By Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News Chief International Correspondent
HANOI, VIETNAM (Worthy News)-- Thousands of Christians are to attend an evangelical Christmas Eve celebration in Vietnam despite difficulties with authorities, the latest in a series of "historic" Christian gatherings in the Communist-run nation, organizers said Wednesday, December 23.
"The event tomorrow evening, December 24, from 19.30 to 22.00 hours [local time]" organized by Protestant churches and groups, "will be held in the city of Hai Phong", some 100 kilometers from Vietnam's capital Hanoi, said the Vietnamese Global Christian Network.
"The [local] government of Hai Phong City has given a license for just 300 people to attend, but [since] yesterday the church has been conducting talks to be able to create conditions so the 5000 invited people can participate in the celebration," the Network added.
The planned celebration comes shortly after about 12,000 people gathered at a Christmas rally in Hanoi Sunday, December 20, Christians said.
Worshipers were seen gathering in the large square in front of My Dinh National Stadium in the heart of Hanoi. Elsewhere this weekend, over 2,500 spectators gathered in Vietnam's northern Nam Dinh province for an evangelistic meeting of the main Protestant Church of North Vietnam, Christians said.
Some 200 people reportedly came forward to acknowledge their faith in Jesus Christ. Witnesses said crowds were larger than anticipated with many people filling the church court yard and nearby streets in freezing temperatures.
"GREATEST CHRISTMAS GIFT"
Speaking to the crowd, Pastor Nguyen Huu Mac urged people to hear "the truth of salvation" and the real "Christmas gift" of Jesus."Jesus is the greatest Christmas gift...When you Him, your life will be filled with blessings and you have eternal life," he was heard saying.
Singers of the U.S.-based Jacksons Family Ministries also participated in the event. They earlier participated in a massive rally in southern Vietnam on December 11. Some 40,000 people attended that Christmas celebration in Ho Chi Minh City, according to organizers.
The gatherings are coordinated with 'house churches', named this way as they are often organized in homes of believers. For many this is the first time they participate in massive rallies with other Christians, following years of persecution by authorities in several areas of the country, according to local Christians and other church observers.
Vietnam has been under international pressure to furtherimprove its religious rights record as hundreds of Christians, including many ethnic Montagnards and other Christian leaders, remain detained across the country, several rights groups have said.