Life in South East Asia is full of color. Communal meals with various fish dishes are shared in plates like this with a group. Photo by Ellyn Schellenberg.

Sharing the gospel in South East Asia often comes with persecution, as many people see Christianity as displeasing to the spirits they worship. However, the transformation taking place in Jesus followers' lives is starting to change people's minds.

Part of the Hmong ethnic group, Vina* is originally from a small village in the Mekong region. While the largest religion in her country is Buddhism, many of the ethnic minorities present practise animism, including Vina’s family and village.

In 2014, a lady travelled from the capital to Vina’s village, offering housing and education for women who did not have the financial opportunity to study. The woman shared the gospel with Vina, and she and a few others became the first group of Jesus followers from the village. When Vina moved to the city for university, she had the freedom to attend church and grow in her relationship with Jesus.

In the city, a friend introduced her to a coffee shop run by OM, and Vina soon started working there as a barista. The coffee shop hosts a discipleship programme for its staff, and Vina joined and eventually became a leader, discipling other believers at the coffee shop.

Church planting

Today, Vina serves as the training coordinator for the OM team in her country and is helping equip believers to share the good news of Christ with others. Through training, pastors and village members eager to be involved in discipleship are taught to focus on gathering together in house churches for fellowship rather than waiting for opportunities to go to established churches far away that a lack of transportation and bad weather makes challenging. Believers hear about the training through friends who completed the programme or are invited by Vina when she meets them.

"We're equipping Jesus followers to gain the confidence to start more house churches. Sometimes, people are focused on the church as a building. So, when they don't have enough space, they want to build more buildings or make the building bigger instead of hosting house churches in their own villages," says Vina.

“We bring one person from each village to come for training. For the villages that do not [meet together for fellowship] yet, we encourage them to start house churches. In the villages that already gather as a church, we encourage them to go to another village and share the gospel and start a home church in that village," Vina explains.

Sharing the gospel and church planting comes with persecution, as many village members see Christianity as displeasing to the spirits they worship. After completing the discipleship and church planting training in the city, many Jesus believers return to their village and face persecution from their in-laws and village members.

Perseverance in the face of persecution

Persecution is a reality many believers face. When Pastor Phayvanh* returned home after training, he found that his village had destroyed the collecting bowls filled with sap harvested from his rubber trees. Without the tools to support his livelihood, Pastor Phayvanh requested Vina's team help him buy more bowls.

Another couple, Sousada* and Phetsarath*, moved back to their home village to live with family, with the dream of planting a church. However, they were met with hostility from their parents, as the family declared that their being Christians angered the spirit and blamed them for bringing bad luck to the family. Without a place to stay, the couple returned to the city.

While Vina encourages trainees to go back to their villages to share the gospel, she understands the hardship of ostracisation due to a difference in beliefs. When Vina's village leader found out that she and a few other village members had accepted Christ as their Saviour, he called the police and demanded that the group return to worshipping spirits. To attain his signature that would allow her to study in the city, Vina promised that she would give up Christianity. "The believers told the police that when they believed in Jesus, they were healed from different ailments and addictions, so the police went back home, but the village leader continued to persecute us. Personally, I knew that I wanted to know more about God, but I also needed my paperwork, so I had to lie to the village leader. If it were today, I would not lie even if he would not give me the paperwork, but my faith at that time was not that strong," says Vina.

Victories and growth

Despite the persecution she has both experienced and witnessed, Vina is greatly encouraged by the Jesus followers she has interacted with. Her faith, as a result, has grown.

When Vina and a team visited a village with a few believers who needed encouragement, they gathered together to pray and share testimonies. One man, Tui*, who was not yet a believer, brought his child and asked the group to pray for his son. Afterwards, without any prompting, Tui cut off the strings around his wrist that were dedicated to the spirits and worn for good luck and protection. It was a significant step for him to take.

Small groups of Jesus followers continue to grow in numbers and in their faith. Every month or so, the OM team receives testimonial videos of further healing and spiritual growth that is happening among these house churches. As they grow, people see that Christians are not trying to disrupt the community but want to be part of the community. The transformation that takes place in individuals’ lives is having a ripple effect in their wider social setting – there is more acceptance of Jesus followers as peaceful people.

Please pray for Vina and the team as they disciple and train Jesus followers, who then apply what they learnt in their own communities. Pray for more workers — particularly men — who can visit villages and train believers.

*name changed

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