As conditions in South Viet Nam deteriorated rapidly during Holy Week, most missionaries there were reported to be safe, and they and other church people were helping in the vast effort to feed and resettle hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Seven missionaries and a child, however, were presumed to be in the hands of the Viet Cong or North Vietnamese invaders. They are:
Mr. and Mrs. Norman Johnson, both 39, of Hamilton, Ontario (Christian and Missionary Alliance); Richard and Lillian Phillips, 45 and 43, of Bloomington, Minnesota (CMA); Mrs. Archie Mitchell, 54, of Bly, Oregon (CMA); and John and Carolyn Miller and their five-year-old daughter, of Allentown, Pennsylvania (Wycliffe Bible Translators).
All were at Ban Me Thuot in the central highlands, where the CMA operates a leprosarium and hospital. The Johnsons fled into the jungle at the outset of the attack on the town early last month and still had not been heard from as of March 26. The others, along with one or two other foreign civilians, had reportedly sought shelter in the compound of the International Commission for Control and Supervision as fierce fighting raged through the area. Radio contact with the group was lost on March 14.
North Vietnamese sources, in replying to inquiries about the missionaries, said no harm would come to civilians genuinely engaged in humanitarian work, according to a U. S. State Department source.
Mrs. Mitchell’s husband was kidnapped by the Viet Cong from Ban Me Thuot in the Tet Offensive of 1962. Two others taken with Mitchell at that time were Elinor Ardel Vietti, a doctor from Houston, and Mennonite worker Daniel Gerber of Dalton, Ohio. Gerber is presumed dead; Mitchell and Dr. Vietti are listed as missing. Mission leaders say privately they believe the pair are dead also, but there have been scattered—and disputed—reports suggesting the two have been seen alive in Viet Cong captivity.
Concern was also expressed for the well-being of national church workers at Ban Me Thuot and for the nationals there on the staff of Vietnam Christian Service, a joint project of the U. S. National Council of Churches and Lutheran World Relief.
Mennonite worker Earl Martin of New Holland, Pennsylvania, stayed behind in Quang Ngai. A friend said Martin didn’t believe political barriers should affect his relationship with the people. Martin is on good terms with the Viet Cong, added the friend.
Most CMA missionaries in inland locations left their posts in mid-February when rumors spread that an attack was imminent, then returned when nothing happened. Miraculously, only those in Ban Me Thuot were trapped in March.
In another miracle of sorts, Wycliffe’s sixty Viet Nam-based adult workers and their children were attending a translation conference on the coast at Nha Trang when the Communist offensive began. Normally, a number of them would have been working up in the hill country.
The Millers left the conference early for a two-week stay in Ban Me Thuot to check the final stages of a tribal New Testament translation. (Wycliffe has twenty language projects under way in South Viet Nam.) Mrs. Miller is the daughter of Stephen Paine, former president of Houghton College in New York. Three older Miller children were in Saigon at month’s end awaiting word about their parents.
As the fighting intensified, the Wycliffe and CMA personnel were clustered mainly in Nha Trang and Saigon, but just before Easter the government requested the missionaries to leave Nha Trang. Both Wycliffe and the CMA have important facilities there, among them a CMA Bible school with an enrollment of some 200. Skeleton forces were left in Nha Trang and Da Nang.
The majority of missionaries around Saigon pitched in to help with relief and medical work among the masses of refugees; others were redeployed elsewhere. Some missions laid contingency plans to evacuate their workers to the Philippines or Bangkok. The CMA has ninety-three missionaries assigned to South Viet Nam, including several on loan from other groups; eighty-five are Americans. Most were in Saigon late last month.
All thirty-six of the Southern Baptist Convention’s missionaries were reported safe. Three were evacuated from Hue and seven from Da Lat before those cities fell.
United World Mission of St. Petersburg, Florida, and Worldwide Evangelization Crusade of Ft. Washington, Pennsylvania, reported their eleven workers, five of them Americans, were transferred safely from Da Nang to Saigon. Other mission boards with small contingents said their people were likewise safe.
The situation with the nationals is something else. The refugee situation is “horrendous,” said a missionary in a telephone dispatch. Many hundreds of thousands of persons poured into coastal areas from the northern and interior provinces. Food was scarce, and prices were beyond the reach of most. Thousands died of malnutrition, disease, and wounds by the wayside; thousands who made it to the coast alive were not expected to live.
Most of the Protestants in the land belong to the CMA-affiliated Evangelical Church of South Viet Nam, which has 490 congregations served by more than 500 national workers. The denomination, riding a wave of revival since early 1972 despite the war and unrest, has more than 53,000 baptized members and perhaps four times that many constituents. Many of these people are now refugees, separated perhaps forever from the congregations to which they belonged only a month or so ago.
Catholics number over one million, and they are served by hundreds of foreign missionaries, teaching brothers, and nuns. Most of the one-million-plus persons the U. S. airlifted from Hanoi to the south in 1954 were Catholics. They in time assumed much of the political power in the south. This helped to fuel the Viet Cong cause.
Relief efforts are being spearheaded by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), World Vision, and other church agencies. Four Americans and a Canadian last month were helping World Vision’s staff of 200 nationals in Saigon. In addition to medical and other work, the agency was distributing “family survival kits”—sacks that contain clothing, food, cooking utensils, and a small stove. The Catholics were organizing a number of international medical teams.
CRS and World Vision personnel meanwhile were still at their posts in besieged Phnom Penh at month’s end. These included Pennsylvanian Carl Harris, who is World Vision’s director in Cambodia, and medical doctor Penelope Key of England. Dr. Key says that 1,000 of the 26,000 patients her team saw recently were children in urgent need of hospitalization. Only 125 could be placed, she adds.
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen says he started praying three years ago to “drop dead before I am 80.” He will be 80 on May 8. His big fear is that “beyond 80 I will not be working at full capacity.”
The retired archbishop preached last month at a series of standing-room-only Lenten services in New York, then went to Ireland to do three Holy Week services daily, four hours of preaching on Good Friday, and two services on Easter Sunday.
Sheen says he’s added a condition or two to his prayer request: he wants to die “on a feast of the Blessed Mother and in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.”
“If I don’t,” he says, smiling, “God is going to be very embarrassed.”
Behind The Lines In North Viet Nam
Editor John Nakajima of Japan Christian Activity News visited North Viet Nam several months ago as part of a World Council of Churches team. While there he attended a Sunday worship service at the Hanoi Evangelical Church, once affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. The following are excerpts of Pastor Bui Hoanh Thu’s remarks to Nakajima. As expected, they are tinted by political context, but they do reveal some interesting sidelights to church life in that Communist country.
Protestantism was first brought to Viet Nam in 1912 by missionaries of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in America. Later missionaries also came from France and England.… Prior to 1954 there were 30,000 members and sixty pastors and evangelists, including a number of French.
After the Dien Bien Phu victory, the leaders of the American churches told us various lies. At that time some 20,000 laymen and thirty pastors went south. Those of us who remained took part in the fight against imperialism.
Since May 8, 1954, our church activities have continued without interruption. It is often said that Communist government prohibits the practice of religion, but in our country it is just the opposite; the government actually has helped us rebuild our church. We have also established the Vietnamese Protestant Association. Today it has forty churches, twenty-six pastors, and 10,000 members in North Viet Nam. Catholics number one million members and 300 priests.
Worship service is at 7:00 Sunday morning, 7:30 in winter. The education of the children takes place Sunday afternoon at 3:00; they hear Bible stories, sing, and are led to be good students at school. Sunday evenings are services anyone can attend, when the Gospel is preached. On Wednesday night there is a prayer meeting: we pray for our country, the church, and the world. Thursday evening is Bible study. At a small Bible study group Saturday evening we pray for the Sunday service.
There was another church in Hanoi but on December 22, 1972, it was destroyed by a direct hit from a B–52 bomber. The laymen built a temporary sanctuary with their own hands, and Christmas services were held there on December 25.
A total of ten churches were destroyed by American bombings. The church in Hai Doung was hit and collapsed but, thank God, the pastor’s life was spared. Recently we have been able to purchase brick, cement, and wood, so we have begun the rebuilding.
Because evangelism and social service are the two legs on which mankind stands, without both of these the church can’t move. We send our young people to the front lines. Our second work is to provide produce for the country.… Pastors all work too. The church is completely independent, both materially and spiritually. Bananas provide income for the church.
We plan to have a retreat for laymen from all over the country. Recently there has been a revival among people of the mountain tribes, and fifteen of their representatives will attend.
During the war no news came to us from churches overseas, but the Holy Spirit told us the realities of churches overseas. As an example, we assumed that African and Latin American Christian churches were living under very difficult conditions, and we prayed for them in their struggle.
Church Women, Unite
Sexism was upstaged by racism during the recent annual meeting of the national United Methodist Women’s Caucus in Dallas, a group founded in 1971. A fracas flared up that threatened to destroy the caucus.
Among controversial resolutions the women managed to pass was one calling for lay delegate control of the denomination’s quadrennial conference (40 per cent laywomen, 40 per cent laymen, 20 per cent clergy instead of 50 per cent clergy, 50 per cent laity). Another upheld the right of clergy and laity to hold church office regardless of “sexual preference.” In effect, this measure endorses the ordination of homosexuals.
Seventy-nine registrants, three-fourths of them white, attended. Feelings ran high when whites, not wanting a “bad image,” tried to integrate a minority subgroup meeting while a television news team was filming it. “Why do these white faces have to be here?” said the offended women coldly.
A group of Hispanic women walked out during a dinner meeting because the local minority women used as cooks were not invited to take part in the meeting.
Discussions of lingering “white racism” ensued, further straining relationships. Some whites feared that their attack on sexism was being forgotten in concern over racism.
The women pulled themselves together in time to formulate the resolution for presentation at the church’s 1976 conference.
Chester Robson is a 19-year-old college student in Washington state who tried to find out how St. Francis of Assisi might fare in today’s world.
Not so well, it turned out. Robson adopted the ascetic’s eleventh-century life style—begging for food, washing with melted snow, sleeping on boards, dressing in a simple brown robe, talking to animals, and the like. People whispered about Robson behind his back, called the police, and stared at him as if he were some kind of nut—the same way their forebears had treated the saint.
The animals weren’t much better.
“I tried to talk to some birds,” said the student. “They flew away.”
Stopping The Operators
The federal government has been cracking down on travel agencies that cash in on the interest in “psychic surgery.” These agencies organize tours to the Philippines where “surgeons” supposedly remove diseased tissue with their bare hands and without piercing the body. Sometimes, the agencies even arrange appointments with the surgeons, who usually “operate” in hotel rooms.
Last year the Federal Trade Commission got an injunction forbidding travel agents from promoting such tours. They were also required to warn past or prospective clients of the serious dangers of taking such tours. The main danger, say authorities, is in giving up regular medical treatment.
In March, FTC judge Daniel H. Hanscom ruled that four agencies on the West Coast, two of them no longer in business, made false and misleading claims in promoting the trips. He called psychic surgery, which draws 40,000 people a year from all over the world, “pure and unmitigated fakery; more bluntly, simply phony.”
He based his decision in part on testimony by a couple who went to the Philippines to study the surgery’s possible connection with extra-sensory perception. The couple gained the confidence of the surgeons and was let in on the secret: the tumors removed from human bodies are in reality animal organs or intestines stuffed with cotton, produced from handy hiding places by sleight of hand.
The FTC estimates that in the past three years more than 2,000 Americans, at $1,000 a head, have traveled to the Philippines for the surgery.
“Well-meaning people, the sick and infirm have been gulled, exploited, and deceived, sometimes with tragic and heart-rending consequences,” said the judge.
Utah high school pupils in one school term can get the equivalent of nearly five years of Sunday school plus up to two credits toward graduation through released-time programs. The Latter Day Saints (Mormons) have had such programs as part of the major educational arm of their church for many years. Only recently have evangelical churches undertaken to offer alternatives.
The Utah State Board of Education allows one credit per year, with an overall limit of two, in released-time classes in the history and literature of the Old and New Testaments. The courses are to be objective and nonsectarian in nature, but the board exercises no curriculum control, operating on the assumption that class content is limited by the texts. Teachers must be certified to teach on the secondary level.
The Mormons place great emphasis on their program. They have “seminaries” adjacent to every high school and most junior highs in Utah and southern Idaho and are expanding into northern Arizona. The seminary teachers are salaried. Their curriculum consists of a four-year- program, with courses in the Book of Mormon, church history, Old Testament, and New Testament, plus electives. Without the seminaries, say observers, the LDS church would suffer from a lack of leaders trained in the doctrines, scriptures, and apologetics of their faith.
There are at most half a dozen non-Mormon released-time schools in the state, two of them full-time: the five-year-old Bonneville Bible Academy, sponsored by the Conservative Baptist Association, and the two-year-old Royal Bible Academy, sponsored by the Baptist General Conference. Both are near high schools in suburban Ogden (Royal is housed in a pre-fab structure). Under the released-time arrangement, students schedule academy classes as part of their regular curriculum plan, take their classes in the academy building, and receive grades and credit through the high schools. Both academies serve student bodies numbering around 1,400. Their potential enrollment (the non-Mormons) is 400–500 students. Both have fewer than 100 enrolled.
The Bonneville Academy, headed by clergyman Henry Green, offers a three-course program consisting of Old Testament, New Testament, and history of Christianity. The Royal Academy has a four-course program of Old Testament, New Testament, history of Christendom, and Bible survey. Students at Royal can also take advanced courses in Old Testament and doctrine. Both academies have a six-or seven-period day. One side benefit from the academies has been the Christian identity that has devleoped across denominational lines, a kind of evangelical ecumenicity, observes one academy leader.
The major deterrent to non-LDS programs in the Mormon West is not opposition from the majority group, say academy leaders, but the lack of a financial base in the mostly small, struggling evangelical churches. One worker points out that although there is some regional denominational support, many churches apparently fail to realize the home-missions value of the school ministries.
Youth Belief And Practice
A recent national survey of high school student leaders showed that 88 per cent believe “there is a God or supreme being” and 82 per cent “feel religion is relevant in today’s society.” Protestants led in belief in God with 94 per cent, Catholics registered 92 per cent, Jews 48 per cent, and “others” 45 per cent. Racially, blacks led with 93 per cent.
The survey, conducted by Who’s Who Among American High School Students, also revealed:
• Less than half participate “regularly” in church or religious activities.
• Two-fifths approve of premarital sex (29 per cent have engaged in it).
• Less than 8 per cent have ever used hard drugs, and 72 per cent have never used marijuana.
• A fourth never drank beer, and 34 per cent never drank hard liquor.
The poll was based on 23,000 responses, half from Protestants.
The Catholic archdiocese of Philadelphia has cut ties with the Girl Scouts in favor of the Camp Fire Girls, whose local groups the church can more easily direct. Church officials were worried about proposed workshops in which scouts would be instructed about contraception, abortion, rape, and their own anatomy. One-third of the city’s 24,000 Brownies, Juniors, Cadettes, and Seniors are affected by the action; each must now decide whether to convert and become a Camp Fire Girl, or go on meeting with the scouts somewhere other than a Catholic church building.
Father Francis X. Schmidt, Catholic youth director, said the Scouts failed to consult the church in setting up the new program, which “reexamines restraints in areas of sin.”
Scout leaders, lamenting the action, say the program could have been adapted. They fear losses could run $8,000 a year in cookie profits.
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