American evangelist Luis Palau will return to Vietnam this spring about a year after participating in a historic gathering with more than 500 Vietnamese pastors.
Palau's scheduled visit will coincide with the 100th anniversary celebration of the Protestant church in Vietnam. The planned gathering to mark the annivesary of the Protestant church will be the first since the country's communist government took control in 1975.
The world famous evangelist will make an appearance in Vietnam's capital of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in April. In June, Palau will visit Danang and Hanoi to participate in follow-up events and celebration services.
Local leaders estimate that attendance at the events will reach into the hundreds of thousands.
Last year, Palau had told Vietnamese pastors to respect government leaders and pray for them, according to Christian Broadcasting Network. He also encouraged pastors to make greater plans and pray great prayers.
Though communist, Vietnam seems to have improved its religious freedom record in its bid to join the World Trade Organization, which requires the country to remove itself from the U.S.'s "country of particular concern" list.
In November 2006, the United States lifted the CPC designation and Vietnam became a member of the WTO in January 2007.
By December 2010, some 40,000 people participated in an outdoor public worship service with the permission of the government. On occasion, registered and house churches have even held open air evangelistic events.
But Vietnam continues to face criticism by religious freedom watchdogs.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan federal government commission that monitors religious freedom in the world, has repeatedly recommended Vietnam be placed back on the CPC list.
Vietnam, it pointed out, continually imprisons prominent religious freedom and human rights activists who criticize authorities for drafting laws that are inconsistent with the nation's existing constitution and human rights agreement.
The State Department's 2009 Human Rights Report, released in March, maintains that Vietnam's human rights record remains problematic despite promises the government made to the international community.
"The government increased its suppression of dissent, arresting and convicting several political activists," the report reads. "The government utilized or tolerated the use of force to resolve disputes with a Buddhist order in Lam Dong and Catholic groups with unresolved property claims. Workers were not free to organize independent unions, and independent labor activists faced arrest and harassment."
Despite Vietnam's reputation, Palau continues to exhibit optimism for his upcoming return.
"These events represent a tremendous advance within the nation, showing the goodwill that has been built among government leadership and the church community," the Luis Palau Association remarked in a news release. "It also represents the first time all denominations have come together in unity and partnership."
Since 1999, Luis Palau evangelistic festivals have drawn more than 8.8 million people, according to the Luis Palau Association. The evangelist, who was born in Argentina and now lives in the Portland area of Oregon, claims to have shared the gospel to more than a billion people through radio, television, the Internet, books and articles.