salafist rebel groups to deter government forces from attacking the Christian area, which is now occupied by rebels.
Despite the dangers they face, and the fact that many Syrian Christians have fled their homeland, church leaders in Syria have refused to leave their people.
Barnabas Aid reported one senior Christian leader said, "We have to say we want to stay here. It is our vocation to give our testimony. We had a lot of persecution in the past and we have to find a way to continue."
As observers predict the collapse of the Assad regime, under which Christians in Syria had been well treated, the future for Christians looks bleak.
Barnabas Aid had a request. "Give thanks to the Lord that He is a faithful God who does not desert His people in need. Ask that He will be a stronghold and a refuge for the 80 Christians left in Homs, and that they will be allowed to leave in safety."
Barnabas Aid added, "Pray that all Christians in Syria will know the Lord's peace in these desperate times, and that He will make a way for them to live in safety in their own country."
Barnabas Aid said the situation also appears to be worsening for Christians in Vietnam, who while already enduring severe restrictions on their activities, are now facing the prospect of even tighter control.
Churches are already required to register with the government, and those who do not register, or are refused registration, are subject to severe harassment. New restrictions, which come into force on Jan. 1 2013, will make it even harder for churches to register.
Barnabas Aid said religious groups will now have to prove that they have operated for 20 years without violating any law, including "infringing national security."
However, because this charge is often leveled at groups that the government wants to suppress, it is feared the new conditions will allow the government to refuse registration to more churches.
Barnabas Aid said the decree also requires that religious leaders obtain permission from authorities before they can travel abroad for conferences.
Disturbingly, Barnabas Aid commented, a senior member of the Vietnamese Parliament said recently that "Vietnam will increasingly model itself on China in matters of religious policies."
Christians in China who are members of unregistered house churches often suffer intense harassment, including the possibility of jail terms.
Barnabas Aid asked that readers pray for Vietnamese Christians. "Lift up to the Lord our Christian brothers and sisters in Vietnam, and ask that they will be protected from harassment resulting from these tightened restrictions. Pray that the Lord who gives strength to His people and blesses them with peace (Psalm 29:11) will be with the congregations of churches that are unable to register. "
The group added, "Pray also that the government will not continue to make its policies on religious freedom more repressive."
The mission of Barnabas Aid is to support Christians where they are in a minority and suffer discrimination, oppression and persecution as a result of their faith.