“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up,
just as in fact you are doing.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV)
The Vietnamese government has accused a pastor couple of causing a major coronavirus outbreak and begun a criminal investigation into the activities of their house church, Revival Ekklesia Mission (REM).
Pastor Phuong Van Tan and his wife Pastor Vo Xuan Loan, and their son, daughter and son-in-law have all been hospitalised with the virus, and are further accused of not reporting their illness.
Health officials alleged that the couple allowed REM church members in Ho Chi Minh City to pray and sing without masks or proper social-distancing restrictions. They claimed they were able to trace a COVID-19 outbreak, which has since led to the city’s lockdown, to the church. This is despite the government banning meetings of more than 20 people since mid-May, the church gathering mostly online, and only seven people present in person at the meeting where the pastors purportedly contracted the virus.
The cluster of cases at REM church has coincided with outbreaks elsewhere in Vietnam and the discovery of a dangerous new variant of the virus that combines traits of the “Delta” and “Alpha” variants.
But the targeting of the church is clear. On 28 May, the Government Committee for Religious Affairs issued a bulletin requesting local authorities to specifically target house churches for inspection and education to do with COVID-19 regulations. On 30 May, REM church’s registration was “temporarily suspended.” Then on 1 June, local security police announced that the church was under criminal investigation for spreading COVID-19.
Christian leaders have responded by asking that the government show compassion to REM church and its members rather than hostility and persecution.
Christians in Vietnam fear that authorities are using the REM outbreak as a reason to impose extra restrictions on all religious bodies, especially house churches. Although authorities in Hanoi found that congregants at REM church’s two Hanoi branches tested negative for COVID-19, all religious gatherings in the capital have been forced to close with immediate effect.
From her hospital bed in Ho Chi Minh City, Pastor Loan has given her own account, which differs from some claims by the health officials. Though she had travelled to Hanoi before the meeting in question, she believes she contracted the virus only after her return from the capital, and was not the source of the cluster. She also denied that the congregation gathered without wearing masks.
“It is not true,” she said. “I am the one who always asked people from my church to wear a mask. I brought masks to all the people of the church and to people in the community.” Pastor Loan added that the church had received a donation of 2,000 masks that she distributed to church members and neighbours.
REM church was founded in the 1990s. As a small church in Vietnam, it joins the many others that have suffered harassment from the government. Vietnam is ranked 19th on the 2021 Open Doors World Watch List of countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Home Group Prayer
Heavenly Father, we come before you humble and ready to follow in your way. We are thankful that within this turbulent and challenging time you remain the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. Thank you that we can bring our prayers and petitions to you, knowing that you hear us, and you care for each of us and our every need.
Lord! Today, we lift to you our brothers and sisters in Vietnam, and we think especially of Pastor Tan and Pastor Loan. Lord, would you heal them, their family, and church members fully from the virus. Please help them to have the courage to continue with their ministry in spite of the difficulties. We are so thankful for their hearts for you and we pray you encourage them in their work.
We pray also for the health officials and other government bodies. Lord, soften their hearts and turn them towards you. Lord, would you reveal yourself to the people of Vietnam, that they might know your love and your mercy.