This past week I had an experience that confirmed my conviction that God has been, and is, using Black Forest Academy (BFA) in significant ways.
BFA rightly stresses the impact that the parents of our students are having for Christ in many of the world’s most challenging locations. But the second prong of BFA’s influence is, of course, the impact of our current and former students. Here is one example of that influence.
During the latter half of the 20th century, and up until 2006, the religiously oppressive communist government in Vietnam had effectively decimated any public Christian witness in the country. The government’s policy of forced faith renunciation had helped create a climate in which hundreds of protestant churches had been closed, many were being imprisoned for their faith, and there was a palpable climate of fear among the small number of believers remaining.
Fast forward to 2022.
Recently, I had the privilege of speaking at the BFA international day chapel. Before my talk, the student worship team led us in songs sung in multiple languages representing just some of the many nations where our students' parents are serving. I then had the opportunity to share how God had used my MK boarding school experience to build my faith and establish the trajectory of my life. The chapel then culminated in the announcement of the locations for this year’s BFA Service Trips to India, Kenya, Bosnia, and… Vietnam.
What had happened between 2006 and 2022 that had made a Christian service trip to Vietnam a possibility?
On the Monday following this chapel, a close friend of mine (another American MK from Japan who is now a professor at Georgetown) was visiting us in Kandern and was asked to speak to our Worldviews course for Seniors. At the end of one of the classes he was asked to share the moment during his time with the US State Department’s Office of Religious Freedom that he was most proud of. Not aware of our coming Service Trip to Vietnam, he shared about the role he had played in increasing religious freedom in Vietnam. Dr. Birdsall stressed that, as the person assigned to work on Vietnam, he was a small piece in a much larger diplomatic effort that saw Vietnam begin to move towards religious freedom, but that this work had had a lasting impact on the country and its people.
The connection between this fellow MK’s diplomatic work and the upcoming opportunity for our students to visit and serve in Vietnam was exciting. But the story was about to come full circle.
The Office of Religious Freedom within the State Department, where Dr. Birdsall worked, has not always existed. It is one of a number of significant developments in US diplomacy tied to religious freedom that resulted from a piece of legislation passed in 1998 called the International Religious Freedom Act. One of the three drafters of that influential piece of legislation was a young woman named Laura Bryant. Laura’s Christian faith and her work as a US diplomat after college had all led her to a conviction that Christians needed to be engaged in supporting religious freedom globally. That conviction had brought her into contact with two other evangelicals (John Hanford and Will Inboden) who together drafted the legislation that became known as the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).
It was this law that made Dr. Birdsall's work facilitating greater religious freedom in Vietnam possible, and it was that work that opened up the opportunity for BFA students in 2022 to engage in the previously closed nation of Vietnam.