“I opened a church right after the fall” of Saigon, Nguyen said. He started with about 70 at the first meeting and in eight years added more than 1,000 converts, even though the government “considered religion to be the opium of the people,” he said, and tried to abolish it. The government closed and confiscated churches and Bible schools, put pastors in prison, denied education and employment to Christians, and told them: “you violate the law if you share the gospel with non-Christians,” Nguyen said, speaking during a workshop at Mission Celebration ’09.
Despite these threats, he persisted.
And in 1983, Nguyen was arrested, charged with counter-revolutionary propaganda and sentenced to eight years in prison.
Today, Nguyen is president of Vietnamese Theological College at Union University of California, in Westminster. He is a leader among Vietnamese Christians, – the pastor of a church, and an educator who trains Vietnamese Christians for ministry in Australia, Europe, the United States and Vietnam.
But Nguyen took the long, painful road to his current position — a road he chose because he saw it as faithful.
When the communists took control, “I was a pastor preaching God’s love,” Nguyen said. He thought the people, who would be living under the communist oppression, would “need God’s love. … I had to prove it. So I decided to remain in Vietnam.”
He saw Christianity blossoming in his country — with both the number of house churches and of Christian converts growing exponentially.
“I am God’s servant,” Nguyen said. “I have to be where my Lord puts me or places me, instead of where I want to be. Vietnam under the communists is the place where God wants me to be.”
His own congregation grew far beyond what he had expected. “Finally, they did not want to see it grow any more. They came to arrest me, put me in prison, and shut down my church.”
After his arrest, Nguyen was put first in solitary confinement for 13 months, where he was interrogated every morning and every afternoon. Food consisted of two cups of rice a day plus a cup of water, possibly with a few vegetables or roots mixed in.
After four months, his family was finally allowed to send a little extra food.
After 31 months, his family was allowed to visit, for 15 minutes.
Despite all the deprivation, “I experienced God so vividly” in prison, Nguyen said. “Prison had become a mission field for me instead of some hardship I had to suffer.”
In his first day of prison, an interrogator mocked Nguyen, saying, “You believe in a God who knows everything. So why didn’t your God tell you we were coming to arrest you,” so he could flee? “I told him that I believe my God is so mighty … I had no reason to flee from you because I didn’t commit any crime. And I believe that my God has allowed you to arrest me.”
And then he told the guard: “Whenever my God wants to release me, you have to release me, even if you don’t want to.”
Nguyen served six years in prison, and was sent to the United States along with his family.
While incarcerated, Nguyen led 51 prisoners to become Christians, along with some of the prison guards — including the one who was considered the harshest and with whom he was assigned to eat every day. “God changed the worst prison guard into a very nice guy,” he said.
“God works differently from our common thinking. He used persecution to grow his church.”