1st April, 2011
International evangelist Luis Palau will travel to Vietnam to participate in the first celebrations of the establishment of the country's Protestant church since the end of the Vietnam War.
The gatherings in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, Hanoi, and Danang, mark the 100th anniversary of Vietnam's Protestant church in the Asian nation, said the Oregon-based Luis Palau Association in a statement.
"The gatherings will be the first of their kind since the country's reunification in 1975."
- Statement from the Luis Palau Association
"The gatherings will be the first of their kind since the country's reunification in 1975," the group said.
Palau, who was born in Argentina before moving to the United States, will travel to Vietnam for a series of region-wide celebration events, starting with gatherings in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi in April, organisers said.
The 76-year-old preacher was to return to Danang and Hanoi in June to participate in what his organisation calls "follow up events and celebration services."
It was unclear whether he would visit or meet representatives of reportedly persecuted house churches and churches in Vietnam's Central Highlands where especially Montagnard-Degar Christians have complained of harassment by local authorities of this Communist-run nation. Hundreds of Montagnard-Degar Christians are believed to remain behind bars, many of them because of their Christian activities, according to church groups and rights activists.
But, "speaking to 500 Vietnamese church leaders in Hanoi last spring, Palau commended Vietnam's pastors for their unity, respect for authorities, and passion for church growth," the Luis Palau Association said.
"And now, with nearly every evangelical denomination inviting Palau back as a guest for the upcoming celebration, local leaders are anticipating attendance for these historic events to reach into the hundreds of thousands."
His organisation described the events as "a tremendous advance within the nation, showing the goodwill that has been built among government leadership and the church community." It also represents "the first time all denominations have come together in unity and partnership," the Luis Palau Association.
Vietnam, the world's 13th most populous nation, has seen church growth over the last several years, growing from 100,000 "believers" in 1975 to more than two million in 2010, according to the Luis Palau Association.
That figure is different than those given by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) which estimates there are just over 7 per cent religious Christians in the country of 90 million people, most of them Catholics.
The Luis Palau Association considers believers however those who make a personal choice for Jesus Christ, not because their family consider themselves Protestants or Catholics.
"Church leaders have a vision to see that number increase to more than 10 million by the year 2020, over 10 per cent of the nation's population. They see Palau and his team as playing a strategic part in this growth over the next several years," the Association said.
The Oregon-based Luis Palau Association claims to have brought a message "of hope through faith in Jesus Christ" to more than one billion people through radio, television, Internet, books and articles, including 28 million people face-to-face in 73 nations.
Palau's daily radio broadcasts are heard by tens of millions of listeners on over 3,000 radio outlets in 48 countries, it says. He is the author of close to 50 books including his latest, Changed by Faith, released in March.