By Mark Ellis —
He spent more than 10 years in communist prisons in Vietnam because of his Christian faith as the government attempted to “re-educate” him. But through his bold witness, the most hardened killers gave their lives to Christ and saw their lives transformed.
“Communism is a religion,” says Pastor Paul Ai, founder of Vision Outreach International. “They compete with other religions.”
Conditions were horrible in these communist-run forced labor camps during Pastor Ai’s various prison terms between 1975 and 1999. “I slept on a floor that was either dirt or cement,” he says. “Sometimes they don’t give you food to eat so I have to go out in the jungle to find leaves to eat.”
Ai and his fellow prisoners worked 10-12 hour days doing strenuous agricultural work: harvesting potatoes, cashew nuts, and rubber plants.
During his first five-year term in prison he had no toothbrush, soap, or other personal items. “After I was released from prison, I packed a bag with a toothbrush, soap, towel, and underwear in it for the next time that the police came to arrest me. I carried this bag with me everywhere I went, and it stayed next to me when I slept at night.”
When he was sent back to prison a second time because of his church planting activities, he had the backpack with him containing his personal effects.
But it did not remain intact for long. “In prison the guards cut the straps, a standard practice because of fear of hanging,” Ai notes.
Pastor Ai recalls one particularly brutal killer that everyone feared. “There was a wild man in the prison they called ‘Scissors.’ He was a tailor and he carried scissors with him all the time as a weapon. He killed many people both in and out of prison.
“Everyone in prison was afraid of him, including the guards,” he adds. “He used metal cans and cut the metal to make himself a breastplate to keep people from stabbing him to death.”
But Pastor Ai began to pray that God would soften this desperate man. “I began to share the love of Jesus with him and told him how Jesus would give him peace and be his friend,” Ai recalls.
Marvelously, the ministry of God’s Word and the Spirit began to tenderize the heart of this stone-cold killer. “As I continued to show him friendship and God’s grace, he gave his heart to the Lord,” Pastor Ai recounts.
Everyone in the prison was astonished! “As an expression of gratitude, he used one of his shirts to fix my backpack and make me a hat for protection from the sun,” Ai says, knowing he was violating camp rules.
“If the police ask you where you got these,” Scissors told him, “just tell them they are from me and you will be safe.”
Scissors became the pastor’s unlikely guardian in the camp. “The Lord used Scissors to provide for me not only my backpack and hat but also protection and many other things I needed in prison.”
“The authorities thought if they put Paul Ai in prison, the church would stop growing and be destroyed,” writes Johnny Thinh, a friend and co-laborer of Pastor Ai’s. “But they were wrong, because Jesus himself is still the head of the church, and even the gates of hell shall not prevail against His church.”
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Blessings. In the persecuted church, there are many rich stories of selfless obedience. While imprisonment and mistreatment are common, so to are the blessings of God and the pouring out of His Spirit on those he uses. I regret my inability to sit at the feet of one who knows my creator as he does. Perhaps the days are not far off when we too will be bathed in persecution and purified by the Spirit.
Thank you for your faithfulness, boldness for Jesus Christ. I pray God will fill me to overflow with living water. I am so dry, my heart appears to be growing hard–please pray for me- Patricia from Tustin, Ca. Thank you
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