Vietnam Releases Christian Prisoner, Allows U.S. Evangelist to Address Pastors

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Pro-Democracy Advocate in Vietnam Released from Prison

A Protestant
prisoner of conscience who had called for democratic freedoms in Vietnam was
released earlier this month after serving a three-year sentence for
“propagandizing to destroy the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

Attorney Le Thi Cong
Nhan’s sentence had been reduced by one year after an international outcry over
her sentencing. She was released on March 6. Remaining in prison for another
year is her colleague, Christian lawyer Nguyen Van Dai.

The 31-year-old Cong
Nhan had also supported a labor union that sought to be independent. Now serving
an additional three-year house arrest sentence, Cong Nhan said in a surprisingly
frank interview with Voice of America’s Vietnamese language broadcast on March 9
that she has no intention of giving up her struggle for a just and free Vietnam
and accepts that there may be a further price to pay.

Cong Nhan, arrested in
March 2007, received a Vietnamese Bible from a visiting delegation of the U.S.
Commission on International Religious Freedom – with official permission from
Vietnam’s minister of Public Security – early in her incarceration, but she had
to struggle constantly to retain it. Twice she went on a hunger strike when
authorities took the Bible away from her.

She had become a
Christian shortly before her arrest, and she told Voice of America that while in
prison she was able to read the entire Bible.

“In prison the Lord
became my closest friend, my teacher, and the one who carried my burdens with
me,” she said. “When I was released from prison, I received many words of praise
and of love and respect – I became a bit worried about this, as I do not
consider myself worthy of such. I believe I must live an even better and more
worthy life.”

Her prison experience
has confirmed her calling and faith, she said.

“As a direct result of
my prison experience, I am more convinced than ever that the path that I have
chosen is the right one,” Cong Nhan said. “Before prison I was just like a thin
arrow, but now I have become a strong fort.”

Luis Palau Allowed to

While Christians in several parts of
Vietnam are still subject to abuse from local officials, the country’s national
authorities have continued to allow high-profile Christian events. On March 17,
renowned U.S. evangelist Luis Palau was allowed to address more than 400 pastors
in a day-long event at the New World Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City.

Palau, who had arrived
in Hanoi with his entourage on March 13, had addressed nearly 200 Hanoi area
pastors at an evening event at the Hanoi Hilton on March 14. The two events were
streamed live on, a popular website that reports on Protestant news in
Vietnam. Hundreds of Vietnamese in Vietnam and abroad were estimated to have
watched the presentations.

The events were deemed
significant, if not historic, by Vietnam’s Christian leaders. Very rarely is a
prominent foreign Protestant leader allowed to address Vietnamese leaders,
especially one from the United States.

The events were
significant also in that they brought together leaders from virtually all
segments of Vietnam’s fractured and sometimes conflicted Protestant groups,
Christian leaders said. The gatherings included leaders of open churches and
house churches, registered and unregistered churches, and urban and even ethnic
minority groups from Vietnam’s remote mountainous regions.

Two representatives of
a Mennonite church headed by activist pastor Nguyen Hong Quang, however, were
turned away by police. 

Palau and Mike
McIntosh, pastor of San Diego mega-church Horizon Christian Fellowship, strongly
challenged the Vietnamese church leaders to strive for unity. The assembled
pastors were challenged to put aside past conflicts and suspicions for the sake
of the Kingdom of God in Vietnam, with Palau saying that unity was a requirement
for God’s blessing on their churches and nation.

Some Vietnamese leaders
responded by expressing remorse for their divisions and committed to start
working toward reconciliation.

Organizers and
participants said they hope such short events will lead to larger gains. Though
the Luis Palau Association had originally planned for a two-day event for 2,000
pastors, most agreed this was an unprecedented first step toward a bigger goal.
With an invitation from all segments of the Protestant community in Vietnam in
hand, the Luis Palau Association is prepared to help organize evangelistic
festivals in Vietnam in 2011, the centenary of Protestantism in

“There is still a long
way to go, but we are seeing miracles piling up,” said one senior Vietnamese
leader. “It could happen!”

One prominent overseas
Vietnamese leader wondered if Palau’s visit to Vietnam could be compared to
Billy Graham’s visit to Moscow during the Soviet Communist

Also sharing
testimonies during the March 17 event were Rick Colsen, a top Intel executive,
and John Dalton, Secretary of the Navy under President Clinton.

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