In a residential neighborhood in Hanoi, Vietnam, church leaders of the Dao ethnic group gather in a newly built classroom to learn about Christian leadership.
This is Peter and Kim Dinh’s underground Bible school, which focuses on training ethnic minorities in Vietnam. Of the 1.57 million Christians in Vietnam, ethnic minorities make up 75 percent of that number, yet they face the greatest persecution and lack Christian resources….So the Dinhs [names changed for their protection] have held Bible classes for the past 22 years, equipping more than 300 ethnic minorities in long-term courses and countless others in short-term trainings. They’ve watched as Christianity transformed not only individual lives but entire communities, especially within the Hmong people group: Of the more than 1 million Hmong in Vietnam, an estimated 400,000 are Christians.
The Hmong people live in Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand and [first] encountered Christianity in the late 1980s through a Far East Broadcasting Company radio program. On the show, a Hmong pastor in California named John Lee read from the Bible and explained the gospel in the Hmong language. Whole villages accepted Christ as they found this Jesus more powerful than the ancestral spirits they had worshipped: He freed them from spiritual attacks and bondage….The new converts faced heavy persecution from local authorities who feared the mass conversions to Christianity would bring about Hmong separatist movements. Authorities also barred Vietnamese pastors from teaching the Hmong.
Peter first met Hmong Christians at his Hanoi church in the mid-’90s….During a conversation with one Hmong Christian who spoke a little Vietnamese, Peter gave him his Vietnamese Bible (which was then rare) and a hymnbook. Later Peter contacted some Dutch missionaries and asked them to sneak some Hmong-language Bibles into Vietnam. Because they could bring in only a limited number of Bibles, Peter made photocopies for the Hmong villagers, and the churches would take turns reading different books of the Bible.
At first Kim resisted the idea of ministering to ethnic minorities. Like most Vietnamese, she looked down on them as poor, uneducated people living in the mountains. Yet her husband Peter would often invite them to stay at their house and teach them the Bible. Kim, then 21, grew resentful: They were dirty, they didn’t have any money to reimburse them for room and board, and Kim felt she couldn’t spend the rest of her life constantly cooking and cleaning. In their fights, Peter would try to reason with Kim: “But God loves you and so you need to love others,” he said, praying that God would change her mind.
One day a Hmong visitor finished using the shower at the Dinhs’ house and put his dripping wet clothes back on. Kim asked why he didn’t put on clean clothes, and he responded that he didn’t own any other clothes. So Kim gave him her husband’s clothes to wear. When they sat down for dinner, tears streamed down the man’s face. “He thanked the Lord that He brought him here where he could learn the Word of God and had food to eat—in his house he didn’t have rice, only banana leaves,”…As Kim listened, she felt a pang in her heart thinking about her negative attitude toward the Hmong. That night she prayed God would change her heart and that she’d be able to joyfully serve them alongside her husband. Soon joy replaced her bitterness.
At first, the Dinhs had to move every six months to avoid detection from local authorities. To evade unwanted eyes, the Hmong Christians snuck in late at night and stayed indoors while attending the Dinhs’ weeklong Bible training sessions. Many times, by God’s grace, the police showed up to search the house after the course had finished and could not find any evidence.
Every time the students returned to the Dinhs’ house for more training, they would bring news of new church plants. The Dinhs also traveled to the villages to conduct training programs, trying to keep a low profile to hide from local police.
In her 22 years working with the Hmong, Kim has seen a great transformation: Because of their new Christian faith, the Hmong gave up their traditional practice of ancestor worship, which included expensive sacrifices that left them penniless. Hmong Christians now had money to feed their families and to increase their harvest.
Many Christians also learned to read and write Vietnamese by reading the Bible. Hmong children typically don’t stay in school for long, as they are needed in the fields to support the family, yet the Dinhs and other Vietnamese believers stressed the importance of education to Hmong believers. Today most Hmong graduate from high school, and some attend college or even get master’s degrees at the Bible school.