In October, the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) executive director James Chen and Vietnam program manager Hien Vu conducted its annual visit to Vietnam to strengthen relationships with government and religious partners in our ongoing efforts to promote religious freedom. IGE also surveyed Christian and Buddhist community organizations engaged in innovative and inspiring work in ministering to drug addicts and people living with HIV/AIDS.

In a meeting with the Vietnam USA Society (VUS) at the Vietnam Union for Friendship Organizations (VUFO), IGE and VUS agreed to sign a new 5-year agreement in December to renew and strengthen this vital partnership. Over the past decade, IGE and VUS have promoted people-to-people understanding between the U.S. and Vietnam on religious freedom policies and practices in the two countries.

James also met with Dr. Bui Thanh Ha, Vice Chairman of the Governmental Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA), as well as with the Director of the International Relations Office and the Director of the Protestant Affairs Office. To date, IGE and CRA’s efforts have resulted in training and influencing over 2,300 local government officials and faith leaders in the Northwest Highlands on religious freedom and rule of law. IGE and CRA agreed to continue joint efforts to promote policies and legal protections of religious registration and raise awareness about the positive role of religion and responsible citizenship in Vietnamese society.

In order to increase the reach and impact of IGE’s Religion and Rule of Law training programs, IGE established two new important partnerships during this visit. First, James and Hien met with Vietnam National University’s School of Law (VNU-LS) to plan the delivery of a new law school course on the legal protection of freedom of religion and belief for Masters and PhD students. This would be the first course of its kind offered in the country.

IGE also established an important new partnership with the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics’ Institute for Religion & Belief Studies (HCMN). HCMN, the premier educational institution for Vietnamese government officials, agreed to partner with IGE to conduct religion and rule of law training programs for provincial and district-level government officials and faith leaders.

During the trip, IGE was encouraged to gain a first-hand look at faith-based organizations that demonstrate how faith communities can make positive contributions to Vietnamese society. IGE visited the Aquila Center, a Christian drug rehabilitation ministry led by Pastor Nam Quoc Trung, a former addict himself. IGE also visited the 1,000-year old Phap Van Buddhist temple in Hanoi. Lead monk Thich Thanh Huan shared about their efforts over the past 10 years to care for HIV/AIDS sufferers who face distinct challenges due to social stigma and perceptions surrounding the disease.

James was also invited to deliver a presentation at a conference on “Religion and Economy in the ASEAN Context” organized by the VNU’s University of Social Sciences & Humanities and Brigham Young University’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies. James spoke on how religious freedom is essential to economic development and societal flourishing.

IGE is blessed to contribute to efforts at enabling religious communities in Vietnam to enjoy far more legal protections and opportunities to participate in public life than previously. Looking ahead to 2018, IGE will continue its training programs on religion, good governance, and rule of law in Hanoi and the Mekong Delta region.

(For more pictures from the trip, please see the IGE Facebook Page, Vietnam Program Album)