Philemon was a shaman when he chose to follow Jesus. Now he spreads the gospel in Vietnam, despite surveillance from local Communist authorities.
Not even oppressive surveillance will stop Philemon* evangelising in Vietnam. Not after the change he’s seen in his life.
He had hit rock bottom. He was deeply in debt, addicted to alcohol – and now he and his family were facing eviction.
Unable to see a way out of his problems, he bought poison with the intention of killing himself, along with his wife and two children. But the day before he planned to go through with it, he visited his sister to say goodbye – and she shared the gospel with him.
That night, Philemon threw the poison away. A journey of transformation had begun that saw Philemon and his wife encounter Jesus and choose to follow Him.
Before this turning point in Philemon’s life, he had been the community’s shaman – a person believed to be able to communicate with the spirit world, often on behalf of other people. Philemon had studied shamanism for five years, using rituals and mantras to supposedly speak to the spirit world. He was often called to remove an evil spirit from someone who thought they were being attacked by one.
"I prayed and let Jesus in my life. I felt that the chain in me was broken." Philemon
“I was like a master or a saviour to my community,” he remembers. “I was very famous at that time. I succeeded in helping them but not my own family. The bank came and notified me that they will confiscate my property. I bought poison and planned to put it in the rice so all of us would die. My wife agreed.”
If he hadn’t had that conversation with his sister, where she introduced him to Jesus, that would have been the end of Philemon’s story. Instead, he began to understand the Bible.
A few weeks later, two missionaries invited Philemon to hear some preaching. “The pastor shared about John 3:16 – ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ – and something about the verse hit me hard,” shares Philemon. “Then, my brothers called me to the stage and the pastor asked if I was ready to accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I prayed and let Jesus in my life. I felt that the chain in me was broken. Even though my troubles were still there, I could feel the peace inside me.” It wasn’t long before his wife also became a believer.
“The first thing I saw was God’s enormous grace for my family. Instead of us being dead, He saved us. And instead of losing everything, He helped me retain my house, and He supported my children to school.”
Philemon immediately began evangelising, risking hostile encounters with local authorities when he travelled to remote villages. In some cases, he was warned to leave the area within 24 hours. Sometimes he was forced to leave and banned from going back. Even his relatives and friends mocked him, and tried to stop him sharing the gospel.
One time, he went to a Communist village and was immediately questioned by the authorities. He says: “This is what I told them: ‘I have brothers and sisters here, so I came to visit them. Even if you try to kill me, I will still come.’ I risked my life travelling to that place – and now we have a church there.”
Throughout his trips, Philemon and the people he went to speak to were closely monitored by the authorities. Like many countries in Communist Asia, monitoring is used to force citizens to remain in line with the official ideology of the government. But Philemon persevered. “God save me from addiction, and I want to share that testimony with others,” he says. “I wanted to share the love I received.”
Serving as a local missionary, looking after more than 30 tribal churches, Philemon became more and more aware of a problem that needed to be addressed: illiteracy. With support from local Open Doors partners, he underwent training to become a teacher. “When the participants learn how to read and write, their values and sense of worth improve,” he says. “Before attending the literacy class, they always got rejected when applying for jobs because they were not able to read or write. However, after joining the class, they were immediately employed.”
"God called me to this ministry, and He is the one who did everything for me." Philemon
Every year, Philemon reaches around 1,500 people through his teaching. He also provides meals, because most of the participants are very poor. The influence of this training is spreading even further: hundreds of participants are now running this teaching in their own communities!
“God called me to this ministry, and He is the one who did everything for me,” he says. “I am so happy; I am happy because I can serve my community.”
But even now, his work is not easy. “I travel south, to the central and to the northern-most part of Vietnam. Monitoring and interrogation from authorities are always there, especially since I am not from those areas.”
Despite the risks, Philemon continues to serve others. His heart for evangelism is evident in his ministry. “The literacy project is also attended by non-believers and the classes became a place for them to know Jesus,” he says. “This project is for the community, not only for the church.”
Philemon is grateful for your part in helping the church in Vietnam and asks for continued prayer which is so essential to his work, particularly given the amount of surveillance he and the participants are vulnerable to: “I see that God is helping this project become successful. I give thanks for your support. We cannot do anything by ourselves. Prayer is like breathing, we need it moment by moment. It is also vital when we are faced with persecution. During those times, we could feel the spiritual power that protects us and gives peace to us. We are encouraged in tough situations.”
He adds, “If we pray and build a close relationship with God, God will lead us. We become more patient in Him. So, this is why prayer is important— it brings good life results. A man asked me my secret to a fruitful ministry. I told him three easy steps: First, you pray. Second, you pray again. Third and lastly, kneel and pray to the Lord.”
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