Christmas trees weren’t always a thing in Hanoi.
When Pastor Jacob Bloemberg first moved to the north Vietnam city some 20 years ago, he says any references to the Christian holiday were few and far between.
“There was no Christmas in the city. No one celebrated Christmas or knew about it,” he said.
But now, decorations are at every bend of Hanoi’s streets. And although some may not know the Christ of Christmas, lighted trees and the spirit of gift-giving are enough to spark conversation.
It represents just one of many changes that have taken place in the last decade or so for the church in Vietnam.
And as the Love Hanoi Festival with Franklin Graham came to an end on Saturday, church leaders were even more hopeful of advancements to come.
“For over a decade, we’ve been dreaming about this event,” Bloemberg said.
He, from Holland, and his wife Linda, from Pennsylvania, lead Hanoi International Fellowship. They first moved to the capital city to do orphanage work, vocational training and help those overcoming drug addiction.
That passion for outreach, morphed into full-time pastoring, has been part of the driving force behind the Love in Action project many churches participated in ahead of the Franklin Graham Festival.
“The Festival was a great opportunity to mobilize the local church,” Bloemberg explained. “This event had over 500 churches [participating] from all over northern Vietnam.
“That is such a milestone.”
‘One Day’ is Today
When planning for the Love Hanoi Festival began, churches had no idea what God would do.
“We would point to this stadium and say, ‘One day we will have a great worship service here’ and, ‘Revival will start in Hanoi,’ ” Bloemberg recalled.
Last year, after holding an event for local churches at the Quan Ngua Sports Complex, pastors and leaders had a small taste of what could be.
“We said we’d do it bigger next year, not knowing,” Bloemberg said.
To see what God did through the two-day Love Hanoi Festival—“it’s just beyond words.”
That same awe of God’s power and provision overcame many at Saturday’s finale event, too.
To Be Used By God
As Franklin Graham prayed with the crowd, all Ky could do was cry.
“I thought back to how He saved me. I was lost like the [Prodigal] son in the Bible,” she said, referring to the Bible story Franklin preached about at the Festival on Saturday.
Though she gave her life to Christ in 2014, Ky felt she wasn’t fully committing to serving God like she should. She traveled hours away from Ho Chi Minh City to hear Franklin Graham’s message.
“Have you been wasting your life? Is your spirit empty?” Franklin asked the crowd. “Tonight, you have a choice. And I pray that you would choose Christ.”
During the invitation, people poured down to the floor of the arena, shoulder to shoulder at times.
“More counselors! More counselors!” one leader shouted in Vietnamese as men moved back chairs to make more room.
By the end of it all, it was evident the Spirit of God had moved. Every prayer and sacrifice; all the hard work and tears had led to this moment—and it was well worth it.
“With this event, we are seeing a pivotal moment,” Bloemberg said. And the church is ready to continue the work.
“A lot of people need to hear, to know, to follow, to be used as disciples. It’s a blessing to become His child,” Ky said.
“Like a family, we want to do all we can to make our father and mother happy. You wipe the floor, you clean, you take care of the house so others will want to come in,” she added, drawing a parallel between our natural family life and what it means to serve spiritually.
“I don’t want to be a child who lays on the floor, sleeps and is lazy. I want to serve.”
And with counselors on hand to connect with those who made a decision at the Love Hanoi Festival, many new believers will also be trained up to serve the Lord.
“This is not an end to a one-year process and then we go on with our own churches,” Bloemberg said. “This is just the beginning of what God is doing next.”