By BosNewsLife Asia Service
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife)-- A five-day tour by Australian Christian evangelist and motivational speaker Nick Vujicic in Vietnam has sparked discussion about faith among Vietnamese youth and could pressure the government to rethink the state’s tight control of religious activities, rights activists said in comments seen by BosNewsLife Monday, June 17.
Vujicic, who was born without arms and legs, reportedly spoke to 75 000 people at seven official events, three of which were shown on national television. The May 22-26 events were part of his ‘World Outreach’ tour which aims to “share the Good News of Jesus Christ”.
At the end of his tour, Vujicic also preached at Gia Dinh Church in Ho Chi Minh City. "According to local reports Vietnamese Christians were both elated by the response to the tour and baffled as to how and why a Christian evangelist was allowed to speak in a country which still maintains tight control over religious activities," said advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
In 2011, Luis Palau became the first American evangelist to openly preach in Vietnam since the Vietnam War, though he was forced to canceled his massive evangelism 'festival' in the capital Hanoi after authorities delayed permissions and local churches were no longer able to organize the event in time, BosNewsLife reported at the time.
CSW said Vujicic's tour came despite new legislation that places restrictions on religious activities and organizations as to the delivery of “sermons” outside religious facilities. Additionally the new Decree 92 also limits religious activities of foreigners in Vietnam, according to experts familiar with the law.
"Christian groups who have carried out evangelistic events such as concerts and Christmas celebrations have been harassed, threatened and even beaten by police," added CSW.
Yet, the "government’s approval of Vujicic’s tour was therefore a significant departure from the usual treatment of evangelistic speakers, and an exceptional case which enjoyed the support of a wealthy Buddhist businessman and a Communist Party official," the advocacy group added in a statement to BosNewsLife.
However, while several observers celebrated the tour, some Christians claimed restrictions were placed on Vujicic in Vietnam saying the speaker was not permitted to preach basic Christian precepts, and his interpreter was cautioned about using certain words.
"There is also some debate about whether one interpreter deliberately replaced some of Vujicic’s words with different terms, omitting references
to God, Christianity and religion," CSW said. However, "other members of the audience say references to God and heaven in an event in Hanoi
were interpreted correctly," it added.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said that overall the Vietnamese government’s decision to allow Nick Vujicic to speak in the Communist-ruled nation "appears to be a positive move towards improving the level of freedom of religion or belief in the country."
While it was "unlikely that this event indicates a change in policy towards religion" it "has sparked discussion about faith and belief amongst the Vietnamese youth which could potentially pressure the government to rethink the state’s tight control of religious activities," he said.
Thomas told BosNewsLife that his group has urged Vietnamese authorities "to allow both Vietnamese and overseas Christian speakers to share their life stories and their faith freely in Vietnam, without censorship."
Additionally, "We also encourage the government to allow Vietnamese citizens to openly discuss and debate matters relating to religion, faith and belief, both online [on the Internet] and offline".
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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