Evangelist Franklin Graham said that multitudes responded to Jesus Christ during his two-day evangelistic crusade in Vietnam, and argued that the Communist government there is starting to warm up to Christianity.
"I just concluded a Crusade in Hanoi. This is the first time an evangelistic event like this has been held in the northern part of Vietnam. A tremendous crowd came on Saturday night, and in addition to the full sports complex, people watched outside on giant screens," Graham said on his Facebook page Saturday.
"Some 400 buses brought loads of people to hear the Gospel message. We rejoice that so many responded to God's offer of salvation and new life through repentance and faith in His Son, Jesus Christ."
The Associated Press noted that more than 10,000 Vietnamese filled up a stadium the night before on Friday, which was "unprecedented in size for Vietnam." Moreover, government representatives did not place conditions for the event, as Graham confirmed.
"We don't want to do anything that would embarrass the government or the people of Vietnam. Again we're guests, the government has not told me what to say or not say. I'm going to talk about God, we are not here to talk about politics," Graham told AP.
The president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and relief group Samaritan's Purse said on Facebook that "much has changed" in Vietnam over the past 30 years.
"The Communist government's attitude toward the church is changing, and I believe will continue to make positive changes. Christians in Vietnam are gaining more religious freedom, and it seems we in the West are gradually losing ours," he said.
"I appreciate President Donald J. Trump's commitment to supporting religious freedom — that is something each of us should cherish."
Graham shared his hopes that the Vietnamese government "will see that Christians are not enemies, but Christians are some of the best citizens in Vietnam and people that they can trust and depend on."
He added, "I hope it would be good for the churches and I hope this meeting would be good for the government and they will see us in a different light after this week."
Still, the U.S. State Department said in its annual global report on religious freedom that despite some improvements, Vietnamese authorities continued limiting the practices of unrecognized faith groups, targeting some with accusations of being involved in political activity.
Watchdog group Open Doors USA lists Vietnam as No.17 on its World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution for their faith, and said that believers are subject to arrests and "land-grabbing" by officials.
"Converts to Christianity from Buddhist or ethnic-animist backgrounds face the strongest persecution, which comes not only from the authorities, but also from families, friends and neighbors," Open Doors reported.
"Protestant Christian believers tend to gather in house churches, and their members face discrimination at various levels of society."
Catholics, who are the largest Christian group in the nation, have also faced heavy persecution. Earlier in July, Vietnamese police reportedly assaulted a group of priests and parishioners who were defending a cross erected on disputed land that the church claims.
"They threw stones at the priests, and beat three or four of them," one of the priests from Thien An monastery in Hue explained.
"They prevented us from putting it back, and priests held on to the cross while police tore at their shirts and dragged them by their hair."