Vietnam, an ancient land, is one of five countries occupying the peninsula of Indochina in Southeast Asia. It is bordered on the east by the Gulf of Tonkin, on the southeast by the South China Sea and on the southwest by the Gulf of Thailand. To the west lie Cambodia and Laos; China borders Vietnam on the north. The country is over 1000 miles (1600 km) long, north-to-south but as little as 25 miles (40 km) across at its narrowest point.
Independent for nearly 1000 years, Vietnam was conquered and colonized by France between 1858-1884 and became part of French Indochina in 1887. The Vietnamese declared independence from France after World War II, and a long war of independence ensued. Communist forces under Ho Chi Minh defeated the French militarily in 1954. The Geneva Accords of 1954 divided the country into two political entities: Communist North Vietnam and non-Communist South Vietnam. The United States became involved in supporting the southern government, becoming embroiled in the Vietnam War from the mid 1960s until a cease-fire agreement was signed in 1973. In 1975, North Vietnamese forces overran the South and reunited the country under Communist rule.
Today, Vietnam is one of just a handful of Communist-ruled countries in the world. Repression of religion of any kind, while less severe than in the past, is still significant. Particularly targeted are the Montagnard (Hmong) tribesmen, who are predominantly Protestant Christians, and the Hoa Hao Buddhists.
Vietnamese make up by far the largest ethno-linguistic group in the country. They are concentrated in the coastal plains and river deltas. The 100 or so other ethnic groups found in Vietnam are concentrated in the highlands. According to official figures, over 86% of the population speak Vietnamese as their first language. There is a significant diaspora of Vietnamese resident in about 20 other countries around the globe—somewhere around 2 million speakers. Many have become Christians during their stay in these countries. Recently, there has been a movement among these exiles to return to their homeland.
Among the over 100 language communities resident in Vietnam, about 45 still have a definite translation need; up to 22 others have a possible need for Scripture translation.
Photo: Ari Vitikainen