|Photo: Nate Thayer|
Fulro Catholic Priest at Services in Jungle Church Where They Fled From Religious Persecution in Vietnam
MONDULKIRI, Cambodia – Accompanied by a chorus of crickets and the steady drumming of rain on the leaf roofs of their huts, scores of Montagnard fighters and their families gather in the jungle darkness each night to pray and sing.
Having long ago fled ideological restrictions in Vietnam for a religious sanctuary deep in the forest, the soldiers are members of FULRO–the United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races-which has fought for a separate homeland in Vietnam for their hill tribe people since 1964.
Lamps fueled by chunks of slow-burning tree resin give light to the few shared tattered bibles and hymnals as Christian songs of worship echo through the otherwise uninhabited forest. Familiar gospel hymns are sung in the tribal dialects of the mountains.
For many at FULRO’s scattered guerrilla bases, the ability to pray freely was a main motivation to flee their villages in Vietnam’s central highlands 17 years ago.
“The communists will not let us pray. They say that Christianity is an American and French religion, so we came to live in the jungle,” said Lt.-Col. Y Hinnie. “In our land under the communists, people pray at home secretly or in the rice fields. They cannot worship together like we do in the jungle. Here we are free.”