Continuing concern for Vietnam Mennonites
The Mennonite Church in Vietnam has appealed to members of the 1.2 million strong Mennonite World Conference to pray on their behalf, and in particular for Nguyen Hong Quang, their leader, who was arrested on 8 June 2004. Ten days ago part of his church in Ho Chi Minh City was demolished by the authorities, and at the weekend a prayer meeting was disrupted.
Monitors say that there have now been at some 80 official actions against the Mennonite centre in District 2 of the city since the arrest of Pastor Quang. In June his 31-year-old wife, and mother of their three children, was elected head of the Vietnamese Mennonite Church.
The Vietnamese government remains vigilant about what it sees as unregistered or dissenting religious groups. Protestants have been under particular pressure, and Catholics have also complained about interference - although relations are better overall because of the historic role of the Catholic Church in Vietnam and the desire of the authorities for good relations with the Vatican.
The United Buddhist movement remains outlawed throughout the country, with Hao Buddhists and Cao Daoists also citing publishing and other restrictions.
Mennonites are one of the three historic peace churches. Many Mennonites opposed the US war in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, and the work of Mennonite Central Committee (the relief and development organisation) was valued when other US church and voluntary organisations were being removed from the country.
Responding to the call for support of their brothers and sisters, the Peace and Justice Support Network of Mennonite Church USA says that because of United States' history with the country, they do not currently think it helpful for US citizens to write letters to either Vietnamese or US legislators. Others with ëgood offices' are making representations. But the Network are providing guidelines for writing brief letters of support to the families of those imprisoned.
Throughout the Vietnam war years from 1954-1973, US Mennonite periodicals were outspoken in their witness for peace. In 1967, a letter from what now would be called the Mennonite General Assembly, asked then President Johnson to 'turn back from the immoral course of the Vietnam War.'
Besides protesting against the war, throughout that decade Mennonite peace witness and relief work expanded around the world. In 1954, Mennonite programs began relief work in South Vietnam. Mennonites co-operated with other world relief organisations in Vietnam Christian Service, doing compassionate relief work throughout the country.
In a message sent to a friend one day before his arrest, Pastor Quang wrote: 'The Church is now on stormy seas but the boat still goes out. The Lord enables us to row together. Be at peace. I ask you and the Church to pray for us.'