How God’s sovereignty, favor, love and faithfulness shined in Ho Chi Minh City


How God’s sovereignty, favor, love and faithfulness shined in Ho Chi Minh City

The Spring Love Festival with Franklin Graham was originally planned for February 2020. But despite the three-year delay, God displayed perfect timing: the Lord of the Harvest gathered nearly 4,000 souls for His Kingdom March 4-5 at the Phú Thọ Sports Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City. 

Among the rows of plastic white chairs and red stools lining the grassy athletic fields that stretched nearly the length of three football fields in the city formerly known as Saigon, 58-year-old Dung Pham sat. He was ready to go forward with the wave of hundreds of others passing him by to profess their faith in Jesus Christ. 

But I’m at the back; how can I receive God? Dung thought. His painfully weak legs could not get him near the front stage where Franklin had preached from Luke 15 about the prodigal son who repented and returned to his forgiving father.

Franklin Graham holds up the “Living in Christ” booklet that new believers receive. Photo: Shealah Craighead/©2023 BGEA

Yet Dung was determined that this opportunity would not pass him by. “I asked people to assist me to get there,” he said through an interpreter. While a person on each side of him steadied his balance, Dung shuffled his feet slowly to the front-row seating area. There someone brought him a chair to sit while Cam Tam, a Festival counselor, led him in a prayer.

“Hallelujah!” Cam exclaimed. “I know that’s God’s will for his life.”

While Cam prayed with Dung, Deborah Tuong Van prayed for healing of Dung’s legs. Deborah had driven six hours to the Festival with seven people from her province. All seven prayed to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. “I believe Jesus Christ will do the revival in Vietnam,” she said. “For me that’s an answer to prayer because I have been praying for this for a long time.”

Photo: Thomas J. Petrino/©2023 BGEA

Dung’s determined struggle to walk the aisle and publicly profess his faith in Christ despite his physical challenges is emblematic of the Christian church leaders in Vietnam who began planning and preparing for this meeting as far back as 2018. It was the country’s first-ever mass Gospel outreach with a foreign speaker to be held outside of traditional Easter or Christmas observances.

Franklin Graham previously shared the Gospel in Vietnam’s capital city at the Love Hanoi Festival in December 2017, the first evangelistic outreach of its size in the nation. More than 4,500 people made life-changing decisions for Jesus Christ during that event.

And even though official approval from the Ho Chi Minh City government for the Spring Love Festival was granted only three weeks before the evangelistic outreach was scheduled to occur, more than 300 Vietnamese churches from nearly 80 Christian denominations partnered in faith with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) to pray, plan and train in evangelism for the two-night event long before it became a reality. 

A significant part of the preparation was the training of nearly 3,000 people in evangelism through BGEA’s Christian Life and Witness Course (CLWC).

Le Quoc Huy, general secretary of the Spring Love Festival and pastor of Grace Baptist Church, which housed the local Festival office, said that throughout the lengthy process of praying and planning for the Festival, God’s sovereignty, favor, love and faithfulness were unmistakable.

“We experienced God’s faithfulness over the long time, from beginning to now, when the Festival eventually took place,” Huy said. “When things delay, God wants to see our faithfulness. When things happen, we can see God’s faithfulness.”

In this Southeast Asia nation of nearly 100 million people, less than 2% of the population is evangelical. Because Buddhism and ancestral worship run deep in Vietnam’s culture, the choice to follow Christ is costly.

Lưu Chí Vỹ performs during the Festival. Photo: Thomas J. Petrino/©2023 BGEA

It’s a price Grace Thao Pham knows all too well. “For my parents, my becoming a Christian is like they lost one child,” Grace said.

In 2008, as a 20-year-old college student, Grace became the first person on both her mother’s and father’s side of the family to profess Jesus Christ as her Savior and Lord. Since then, one of her brothers and her sister and brother-in-law have become Christians. 

In late January, when Grace returned to her family’s village for the annual Vietnamese custom of observing the country’s new year celebration, her father cursed at her and accused her of causing disunity in the family. “You and your sister just go and die,” he told her.

Despite her parents discouraging her from participating in the Spring Love Festival when she returned to Ho Chi Minh City, Grace volunteered to serve as an English translator for BGEA staff.

“If you ask me what’s my favorite job, that is my favorite job, translating God’s Word to others,” she said. After all, reading God’s Word is how she first learned to speak English, through a Christian ministry on her college campus. “I love to translate the words of God,” she said.

And when she heard Franklin’s sermon about the father’s unconditional love for his wayward son, Grace said it reminded her that God lovingly longs for her father to turn to Him as well. “I know the devil just puts fear in his heart, like he will lose another son, another daughter,” she said. “But I’m excited about how God will move in my family, because I saw that’s the scheme of the enemy in my family.”

Pastor Thao Le Tan said the five-hour drive home with 16 others from his church after the second night of the Festival would be full of rejoicing for their bus driver who professed his faith in Christ. Loi, 36, who drove the bus, said with a huge smile, “I decided to believe in God. I’m very happy to be here.”

Cuong, 41, another passenger on the bus, also responded to Franklin’s message about how precious one’s soul is to God. He said he couldn’t wait to tell his Christian wife, who stayed home because she wasn’t feeling well, that her prayers had finally been answered.  “I want to follow Jesus,” he said. “I want to have salvation for my soul. God saved my soul.”

For Thuyen, who served as a local Festival associate and liaison with the CLWC committee, the overflow crowds both nights exceeded his expectations. “This is the biggest joy ever in my life,” he said. “Much more beyond my imagination when I see what really brought the results and the fruit. And then I see that the hand of God is really, really here.”

A counselor talks with a man who responded to the invitation. Photo: Thomas J. Petrino/©2023 BGEA

Thuyen also had the privilege of seeing God at work before and after the festival. While serving as a translator for Brett Butcher, BGEA’s training, counseling and discipleship coordinator for the Festival, Thuyen often accompanied Brett to CLWC training events. 

In late October, he and Brett shared the Gospel with their driver, Tuy, during an hourlong commute. On their return trip home from their evangelistic training, Tuy prayed to receive Christ as his Savior while parked in the driveway of Thuyen’s home. The following day, Tuy texted Thuyen, “Now I’m driving on streets of joy.”

The day after the Festival ended, Tuy drove an hour with his wife, Hanh, to meet with Brett and Thuyen at a hotel lobby in Ho Chi Minh City. Hanh had been curious about Tuy’s joyful countenance over the past four months since he accepted Christ. And there in the hotel lobby, Hanh professed Jesus as her Savior and Lord. “She said she decided to become a Christian primarily due to her husband’s excitement and desire for the entire family to come to faith,” Brett said.

Derek Forbes, BGEA’s director of Festivals for Asia, said the ministry printed thousands of invitations for the two-night outreach. To accommodate the larger-than-expected crowds, nearly five times the original estimate of 200 ushers were needed. After the first night of the event, Forbes ordered additional stools to provide more seating for the growing crowds in anticipation of several hundred buses arriving for the final night of the Festival.

Forbes said government leaders in Vietnam have already extended an invitation for BGEA to partner with Christians in their country to host another evangelistic outreach as soon as next year. 

“God wants us to be faithful, and then He shows us His faithfulness,” Forbes said. “That is a perfect picture of this whole thing.” ©2023 BGEA 

Photo: Thomas J. Petrino/©2023 BGEA

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