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40,000 Vietnamese gather for Christmas
Baptist Press/Compass Direct News
December 16, 2009

40,000 Vietnamese gather for Christmas

40,000 Vietnamese gather for Christmas
Baptist Press/Compass Direct News
December 16, 2009

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — Christian sources in Vietnam

report that some 40,000 people gathered in a hastily constructed venue in Ho

Chi Minh City to worship God, celebrate Christmas and hear a gospel message on

Dec. 11 — an event of unprecedented magnitude.

A popular Vietnamese Christian website and other reports indicated up to 8,000

people indicated a desire to follow Christ in response to the gospel message,

Compass Direct News reported Dec. 14.

For the last two years, authorities surprisingly granted permission to

unregistered house churches in Ho Chi Minh City to hold public Christmas

rallies, and last year more than 10,000 people participated in one in Tao Dan

Stadium, Compass reported.

This year house church leaders approached the government in October and asked

for a sports stadium seating 30,000. Authorities denied the request but offered

a sports venue holding only 3,000, located 13 kilometers (eight miles) out of

the city, Compass reported. This was unacceptable to the organizers, who

pressed for another stadium for about 15,000 in the city, and officials gave a

verbal promise that they could have it.

The verbal promise did not translate into the written permission that is

critical in the country, Compass reported, noting that church leaders say such

promises are empty until they we have the permission paper in hand. However,

Christian leaders believed that planning for the event had to proceed without

permission and sent out invitations far and wide — only to have authorities

deny the stadium they had promised.

Led by pastor Ho Tan Khoa, chairman of a large fellowship of house church

organizations, organizers were forced to look for alternatives and found a

large open field in the Go Vap district of the city. When permission still was

not granted five days before the scheduled event, Compass reported that several

church leaders literally camped for three days outside city hall, pressing for

an answer.

In Ho Chi Minh City, a choir of Vietnamese believers fills a makeshift stage at the outset of a public Christmas worship service led by unregistered churches and attended by an estimated 40,000 people.

Authorities, who often work to sabotage united action among Christians, tried

urgently to find ways to talk the leaders out of going ahead, promising future

concessions if they would cancel the event, Compass reported. But organizers

stood firm, ultimately telling the deputy mayor that refusal to grant

permission at that point would have far-ranging negative ramifications in

Vietnam as well as internationally.

Finally, at the close of business Dec. 9, just 48 hours before the event,

officials granted permission that had required clearance all the way to Hanoi.

But the permission was only for 3,000 people, and many more had been invited.

Organizers had less than two days to turn a vacant field into something that

would accommodate a stadium-size crowd. According to Compass, they had to bring

in ample electricity, construct a giant stage, rent 20,000 chairs and set up

the sound and lighting. The extremely short time frame caused contractors to

double the prices they would have charged with ample time.

Organizers also rented hundreds of buses to bring Christians and their

non-Christian friends from provinces near the city. Thousands of students

sacrificed classes to help with last-minute preparations and to join the

celebration, Compass reported.

Just after noon on Friday, Dec. 11, word came that police had stopped busses

carrying 300 Steing minority people from the west to the event scheduled for

that evening. Organizers, fearing all buses would be stopped, put out an

emergency worldwide prayer request.

Christian sources told Compass that authorities either did not or could not

stop buses from other directions, and that by evening the venue became the

biggest “bus station” in all of Vietnam. By 6 p.m. the venue had filled to

capacity, and at least 2,000 had to be turned away.

Christians described the event, called “With Our Whole Hearts,” in superlative

terms, Compass reported. For house churches, large gatherings are both very

rare and very special, and for many this was their first glimpse of the

strength of Vietnam’s growing Christian movement. Thousands of Christians

joined a choir of more 1,000 singers in joyful praise, Compass reported.

Sources said the main speaker, Duong Thanh Lam, head of the Assemblies of God

house churches, preached with anointing and people responding to his gospel

invitation poured to the front of the stage “like a waterfall.” With space in

front of the stage insufficient, the sources said, many others in their seats

also indicated their desire to receive Christ.

Organizers along with many participants were overwhelmed with emotion and

gratitude as the event closed, Compass reported. People spontaneously hugged

each other and cried, “Lord, bring revival to all of Vietnam!” Other comments

included “Beyond our fondest imagination” and “Nothing could stop the hand of

the Lord.”

The event raised more than $3,280 for a charity helping needy children. People

were quite surprised to read a positive article on the event in the

state-controlled press, which often vilifies Christians.

Compass reported that house churches in the north were hopeful that they could

hold a similar event. Organizers in Hanoi have heard encouraging reports that

they will get permission to use the national My Dinh sports stadium for a

Christmas celebration, though they do not have it in hand. Sources said they

have sent out invitations across a broad area to an event scheduled for Dec.

20.

The Dec. 11 gathering in Ho Chi Minh City also made history in that it was

streamed live on the Vietnamese web site www.hoithanh.com and viewed by

thousands in Vietnam and by Vietnamese people around the world.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compass Direct News, based in Santa Ana, Calif., provides

reports on Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith. Used by

permission.)