Christians in Vietnam remain perhaps one of the most restricted religious groups in Southeast Asia, especially among the ethnic minority populations. Arrests, beatings, and detentions still occur on a fairly regular basis. Yet a recent tour by Australian Christian evangelist Nick Vujicic has stirred controversy over Vietnam’s treatment of Christians and sparked some hope that the government may become more receptive to open Christian meetings. Unfortunately the evangelistic tour was also severely restricted at times and Christian Solidarity Worldwide points out that links with the Communist Party and Buddhist religious leaders helped gain permission for this unusual event in Vietnam.
06/07/2013 Vietnam (CSW) – A five-day tour by Australian Christian evangelist and motivational speaker Nick Vujicic was permitted to take place in Vietnam from 22 to 26 May, despite national restrictions on religious activities.
Vujicic, who was born without arms and legs, spoke to 75 000 people at seven official events, three of which were shown on national television, as part of a ‘World Outreach’ tour which has an explicitly evangelistic aim, 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. The new Decree 92 on religious activities and organisations which came into effect this January places strict limitations on the delivery of “sermons” outside religious facilities (Article 3), and on the religious activities of foreigners in Vietnam (Articles 39-40). Christian groups who have carried out evangelistic events such as concerts and Christmas celebrations have been harassed, threatened and even beaten by police. 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.
However, while many observers have celebrated the high spirits produced by the tour, some have criticised the restrictions placed on Vujicic in Vietnam: 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, although other members of the audience say references to God and heaven in an event in Hanoi were interpreted correctly.