A sea of people clustered together, pressing forward with hands raised high, vying for a spot in front of the stage. Those who responded to Friday night’s Gospel invitation were given a booklet that explained how to have a deeper relationship with Jesus.
This is a historic moment for Vietnam.
Friday marked the beginning of the Festival Yêu Hà Nôi, or the Love Hanoi Festival with Franklin Graham, and the two-day event has been a long time coming. As the first meeting of its kind in Vietnam, it’s no small thing that it’s happening in this Communist country’s capital, home to over 7.5 million people.
No wonder some of the Christians there shed tears of joy seeing their fellow Vietnamese wind through the stands and carve paths to the front of the venue by the end of the first night—all in response to the Gospel. Outside, the same scene played out as more people watched the Festival on a screen set up in an extended area.
At an opening ceremony for dignitaries and church leaders Friday morning, Franklin expressed his gratefulness to the local churches for inviting the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) to Hanoi. He thanked government leaders for giving BGEA permission to hold the Festival there and those who have worked behind the scenes for months to make it happen.
2017 is the perfect year for it, too, just in time to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent access to Scripture that it gave the masses.
That’s where Franklin’s focus was Friday—on what Scripture says, particularly about Jesus Christ. As Christmas approaches, a message on the reason for His birth couldn’t be more timely.
“When I was younger, I didn’t want God in my life,” he told the audience at Quan Ngua Sports Complex Friday night. The more he ignored God, though, “the more empty I became.”
That is until he finally embraced what the Bible had to say about Jesus—how He came to save us from our own sin and destruction, and how it’s only through Him that life is complete with God-given purpose.
“God forgave me just like He’ll forgive you here tonight,” he said.
Franklin invited anyone who wanted to know Jesus for themselves to come forward at the venue to receive a free booklet about growing in faith. Three friends were among the crowd: Phuong, 24; Hiêp, 23; and Tuân, 30.
Phuon and Hiêp were already Christians but wanted to renew their commitment to Christ. Tuân committed his life to Jesus for the first time after hearing Franklin explain how sin separates us from God.
“That’s the reason I want to accept Jesus as my Savior, to forgive my sins,” he said.
No Middle Ground in Hanoi
Hanoi is a busy place where locals seem to use every inch of space. With a mix of Chinese-inspired pagodas and the influence of French colonisation evident in its street cafes, the massive city is a cultural hotspot where tradition meets modernisation in this developing country.
A few hours east is iconic Ha Long Bay, home of thousands of limestone islands rising out of the deep green water and covered with lush vegetation. In the heart of the city are thousands of motorbikes going in every direction just inches from each other. A constant beeping fills the air as bikes and cars share the road, announcing their presence to avoid run-ins.
Somewhere in the middle of all the chaos are vendors in triangular straw hats, each carrying a bamboo pole over one shoulder with two loads hanging from either end—maybe baskets of fruit, vegetables or fresh flowers. Others push bicycles weighed down with enormous loads of everything from pineapples to cleaning supplies.
While the city straddles tradition and progression, Franklin made it clear Friday that there’s no middle ground with God. In the daily hubbub of life, it can be easy to forget about God, yet eternity is always in the balance. We’ll either have an eternity with God or without Him. It’s up to each person to choose.
“One day your body will die, but your soul will continue to live,” Franklin explained. “Where will your soul spend eternity?”
Take everything that has value in the world—whether it be in currency, military power or material possessions, he went on—still, “your soul is more valuable than all of these things. One soul, your soul, is more valuable than the whole earth.”
So how do you ensure your soul is secure in God’s presence forever? By accepting Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, which covers our sins and closes the gap between us and God, both in this life and for eternity.
“No other person in history has paid the debt of your sin. Only Jesus.”