Despite Threats, More Residents Come to Faith in Lao Village
March 20, 2014
Christian Aid Mission works with a church-planting ministry in Laos to help believers start anew when they are expelled from their homes.
In December, Christian Aid Mission reported that eviction orders had been issued for five families who converted to Christianity and were thus no longer welcomed in Natahall village in Laos. Local authorities defended their ruling, arguing the Christian faith was contrary to traditional religious beliefs and customs.
The new believers maintained they had constitutionally guaranteed religious rights to embrace Christianity and should be entitled to exercise that right without intimidation or threat of expulsion.
“After Natahall Christians insisted on and defended their religious right to follow the Christian faith, the village chief took further action in order to coerce the Christians to abandon their faith,” stated a report from the Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF). “On December 8, the village chief publically declared that the Christians would be personally responsible for any death coming upon Natahall villagers because the village chief and the village elders maintained that believing in God violated the village’s longstanding spirit beliefs and customs.”
The chief was prepared to issue legal documents ordering the relocation of the five Christian families to other Christian communities in Savannakhet Province.
To the chief’s astonishment and great consternation, three more families in the village have espoused the Christian faith since January!
“In a recent effort to stop the spread of the Christian faith in Natahall and prevent it from taking root, the village chief, along with the Phin district police stationed in Tathai sub-district, summoned the eight Christian families for a four-hour meeting on March 11,” the HRWLRF reported. “The officials jeered the Natahall Christians and directed them to abandon their Christian faith, stating that the Christians believe in a foreign American religion. The officials said to the Christians, ‘We fought to get rid of the Americans before and now you are bringing their religion into our homes.’”
“Christian residents of Natahall village are fighting hard to keep their homes as well as their constitutionally guaranteed right to believe in the Christian faith. They have appealed to the Phin district religious affairs office to intervene; however, nothing has happened,” the HRWLRF said.
The situation in Natahall is not an isolated case. Remarkably, even in the midst of severe persecution, Laotian believers are not holding back in sharing the good news of spiritual freedom through Jesus Christ.
Those who are kicked out of their villages forfeit their homes and belongings, and they lose access to the rice paddies that provide their major source of food. Other believers are tortured, imprisoned, or even killed for their faith, yet they press on, knowing the souls of their people are at stake.
A ministry assisted by Christian Aid has a vision to plant 200 churches in Laos during the next five years. Though a lofty goal, with God’s help it can be achieved. One village at a time, one family at a time, one person at a time, hearts are turning to Jesus Christ and a spiritual harvest is quietly taking place.
Christian Aid plans to assist the ministry’s efforts to train more church planters. Sixteen sessions will be held in strategically located areas. Each training session costs $2,000.
Once established, believers attending small house fellowships will need Bibles ($5) and hymnals ($7) for their worship services.
Buddhist and animist practices are an integral part of Laotian culture, particularly in rural areas where the presence of Christians is seen as a threat to the well-being of the community.
Predominately animistic Buddhist and led by a communist government, the country of Laos is steeped in long-held tradition. The government and Buddhist leaders claim Christianity is a “white man’s religion” that threatens their cultural identity. At present about 3.5 percent of the population of Laos is considered Christian.
While religious liberty is protected by the national constitution of Lao, in practice such freedoms are tightly restricted. Leaders in rural communities like Natahall may impose their own set of rules to preserve local traditions and beliefs.
According to the HRWLRF website, the organization is “urging the Lao government to respect the right of the Lao people to religious freedom and the accompanying right to gather for corporate worship as guaranteed in the Lao constitution and the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Laos in 2009, upholding the individual’s right to adopt a religion/belief of choice as well as the right to manifest that religion/belief in a corporate worship (Article 18).”
“Any form of coercion impairing the freedom to have and manifest one’s religion/belief of choice is condemned in the Covenant,” the HRWLRF concluded.