On Monday, March 10, 1975, Wycliffe missionaries John and Carolyn Miller were about to begin an eight month ordeal that would test every Christian principle they had ever learned (Carolyn has since documented their journey in her book, “Captured.”) The war in South Vietnam was raging, and the Viet Cong, supported by North Vietnam, were gaining the upper hand. Fourteen years earlier the Millers had started learning the Bru language of Vietnam and Laos, and by 1975 they and their Bru co-workers were in the final stages of checking the New Testament before typesetting and printing. But the fighting kept moving closer.
After a particularly frightening night, John and Carolyn grabbed their packed bags and, with their five-year-old daughter, sought refuge in a more secure housing compound. The situation continued to deteriorate over the next two days, and escape became less and less likely. John and Carolyn re-sorted their belongings, deciding what to take into an unknown future. The first thing they put into their single suitcase was their most prized possession: the corrected copy of the Bru New Testament.
Suddenly the door of opportunity to escape slammed shut. As they stepped from the house where they were staying, they were confronted by a North Vietnamese soldier carrying a gun. Carolyn remembers thinking, “So this is what a North Vietnamese soldier looks like!”
Her mind must have flashed back to the ordeal of their colleagues Hank and Vange Blood. Hank and Vange had been taken captive by the Viet Cong in 1968. Vange was quickly released, but for five years the outside world heard nothing from Hank. By the time of their capture, the Millers knew Hank had died in captivity.
Now Millers faced captivity as well. John and Carolyn, their young daughter, and several others from various walks of life were loaded into vehicles and taken away. Over the next few months, they were moved from camp to camp. They eventually ended up near Hanoi, where their manuscript was taken from them. Eight long months after their capture, they were released, but their manuscript was never returned.
Painstakingly, they reconstructed their work from earlier manuscripts and in 1981, 500 copies were printed and sent back to the Bru area. For years they didn’t know if these New Testaments ever reached their destination.
Finally in 1990, they were able to make contact with the Bru community. Their first translation co-worker met them in Thailand and brought with him a well-worn copy of the New Testament! The books had indeed reached the Bru, and the Bru church was thriving and growing! The Good News had spread to the neighboring country, and people were believing despite persecution.
John talked with a leader of the national church in an area where Bru believers were experiencing persecution. He told of one situation in which four Bru believers were put in prison and told to renounce this “foreign religion.” Then he added with a smile, “Four believers went into prison; eight came out.”
In recent years, religious freedom has begun to expand. Legally there is religious freedom, though Christians are still discouraged, even persecuted, for practicing their faith. The New Testament has gone through three printings, and in 2014, with the government’s approval, the whole Bible was published — the result of a continuing partnership between the Bru believers and the Millers.
The Bru are using the written Word. They are also downloading and sharing the Word in digital and audio formats. John and Ethel Ligero of Wycliffe Philippines, in partnership with Faith Comes By Hearing (FCBH) and assisted by the Millers, made the audio recording. The Bru can access it on FCBH’s smartphone app, Bible.is.
Ethel says that when people hear the Word in their own language, they often say, “We’ve never heard this story before!” From my experience, that’s not unusual. While they may have heard the story in Vietnamese or another language of wider communication, they don’t really “hear” it until they engage with it in an accurate, clear and natural way in their mother tongue.
We read in Scripture that the Word — Jesus himself — became human and made his home among us (John 1:14). Through the work of Wycliffe and FCBH he is now going door to door calling Bru people by name, in their own language (Revelation 3:20). He is no longer a foreign God. He speaks their language; he knows their culture. He is safe to trust.