From 1-7 December 2010, IGE led its second delegation to Vietnam and Laos in 2010. The delegation included Christian business, political, and religious leaders from different parts of the United States. During the visit, the delegation attended several meetings with government and religious leaders throughout Vietnam and Laos. These meetings affirmed and deepened the partnerships between IGE and the people and governments of Vietnam and Laos to promote greater religious freedom.

Prior to the IGE delegation visit, the first-ever IGE co-sponsored religious freedom training seminars took place in the Cao Bang, Lai Chau and Dien Bien provinces. These three-day seminars were co-sponsored and organized by the Vietnamese Government’s Committee on Religious Affairs, the department that oversees all religious activity in Vietnam. In all three seminars, local officials and religious leaders were trained together on Vietnam’s religious freedom ordinances and instructions on how to implement religious registrations.

During their time in Vietnam, the IGE delegation visited Hanoi where they witnessed the unprecedented national discussion on the impact of Protestantism in Vietnam from 1911 to 1975. The one-day discussion, co-sponsored by the Vietnam-USA Society, Institute for Religious Studies at the Vietnamese Academy for Social Sciences, and IGE, brought together Vietnamese government scholars, Vietnamese Protestant pastors and leaders, and Canadian and American missionaries who worked in Vietnam before 1975. The discussion ended with performances of Vietnamese traditional music and Christian worship songs.

Due to the immense trust between IGE and the government of Vietnam, the delegation had the opportunity to engage in religious freedom dialogues with the Government’s Committee on Religious Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Pubic Security, and IGE’s main partner, Vietnam Union of Friendship Organization (VUFO), a governmental ministry at the cabinet level that oversees all civil society organizations in Vietnam. The delegation also observed briefings by IGE President Dr. Chris Seiple and Ambassador Robert Krueger on “Religious Freedom in a Harmonious Society” at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Diplomatic Academy and the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics and Public. The Academy is responsible for training communist party officials, and serving as the think-tank of the politburo and the central committee. The day after the meeting with the Government’s Committee for Religious Affairs, permission was granted for a Christmas celebration in Ho Chi Minh City, which later brought 20,000 people together to herald the birth of Christ.

The delegation also visited the northern province of Ninh Binh, and the northwest province of Dien Bien. The delegation talked to people of faith and local officials to learn about the religious diversity and religious life of the Vietnamese people. In Dien Bien, the delegation found common understanding between the government’s provincial leaders and people of faith about: 1) the need to speed up the current registration process; 2) the importance of training in theology and leadership for religious leaders; and, 3) the positive impact on the local community once trained pastors and registered churches are allowed to practice their faith freely and contribute to society as a result. These observations are particularly significant in Dien Bien province where church registration has been particularly slow.

Vietnam’s national television VTV4 has interviewed IGE delegates at the conclusion of their visit. IGE President Dr. Chris Seiple also shared his work and passion for Vietnam on “Talk Vietnam” (an hour long program on VTV4), which we will post as soon as it becomes available.

In Laos, the delegation participated in a briefing on religious freedom and peace building for government officials and faith leaders in Luang Prabang province. During the briefing, there were presentations from IGE President Dr. Chris Seiple and IGE Senior Associate Professor Stephen Bailey, and exchanged views on respect and negotiation on faith practices and differences in a community in the U.S. and Laos. The delegation also visited religious sites in the ancient capital of Luang Prabang and met with religious leaders from the Lao Evangelical church.

In keeping with the on-going momentum from the historic agreement that IGE signed with the Lao Front for National Construction (LFNC, which oversees all religious activity in Laos) in March 2010, the LFNC expressed its interest to continue its collaboration with IGE on religious freedom projects and emphasized the need for peace building trainings at district and provincial levels in 2011. The training seminars in 2011 will build on the eight seminars in eight different provinces that IGE and the LFNC conducted together in 2010. These seminars trained 463 Laotian government officials and religious leaders on the Lao government’s religious freedom policies and relationship/peace building. Critically, since conducting these seminars, there have been no reports of religious freedom harassment or persecution in these eight provinces.

IGE will bring a delegation back to Vietnam in June 2011 to co-sponsor with its Vietnamese partners two conferences: 1) The second discussion on Protestantism in Vietnam; and, 2) the third conference on Religion and Rule of Law in Southeast Asia. IGE also plans to attend the 100th year anniversary of Vietnamese Protestant churches that will take place in Da Nang on 14-16 June 2011.