By Worthy News Asia Service with Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos
HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM (Worthy News)-- Up to 8,000 people came forward to "accept Christ" and follow Him at an "unprecedented" massive Christmas gathering in Communist-run Vietnam,Vietnamese Christians confirmed Saturday, December 12.
About 40,000 people attended the meeting in Ho Chi Minh City Friday, December 11, which was held "After a long period of intense prayer" and despite opposition from local authorities, said the Vietnamese Global Christian Network, an initiative supporting the meeting.
Two days before the scheduled event, officials granted permission for only 3,000 people, forcing organizers to turn a vacant field into something that would accommodate a stadium-size crowd, Christians said.
Several thousand Christians were not able to attend because there wereno seats available anymore, according to organizers. A choir of over 1,000 singers was involved in the Christmas celebration, which also included songs from the famous U.S. based Jackson Family Ministries.
"As Americans we take these kinds of thingsfor granted the opportunity to gather and assemble and to worship and celebrate Christmas but in Vietnamthe government has not allowed this and there has not been something like this for 35 years and thisis historic," said Bruce Jackson of Jackson Family Ministries.
The event was symbolically entitled “With Our Whole Hearts” and Christians said "Up to 8,000 people responded to the gospel message indicating the desire to follow Christ."They were responding to a message from Reverend Duong Thanh Lam, who leads the Assemblies of God house churches.
He "preached with anointing" and people responded to his gospel invitation"like a waterfall" in front of the stage, according to witnesses.
Christians said that for house churches large gatherings are rare and added that for many this was "their first glimpse" of the strength of Vietnam ’s growing Christian movement.
Friday’s gathering was streamed live on a popular Vietnamese website www.hoithanh.com
and viewed by thousands in Vietnam and around the world. Organizers said that as a result "a positive article" about the gathering appeared in the state-controlled press, which rights groups say often vilifies Christians.
During the worship service, Christians were also seen praying for a "revival to all of Vietnam" and more freedom for Christians in the country, where churches and other religious groups remains closely monitored by Communist authorities. Hundreds of Christians, many of them ethnic Montagnards and Christian leaders are reportedly held in prisons across the country.
"We dream that in every village in Vietnam we will have a big crusade so that countless, millions of Vietnamese come to know the Lord," explained Pastor Daniel Nhan, vice president of Vietnam Evangelical Fellowship.
"God is working marvelously in ways we cannot imagine," added Pastor Khoa Ho, president of Vietnam Evangelical Fellowship in published remarks. "We have experienced many great things that God is doingin this country and so we believe there will be more greater things to come."
The event also raised more than 60 million dong (US$3,280) for a charity helping needy children, organizers said.