The public gathering of thousands to hear the Gospel message in Vietnam’s capital city Dec. 8-9 was historic, marking the first time a large-scale Christian event has been held in the communist nation and reflecting progress in the government’s relationship with evangelical Christians.
The Love Hanoi Festival—or Festival Yêu Hà Nôi—with Franklin Graham, held at the Quan Ngua Sports Complex, drew a capacity crowd inside the arena both nights and many more outside, where large video screens displayed the music and messages from Franklin. It was reported that more than 400 buses and vans carried people to the complex for the Saturday event.
The spiritual response exceeded expectations, and organizers are hoping the goodwill shown toward government leaders and the Vietnamese people by the city’s evangelical churches will help foster a greater rapport with the government.
Hanoi, home to 7.5 million residents, is the center of the nation’s political activity and a booming economic and educational hub in northern Vietnam, drawing thousands of young students and workers to the city.
Vietnam’s sweeping economic reforms beginning in the mid-1980s have sparked one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. At every intersection in the commercial areas of Hanoi, small motorcycles and motorized scooters—often ridden by young professionals—swarm and disperse according to the rhythm of red and green traffic lights. The urban bustle alongside modern storefronts with restaurants and clothing stores give evidence to a booming free market.
Steps toward greater religious freedom and tolerance for Gospel-oriented work in Vietnam have also come, albeit at a slow pace. Much work remains.
The Love Hanoi Festival was a milestone.
“This is unprecedented, really, for us and for the government,” Franklin told the Associated Press the week of the Festival.
“I hope the government will see that Christians are not enemies, but Christians are some of the best citizens in Vietnam and people that they can trust and depend on,” he said. “I hope it will be good for the churches, and I hope this meeting will be good for the government and they will see us in a different light after this week.”
The response to Franklin’s simple message of forgiveness of sin and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ was overwhelming both nights. As many born-again Vietnamese wiped away tears of joy at the sight of people responding to the message, counselors worked diligently to meet the spiritual needs of the thousands, young and old, who came forward.
Evangelical Christianity has a century of history in Vietnam, but the beginning of national communist rule in 1975 made it difficult to openly spread the Gospel message, said Reg Reimer, who served as a missionary in Vietnam from 1966-75.
Yet, the number of evangelicals—only 160,000 in 1975, according to Reimer—mushroomed under communism. In a nation of 95 million people, the country now has some 2 million evangelical believers. Ancestor worship, often mixed with Buddhism, is the most prevalent religious practice with deep cultural roots. That, along with growing materialism as the economy expands, are the biggest barriers to the Gospel, Reimer said.
One of the highlights of the Festival was an opening ceremony, held the morning before the first night of the event, which drew several thousand people, including government dignitaries. Following greetings, music and recognition of local churches and government leaders, Franklin spoke for about 10 minutes, sharing a winsome but bold Gospel message. Hanoi’s mayor and representatives of the government office of religious affairs attended.
Speaking of Jesus’ rebuking the wind and the seas in Matthew 8:23-27 and the disciples’ plea for Him to save them, Franklin told those gathered that there are storms today in the life of each person, and many call on Jesus to save them.
“Many people ignore Jesus until they get in a storm. … The disciples called on Jesus to save them, and if you’re willing to call on the Lord Jesus Christ, He’ll save you.”
Franklin assured those in the audience both nights that God has made a way for us to know that our sins are forgiven, and that He promises us eternal life with God.
For some, it was the first time they had heard the Bible’s message of redemption. It seemed to resonate as more than 4,500 spiritual decisions were recorded by counselors over two nights.
One woman, advanced in years, told of traveling to the Festival from 60 kilometers (37 miles) away, bringing two friends with her. Both friends made decisions to receive Christ as Savior, and one of the women’s two young sons also prayed to receive Christ. A counselor kneeled down to get eye level with the boys, using his index finger to point out significant things as he led them through a booklet explaining how to follow Jesus.
One counselor spoke with a man who had learned about Jesus in his rural home village but had resisted the Gospel message. The counselor said the man was part of one of Vietnam’s minority people groups who had moved to Hanoi to find work. Moved by the Holy Spirit, the man received Christ.
Paul Bui, pastor of Hanoi Evangelical Church and one of the local pastors who helped pave the way for the Festival, said local Christians received positive feedback from the government concerning the Festival and the Love in Action events that preceded it.
“We believe it is high time for churches to grow out of a victimized inferiority complex and take more responsibility to act with firm faith and obedience,” Bui said. “I think a window of opportunity has come to shine the light of Christ.”