10 Best Practices for Improving Religious Freedom in Complicated Countries

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Lessons we learned from helping Vietnam become the first country to be peaceably removed from the United States’ blacklist of the worst persecutors of Christians and other believers.

I was completely frustrated. Our SUVs were sunk in mud. And while still morning, I felt the December daylight already racing away. It seemed we would never reach our intended village in northwest Vietnam, nestled between Laos and China.

It was my second trip in 2010 to Dien Bien province, home to the famous Vietnamese military victory over French colonial forces in 1954. The government was always happy to facilitate tours of the Dien Bien Phu battlefield.

But I wasn’t there to see the battlefield. I was there to understand why the local government was not allowing churches to register.

There I was, literally stuck, prevented from reaching Muong Thin, a White Hmong village that—if it existed—allegedly contained one of the only three registered house churches in the entire province. “I’ve traveled 10,000 miles to be stuck on a road to nowhere,” I thought. “Am I getting played by the local officials?”

Working on religious freedom is like that road to Muong Thin. You are never quite sure if the road works, or where it leads, or who the partners may (not) be. All you know is that you have to keep showing up, believing that God has gone before you, trusting the relationships—no matter how unlikely—that he has revealed.

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Since the US Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, many ambassadorial positions, along with several inter-governmental and non-governmental entities, have been established across the world, often working together [see footnote at bottom].

Yet, despite the institutionalization of positions and alliances over the past 23 years, the world has never seen greater violations of international religious freedom (IRF). Governmental restrictions …

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