Receiving disturbing reports of a local missionary steering people away from worship of local gods, the headman of a village in Laos summoned him to his office.
“Now, I heard that you are speaking to people in the village by using your cell phone, and you are talking about Jesus, and now people told me that some of them are interested,” the headman told him.
The local missionary, pastor of a house church, had come prepared. He showed the headman a government booklet, signed by the Laos Interior Minister, that stated Christianity was one of the officially accepted faiths in the country, the leader of the local ministry said.
“The pastor said that by law we have the right to witness to the people, and whether they will believe or not is up to them,” the leader said. “The village headman said, ‘If it is officially accepted by the government, we cannot restrain you – but you should be careful, because the people do not understand this about the Christian religion.’”
Many people in communist Laos, where 60 percent of the population is Buddhist and 32 percent worship ethnic tribal gods, do not understand that the government officially recognizes the Lao Evangelical Church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Catholic Church, he said.
“The Lao people have been poisoned by the teaching that Christianity is like opium and is a tool of the CIA,” the leader said. “This ideology has been ingrained deep into people’s hearts and minds.”
The mindset is fading from the more educated, which does not include village leaders, he said.
“They are the ones who often persecute Christians,” the ministry leader said. “When our Christian leaders try to talk to them and explain about religious rights, they do not understand.”
Local officials argue that Christianity is a tool of the West that disrupts village unity, he said.
“They say, ‘We have been here for hundreds of years without having any problem, and now you bring this foreign religion, and our ancestors will get upset with us and kill us,’” the leader said.
While the Lao constitution guarantees religious freedom, a 2016 decree empowers the Ministry of Home Affairs to stop any religious activities contrary to “traditional customs,” laws or regulations, providing a pretext for villagers and their leaders to persecute Christians – especially those belonging to the independent house churches seeing explosive growth.
On Aug. 11, police arrested and jailed a local missionary working among a tribal group in a district undisclosed for security reasons.
“They charged him for religious activities and not submitting to authorities,” the ministry leader said.
Persecution can be a strong deterrent to faith. A schoolteacher in a rural area wrote to the ministry leader that she had been listening to his messages on Facebook live and on radio and was even attending the area’s 300-member church.
“But, unfortunately I am a schoolteacher, and if I accept Jesus my boss will kick me out from my job right away!” she messaged him on Facebook. “They have been warning us strictly about Jesus’ religion.”
When he asked whether her husband and children could accept Christ, she replied that the school would fire her if anyone in her family converted.
“I encouraged her that Jesus loves you and your family, and one day you and your family will come to know Jesus,” the leader said. “She said that if she loses her job, she will have problems with income. There are many people having the same problems; please pray for her.”
In spite of such obstacles, the native ministry saw 2,064 people put their faith in Christ from January through August of this year, he said. Workers planted 27 new house churches during that time.
One Christian they discipled heard about 20 new Christians in an area so remote it had no roads, limited electricity and unreliable phone service. When he heard they had requested Bibles, hymn books and gospel-loaded MP3 players, he led a team on a small boat to a landing point for a 12-hour trek over jungle hills.
“One of the men was encouraging his fellow travelers lying on the ground or resting against a tree, ‘I know this is really tiring, brothers – but keep fighting and pushing! We are doing this to serve the Lord and the people. Keep fighting, we’re almost there,’” the ministry leader said.
The team rose and continued trudging through the jungle.
“Hearing about this almost brought me to tears,” the leader said. “This brother and his team did all this out of a pure and genuine love for these new and isolated believers, who needed the literature and tools to grow in their faith.”
Native workers facing such dangers and persecution are spreading the gospel throughout the country. Please consider a donation today to help them form and strengthen Christians amid deep hostilities.