by Rev. Nancy Carol Stahl A personal account from Nglol Rahlan
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Charlotte, NC is privileged to be the church family for a large group of Montagnard Christians. Since December 2008 we have over 70 Montagnard refugees who have become part of our faith community. Members and friends of our congregation are keenly interested in the welfare of people in Vietnam.
On Thursday, July 25, 2013, 46 Montagnard refugees, affiliated with First Christian Church, Charlotte, N.C., made a trip to Washington, D.C., to participate in a peaceful demonstration against the inhumane treatment and religious persecution of Montagnards in Vietnam. When our Montagnard group learned from Radio Free Asia of Vietnam President Truong Tan Sang’s visit to the White House, which was confirmed by a news release from Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch – Vietnam, they decided that they would travel to Washington, D.C. to hold a demonstration.
The group brought banners and signs from previous demonstrations and posters made from a photo of the bones of a Montagnard man who was imprisoned for demonstrating in Vietnam against Vietnamese religious persecution and control of Montagnard land in the Central Highlands. The man was arrested in 2004 and apparently died in 2007. According to Vietnamese custom, if someone dies during imprisonment, they must still serve out their term before the body is returned to the family. When the man’s body was finally returned to his family this year, his son took the picture of his skull and bones arranged on a family blanket for burial. The picture shows a cut across the top of his skull and a mark on his forehead, which his family think may have caused his death.
Our trip and demonstration at the White House were intentionally planned for the day that President Truong Tan Sang of Vietnam was scheduled to meet with President Obama at the White House. We were unsuccessful in our attempts to find out what time of day the meeting would take place, so our itinerary was planned around our tour of the Capitol, visits with senators, and the time we could get a permit for the demonstration.
We have learned that there are more Montagnards living in NC than anywhere else other than the Central Highlands of Vietnam, so we made contact with our two state senators and several members of the House of Representatives. We appreciated the opportunity to talk with our Senators and their assistants and to share some of our story of the plight of the Montagnards in Vietnam. Leaders within the group, all of whom came to this country as refugees, and some of whom were among those who made the trip, continually bring to our attention incidents of ongoing oppression, arrest, and persecution in Vietnam.They are in contact with family members and friends who still reside in the Central Highlands.
We are indebted to the Rev. Dr. Sharon Stanley-Rea, director of Immigration and Refugee Services for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), for her assistance in planning our trip and welcoming us to DC so warmly. We look forward to a continuing relationship with a new friend and advocate for Montagnard concerns, who made the following comments:
“This amazing community group entered the US as refugees after assisting our government’s efforts in SEA to fight communism. In North Carolina, they have historically been excellent workers, committed to their families and to up-building their new state and homeland in North Carolina. They have great concerns over the jailing of religious leaders from their community and others, as convictions in the first half of this year already outnumber the total number from the full previous year. Some of their community members have likewise had land confiscated by the government.”
We were privileged during our trip to Washington, DC to visit National City Christian Church, our Disciples witness in our nation’s capitol. The pastor of the church met with us in their beautiful sanctuary and shared some of their history.
We would appreciate your support in once again designating Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern and for passage of a Vietnam Human Rights Act. Both of these concerns were under consideration by congress several years ago and sent to committee without any further action, to our knowledge.