Since COVID-19 closed the border between Thailand and Laos, one of the things a local ministry leader misses most is face-to-face contact at border seminars with people such as 100-year-old “Uncle Pekelo.”
Still in good health, Uncle Pekelo* has attended several of the ministry’s training seminars, where he has encouraged others with his testimony of the Lord’s faithfulness in the face of persecution, the leader said.
“He has endured so much in his walk with the Lord, to the point that he was imprisoned eight times for his faith,” he said. “Each time, he refused to renounce his trust in God, and to this day he continues to stand firm.”
At the church where Uncle Pekelo pastors a congregation of 50 families, local authorities once ordered the demolition of their worship building, the leader said.
“He recently related that he and other believers hurried to put their Bibles in plastic bags to bury them in the jungle, to be hidden from being seized and burned,” he said. “During his subsequent time in prison, he would secretly write letters to Christians in his village, encouraging them to stay firm in their faith. Does this not sound like the Apostle Paul?”
The centenarian pastor, a regular listener to the ministry leader’s radio programs, once told him that local authorities who burned Bibles in his village eventually encountered life-ending mishaps. By contrast, through Uncle Pekelo’s faithful perseverance, his church has thrived, with membership now nearly 500 members, the ministry leader said.
Normally the native ministry holds five or six border seminars annually, encouraging and strengthening between 700 and 800 pastors, elders and lay leaders, he said. He added that ministry leaders are in touch with such church leaders by phone and online means, but there is nothing like meeting up with them in person – especially people like Uncle Pekelo.
“I’ve had the privilege of meeting Uncle Pekelo, whom we regularly invited to attend our border seminars,” the leader recalled. “Both his presence and testimony were a source of inspiration and encouragement to many who attended. We miss him because our border seminars are now on hold.”
The border may be closed, but the ministry’s groundwork in Laos has continued, with local missionaries planting churches as many accepted Christ and took baptism, he said.
Last year the ministry’s missionaries carried out 113 follow-up seminars in Laos, serving 6,196 people, even with lockdown measures in March and April putting trainings on hold. Local ministry leaders conduct the two-night, three-day seminars as they visit churches to shepherd new believers and encourage those facing the restrictions and health threats of COVID-19.
This year the pace has picked up.
“I was recently informed by our leaders in five provinces known as the central area that, from January to March of this year, 607 accepted Christ, 166 people were baptized and 12 new churches were started,” the ministry leader said. “Is this not amazing?”
Persecuted for Faith
While work in Laos is encouraging, the leader is looking forward to restarting border seminars. They are especially helpful in learning how churches are being persecuted and how workers can encourage church leaders, he said.
Persecution by local village heads and relatives does not deter ministry team members or Christians in general, he said, but it does present an ongoing battle. A 43-year-old mother of four children who put her faith in Christ in 2019 has faced increasing persecution since then, culminating last November, when her husband called the village head to sign divorce papers, the ministry leader said.
“He then proceeded to kick her and her four children out of the house,” he said.
They stayed with an uncle, but soon he told them that they were no longer related if they continued with “this Jesus religion” and drove them from the home, the leader said. She sent her two oldest sons, ages 14 and 15, to work on a banana planation, which has kept them from starving.
Area Christians have provided a plot of land for a hut, but there are no funds to build it, he said.
“There is need for rice, and they have barely any clothes, as she and the kids were kicked out and were given nothing,” the leader said. “She has been through a lot for her faith. Many people facing the situation she has endured would have renounced their faith long ago. How many would suffer like this for their faith? She is very bold in faith.”
Local missionaries are forming, encouraging and helping such strong disciples throughout Laos. Please consider a donation today to equip them for this crucial task.
*Name changed for security reasons