American evangelist Luis Palau met with more than 500 pastors in communist Vietnam last week.
Palau attended a two-day pastors conference March 16-17, and earlier in the week he met with U.S. diplomats.
A volunteer with the Luis Palau Association who handles the ministry's China and Vietnam relations told The Christian Post in an earlier interview that more than 2,000 pastors were expected at the event. It is unclear why the number of pastors in attendance was significantly lower than expected. No immediate response was received from the ministry explaining the discrepancy.
In the earlier interview, Fred Conklin, a full-time volunteer with the Luis Palau Association, said the national pastors conference is thought to be the first time in 100 years that all the Vietnamese churches would come together.
"We have every single major and minor denomination in the country both registered and unregistered sending representatives to a national pastors conference in Ho Chi Minh City," Conklin said.
"They are all coming together for the first time in probably a hundred years and I believe this will be the jumping off point for planning [future] events."
During the Vietnam trip, Palau told Vietnamese pastors to respect government leaders and pray for them, according to Christian Broadcasting Network. He also encouraged them to make great plans and pray great prayers.
Conklin noted that in the past few years religious freedom has improved in Vietnam. Both registered and house churches have held open air evangelistic events. In December, some 40,000 people participated in an outdoor public worship service with the permission of the government.
The Vietnamese government, though communist, had improved its religious freedom record in an effort to join the World Trade Organization. The WTO told Vietnam it had to get off the United States' "country of particular concern" list, a designation for countries with severe religious freedom violations, in order for it to be a member.
In November 2006, the United States lifted the CPC designation and Vietnam became a WTO member in January 2007.
But Vietnam still faces much criticism when it comes to religious freedom.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan federal government commission that monitors religious freedom in the world, has repeatedly recommended the United States again mark Vietnam with the CPC designation.
Vietnam, it pointed out, imprisons prominent religious freedom and human rights activists who challenge the government when laws are inconsistent with the Vietnamese constitution and human rights treaties the government has signed.
The State Department's 2009 Human Rights Report, released in March, also acknowledges that Vietnam's human rights record remains problematic.
"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 continuous religious freedom problem, evangelist Palau hopes he will receive permission from the government to hold one of his trademark open air evangelistic festivals in 2011. Next year Vietnamese Christians will mark the 100th anniversary of the Gospel coming to the country.
"We believe that the [Vietnamese] government will see with the pastors conference that our intentions are pure and that we love the people of Vietnam," said Conklin. "That we are not there to cause rebellion or problems, but we want the churches to serve the country. We want the country to prosper and we believe that Christians can play a big part in helping the country prosper."
Following his trip to Vietnam, Palau traveled to Mainland China where he preached on Saturday to thousands of people gathered at the registered church Chong Yi in the eastern city of Hangzhou.