HANOI, Vietnam -- The doors of Hoa Lo prison in Hanoi, Vietnam, remain wide open today. American prisoners of war sarcastically dubbed the location the "Hanoi Hilton."
They were brutally tortured, interrogated and forced to make confessions. Yet this fact is left out of the videos and historical accounts in Vietnamese museums. Even with the country's long history of war and suffering, there is little to show for it on the surface.
The Vietnamese are under the firm grip of a one-party system that controls every area of their lives -- including faith.
Amid criticism, the Vietnamese government has made efforts to improve its reputation by allowing Christian churches to register. But when this happens, believers also forfeit control over worship times and even choosing church leaders.
As a result, many Christians are going underground, worshipping secretly in Vietnam's mountain region.
They are from various tribes -- some illiterate, some former addicts, some former witch doctors. But they all want to learn more about God.
What they also share is the experience of religious persecution. CBN News has hidden their identities for their protection.
One of the men named Kahn recalled how local policeman arrested him and then hung him by his thumbs.
"They took me to the station and they tortured me. They used something to tie my thumb and one of my toes and hung me on the wall for three hours," he said.
Until 15 years ago, Christianity was unheard among Kahn's tribe. Today, residents in the tribal areas make up Vietnam's fastest growing church.
Following Christ has meant much trouble for Minh. He practiced idol worship his whole life, but when he got sick he couldn't find relief.
"In March of last year, I was sick and I didn't have enough money to buy the sacrifice to the gods, so I asked one of the Christians to pray for me and God healed me," he explained. "Since that time, people hate me because I don't do the sacrifices anymore. I try to explain to them that God is a loving God and he wants to save us."
Minh destroyed his idols which angered many in his community. He was also brutally beaten by the police, but he's not fighting back. Instead, he's equipping himself to teach and preach the salvation and love he's found.
Vietnam's Christian know that being persecuted for following Jesus is nothing new. Peter has been arrested many times for going out to preach, but he doesn't stop.
"The government says there is freedom of religion, but actually there is a lot of persecution among Christians and other tribes," he said. "But I always have freedom, because it doesn't matter what they allow us or not. I will do what I am called to do."
CBN News asked Peter why they are so persecuted while other churches in the world are not.
"I think one of the reasons people not persecuted is because the church hasn't sent people out to evangelize. The reason we are persecuted is because we are active and are sending people out to evangelize," he replied.
Todd Nettleton says religious persecution is a common thread in the stories the Voice of the Martyrs documents.
"As we talk to them about persecution, they're almost surprised we are asking them because for them it's normal. It's what it means to follow Christ," he explained. "Several of them made the statement, 'Well, Christ suffered so if we follow him then we'll suffer too.'"
What will happen to the church of Vietnam is uncertain. As the government continues to face pressure from the outside, more freedoms may come.
But the Vietnamese aren't holding their breath. They are speaking up not only for their rights, but for the faith they hold -- and the God they love even if it costs them their lives.
--Published April 1, 2011.