The word Vietnam speaks of the tenacious Viet culture and its varied, yet distinct cuisine and social customs that have survived invasions and colonization. Nam (south) refers to the expansion to the south from the original north and central domain. Long and narrow, Vietnam lies on the eastern coast of Southeast Asia’s Indochinese Peninsula. Laos and Cambodia are on its western border with China to its north. Vietnam and its young population are emerging from its tumultuous past drawing visitors and investment to this country ready for change.
The Geneva Accords of 1954 divided Vietnam into communist North Vietnam and anti-communist South Vietnam. Several decades of fighting followed, until the North Vietnamese overcame the South in 1975 and reunited North and South Vietnam under communist rule. The years of war and Marxist policies proved disastrous to Vietnam’s economy. In 1986 reforms were put in place to move from the central controlled economy to a more market oriented one, and today Vietnam has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The policy of “Renovation” has brought about social changes that have been positive including a rise in the standard of living. It has also brought with it many social problems such as increased corruption, regional tensions, and increased HIV/AIDS. Vietnam is one of the few remaining communist countries in the world.
Freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed in Vietnam, but new regulations in 2005 required religious groups to register with the government. Most churches have been denied registration and have faced harassment and even persecution. Many Vietnamese traditionally follow Buddhism, though the veneration and worship of ancestors is an underestimated practice found throughout Vietnam. Churches are persevering and the number of evangelicals is growing as the Vietnamese experience the challenges of the current economic and social changes.