Itinerant House Church Pastor Murdered in Laos

Friday, January 6, 2006

Aroun Voraphorn had been imprisoned for his faith.

by Sarah Page

DUBLIN, January 5 (Compass) – In a shocking display of brutality, Aroun Voraphorn, an itinerant evangelist, pastor and father of four children, was murdered in southern Laos the week before Christmas.

His body was found on December 23, abandoned on a jungle road near his home village in Phaksan district, Borikhamxai province, according to Compass sources who requested anonymity.

On December 17, three unidentified men came to talk with Voraporn at his home in Huaysiat village. His wife Metta Voraphorn did not know the men nor the purpose of their visit.

The following day, Voraphorn left home at around 2 a.m. to preach at a Christmas service in Pakkading district, about 90 kilometers south. As he preached, his cell phone rang several times; the pastor of the church answered it and gave the caller directions.

At the end of the service, three men arrived on motorbikes and entered the church. When Voraphorn finished speaking, he introduced these men to the pastor, claiming two of them were his relatives. Voraphorn and his companions then left together after eating a meal with the pastor.

At around 4 p.m. that afternoon, Voraphorn called his wife and asked her to continue with a birthday party planned for their youngest daughter. He would be late, he said, as he planned to buy a birthday cake on the way home.

But Voraphorn never arrived.

His wife initially thought another church had asked him to preach; as provincial chairman of the Lao Evangelical Church, Voraphorn was often called away at short notice. She did not report him missing but wondered why he had not called her to inform her of his plans.

On December 20, three Christian friends from Vientiane arrived, intending to collect Voraphorn on the way to a Christmas service in another part of the province. His wife said he had been missing since December 18.

Voraphorn’s friends set out for their preaching engagement – but on December 23 they stopped by the church in Pakkading to question the pastor about Voraphorn’s possible whereabouts. At 2 p.m., as they headed back along the jungle road toward Huaysiat, they met a group of policemen huddled at the edge of the road. The policemen had just found Voraphorn’s body lying about 20 meters into the jungle.

Voraphorn’s hands were tied tightly behind him and covered with bloodstains. His throat was cut and his head smashed – apparently with a rock lying next to his body. Attackers had also stabbed him repeatedly through the chest.

Voraphorn’s friends were permitted to take the body – which they judged to have been dead for less than two days – back to their church in Vientiane. At a funeral service on Christmas Eve (December 24), his wife pleaded with Christians in Laos to continue preaching the gospel fearlessly, as Voraphorn had done.

While an investigation of the homicide is still underway, religious motives cannot be discounted. Voraphorn was arrested in 1996 on religious grounds and imprisoned. He was released two years later because of a heart condition. Even after his release, though, authorities continued to monitor and harass him because of his involvement with unregistered house churches.

Laos became a Communist republic in 1975, and since that time the government has severely restricted Christian activity, despite token laws “guaranteeing” religious freedom. Christians can join the government-approved Lao Evangelical Church, but activities of this church are tightly controlled. Hence many Christians choose to worship in unofficial house churches.

This unofficial status, however, attracts persecution. Pastors, evangelists and lay members of house churches are frequently harassed and beaten by police and local officials. Officials have also pressured Christians to sign documents renouncing their faith; when they refuse, they are sometimes tortured and imprisoned. (See Compass Direct, “Lao Government Targets Tribal Christians,” April 25, 2005.)

In recent years, Voraphorn had worked alongside Christians in unregistered churches, preaching and encouraging the believers in their faith.

Voraphorn’s family may never know the true circumstances of his death. In a similar case in August 2003, witnesses saw police escorting a young Christian evangelist named Somphorn out of his village on the back of a motorbike. Some weeks later, Somphorn’s family discovered his partially-buried body in the jungle. Police did not launch an investigation and the perpetrators were never found.

* Note: English spellings of Lao personal names (and place names) vary widely because of different approaches to transliteration from the Lao alphabet. In this report, Compass has made every effort to confirm spellings with local residents.

Copyright 2006 Compass Direct