Washington, D.C. (BWA) — Baptist Churches in Vietnam (BCV), one of several Baptist conventions and unions in the Southeast Asian country, gained official recognition from the Vietnamese government in early October.

BCV, formed in 1989, is now allowed, by decree issued by the Government Religious Section, “to live according to the gospel, serving the Lord, serving the Nation, having close relationship with the national people and complying with the national law.”

BCV, which has its headquarters in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest city, has more than 18,400 members in more than 400 house churches in 42 provinces and cities. It is one of five known Baptist groups in the country of 86 million people. Most of these Baptist groups are yet to receive official government recognition.

The Baptist World Alliance (BWA) sponsored a human rights visit to Vietnam in May 2006, and brought the five groups together for the first time. Some of the Baptist conventions and unions in Vietnam were unaware of the existence of other Baptist groups in the country.

The BWA delegation, which included BWA President David Coffey, met with: Nguyen Thanh Xuan, vice chairman of the government committee for religious affairs; Nguyen Thanh Tai, vice chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City people’s committee; and other government leaders. They discussed the implementation of policies related to religious freedom, as enshrined in the Vietnamese constitution.

Coffey pressed the government leaders for a normalization of religious freedom, including the right to open church buildings, Bible schools and compassionate ministries.

The Christian population in Vietnam is estimated at eight percent, and has suffered persecution under communist rulers, which placed severe restrictions on most religious activities. Protestant Christianity, including Baptists, has grown rapidly in the country in recent times, mostly through the house church movement.

The government decree granting official recognition, issued on Oct. 3, declared that all government entities, including “chairmen of the People Committees in the provinces (and) cities that are directly dependent to the Central Government,” as well as “heads of the Government Religious units, are responsible to execute this decision.” The official permission certificate was received during a ceremony on Oct. 13, in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.

“We rejoice with you in the religious freedom you have recently been granted and pray for God’s blessing and provision to continue to be experienced among you,” the BWA wrote to Thong Nguyen, president of BCV. “We are thankful for your presence in the global Baptist movement.”

Thong Nguyen informed the BWA that a special celebration will be held April 22-24, 2009, to “mark the development of the Lord’s work in Vietnam.”

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