Fifteen minutes-that's the amount of time that Mr. and Mrs. Loi spend in each other's company a month. Come with me to the mountain country of central Vietnam and I will introduce them to you. Mr. Loi has been in prison since November 1994, approximately 60 miles away from home. When his wife is granted permission from the local authorities, for which she must reapply every month, she may visit her husband for a maximum of 15 minutes.
It's that time again today. Sitting behind a friend on his moped, who is kind enough to take her, she's on her way. The occurrences that have led to his arrest flash before her eyes. When she met her husband, they both belonged to the Protestant church.
After the Communists took power in 1975, all the churches in their region were closed, and the pastors who hadn't fled were put in prison. Their faith petered out because of this. Loi sought comfort in alcohol and cigarettes, with all its consequences for his family. One day in 1992, two young men from Ho Chi Minh City came to their village. They were part of a blossoming, fast-growing group of city house churches. Their encounter with the Gospel of Jesus Christ had given their lives so much meaning that they had but one desire: to make the Good News known to their fellow countrymen.
That's why they had come to the remote region where the Loi family lived. They met Mr. Loi on the first day of their visit. When he heard the Good News, he confessed his sins and devoted his life anew to Jesus.
What a change followed! Not only his family, but the entire village was witness to it. He left the alcohol and the cigarettes alone. In their place, he testified to anyone who would listen about his re-found faith. Very soon there were various house churches in his region, and Loi became pastor of one of them. he government watched with dismay as its income in taxes on alcohol and tobacco declined. In November 1994, the local police raided one of the house church meetings.
The leaders, Loi and Vui, were arrested. Six months later they were sentenced to two years imprisonment. This was the beginning of Mrs. Loi's monthly journey to the prison camp in Ngia Hanh. She has a lot to tell her husband again this time, good news and bad news. In any case, it's much too much for 15 minutes. What should she share with him? Naturally, that the number of house churches continues to grow; that will encourage him. In their region, they have increased from 12 to 45 in the past six months. But should she also tell him that even more leaders have been arrested? That in their province alone, there are already seven Christian workers in prison? And must she tell him that lately the government has taken land away from the tribal people, and that the children of Christians are no longer permitted to go to school? Or that their friend, who came from North Vietnam to teach at the school has now lost her job-simply because she became a Christian?
Although it would relieve her to share these things with him, she decides instead to listen to him, because he must also be able to tell his story. Let her just tell him how the children are. He would especially want to know that. And what else? To hold his hand tightly for 15 minutes and to be with him are also of immeasurable worth. She looks forward to it all month!
That's the suffering church today. It consists of men and women, prisoners, and partners and children who stay at home alone. Who needs our prayers the most: the prisoner or those who remain behind? That is hard to say. Let us remember them both in our prayers!
-By Anneke Companion