An estimated audience of 14,000 gathered on March 4 and 5 at the Phu Tho Sports Facility in Ho Chi Minh City to hear Reverend Franklin Graham, CEO of the US-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association as he proclaimed the gospel and announced, “Jesus is in the city tonight.”
But according to Reverend Eric Foley, CEO of Seoul-based Voice of the Martyrs Korea, Rev. Graham omitted a crucial truth from his presentation.
“He did not mention that Jesus is also in prison tonight in Vietnam,” says Rev. Foley.
Rev. Foley noted that during the week of the Graham crusade, Voice of the Martyrs Korea received reports on four new cases of Christian persecution in Vietnam. “Each case involved believers in rural areas, pressured to renounce their faith and ultimately either forced to leave their village or be subject to violence and/or destruction of property,” says Rev. Foley. He says that what is happening in Vietnam is typical of the experience of Christians in other Communist countries.
“It’s a pattern that goes back to Soviet times,” says Rev. Foley. “Communist governments are eager to portray to the rest of the world that religious freedom exists in their country. So they invite groups like the Graham association in to hold large-scale crusades that receive extensive coverage from the international media. The international evangelists praise the Communist government for their religious freedom. But in truth, there is only freedom for Christians and churches who register with the government and follow the government religious regulations. The Lord’s most faithful servants in the country are forgotten or ignored by each side for what they regrettably view as greater strategic gain.”
The United States Department of State currently includes Vietnam on its “Special Watch List” of countries under the terms of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998, due to continuing reports of violations of religious freedom in the country. The US government’s Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) advocated in its 2022 report that the State Department should designate Vietnam as a “country of particular concern,” the highest level of religious freedom violation, for “engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom”.
The Executive Summary of the State Department’s 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom in Vietnam notes, “Religious activists blamed authorities for ‘manipulating’ recognized religious groups and accused their agents or proxies of causing conflicts in order to suppress the activities of unregistered groups.”
Rev. Foley sees the March Graham crusade in Ho Chi Minh City as the latest example of such manipulation. “The Graham Association explains that they were invited by local churches, and that during their visit they spoke to the government about religious freedom. But even the Graham Association website itself says they were ‘welcomed to the country by government officials in Hanoi, who granted permission’ for the event, and the Graham Association praised the government officials for ‘open support of religious freedom’. The Graham Association website praises the churches for ‘working together with the government of Vietnam’.”
But Rev. Foley says the most concerning aspect of the crusade was the omission of any mention of the Christians who are currently experiencing persecution in Vietnam. Notes Foley, “According to Charisma News, Franklin Graham said that during the crusade, ‘We stood and prayed together for those in authority as the Bible commands.’ But the Bible also commands us to remember those who are in prison for their faith—to stand for them, and not to omit mentioning them. Jesus says that whatever we do to the least of his brothers and sisters, we do to him. So, failing to mention the active persecution of Christians in a country, simply to gain favor with the government, is not an acceptable evangelism strategy to Jesus.”
According to Rev. Foley, the Voice of the Martyrs movement has historically been critical of the Graham Association’s willingness to hold crusade events in Communist countries where Christians are actively experiencing persecution.
“The Graham Association has a long history of accepting such invitations and of portraying them as signs of growing religious freedom in a country,” says Rev. Foley. “But inviting the Graham Association to preach has not historically proven to be a sign of growing religious freedom in Communist countries.” Rev. Foley notes Billy Graham’s 1984 trip to Moscow to preach at a Baptist church. “Graham urged those in attendance to pray for and obey the government, and he thanked and praised the government for the invitation to come. But during the event, one Christian man unfurled a banner that asked, ‘What about the 200+ Baptist prisoners in the Gulag?’ Within two minutes, KGB officials had torn down the banner and arrested the brother. He spent two years in prison. He was never mentioned by the Graham Association.”
Rev. Foley says Voice of the Martyrs Korea is requesting prayers for the four recent cases of persecution whose reports the organization received during the Graham crusade. “Let’s pray that the suffering and faithfulness of these persecuted brothers and sisters in Vietnam will not be forgotten even as the international news media focuses its reports on the crusade.”
- “Pray for Vy, who became a Christian about a month ago. Her decision for Christ greatly angered her children who work for the local authorities. They physically attacked her and forced her out of her house. She is now staying with another believer. VOM will fund the purchase of a piece of land so Vy can cultivate it and provide for herself.”
- “Pray for Brother Dang, a faithful servant of God. On more than one occasion he has been physically attacked by thugs and by the local authorities as he has gone about ministering to his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Recently he was once again beaten, then his phone was confiscated, and his motorbike destroyed. VOM will fund the costs of replacements.”
- “Pray for Xuyen, a former communist soldier. As a soldier, he received all kinds of benefits and subsidies from the government. But when he and his family accepted Christ, not only were all the benefits and subsidies cut but his land was also seized; he was also physically attacked. VOM will purchase some land for Xuyen and his family.”
- “Lastly, pray for brother Kieu, whose house was burned and then demolished after he became a Christian. He set up a temporary shelter nearby, which is unstable. VOM will provide funds to rebuild or repair.”
Individuals interested in learning about or supporting Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s work in partnership with the persecuted Christians of Vietnam can visit www.vomkorea.com/en/vietnam.