Laos Christians Face Crisis As Government Bans Bibles

Monday, August 15, 2005

Monday, August 15, 2005
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Laos

NAM TEE, LAOS (BosNewsLife)-- A lack of Bibles and Christian literature in Laos is now becoming "the biggest threat" to rapidly growing Christian communities in rural areas of the Communist Asian nation, evangelical leaders said Wednesday, August 10.

The Communist government? imposed restrictions on the distribution of Bibles effected villages near the border with Thailand, where churches experience unprecedented growth, BosNewsLife established.

"But without Bibles and Christian literature, the many new Christians can not grow in their faith and study Gods word," said 38-year old Pastor Khampet Deesakoun of an evangelical church in Namtee, a remote village of roughly 700 people, about 150 kilometers from the capital Vientiane.

The father of six children became "a born again Christian" 10 years ago and said the small church he started with a handful families grew into a thriving congregation of over 400 people. "About half of the villagers have become Christians, while the rest are still Buddhists or pray to ghosts," he explained.


He spoke as Asian cows and chickens were competing for attention with the impoverished population of this village where Christian foreign aid workers, and a reporter, arrived for the first time.

"We never received any help from outside," they were told by an emotional Pastor Deesakoun speaking through an interpreter, after opening the doors of an unfinished church on a muddy hill top overlooking the Mekong river.

The team of US-based Christian Freedom Internatational (CFI), an international Christian advocacy group, also included local doctors and dentists with packages of medical aid and toys for children. Besides Bibles, Lao Christians are in need of medical attention, the pastor suggested.


As news spread of the arrival of foreigners, long lines of people, including Buddhists, gathered in and outside the windowless church in hope to meet a doctor for the first time. "We don't fix a teeth as in the West, but pull it out if needed, because many of these people will not see another doctor for years to come," explained CFI Director Jim Jacobson.

"In addition we hand out medicines for illnesses such as Malaria, which is a big killer here...,"
he said, as a woman nearby held two infants on her lap, waiting for a doctor.

While operations and consultations were underway in a filthy, hot, makeshift hospital corner
of the church, children began singing Lao "revival" songs. Elsewhere in the village, Americans
showed smiling children how to say, and sing, "God is Good," in an apparent effort to calm down anxiety within families over persecution. Balloons were flying overhead.

A plan to bring Bibles to Namtee was cancelled Wednesday, July 10, following reports from
Christians here that feared Communist secret service officials had been monitoring the area.


Pastor Deesakoun appeared disappointed. "We really need Bibles and Christian literature. Also I need to grow and study more," he told BosNewsLife, to fulfill his dream of planting new churches in nearby villages and preaching the Gospel there.

However "I know of several villages where police broke up meetings, detained people and closed down a church," warned claimed 24-year old Xieng Suliyong Onbutda, a native Christian youth worker and CFI supporter with close knowledge of the situation in villages across the region.

CFI and other human rights watchdogs are not surprised about the government's perceived hard-line stance towards the spread of Bibles. Laos, they say, is a totalitarian and authoritarian country that seeks to control religious thought and expression. But the authorities have denied involvement in human rights abuses against religious and ethnic minorities.


"The practice of Christianity is often seen as a threat to the government's power and the state's ideology," explained CFI President Jacobson on a noisy motorboat, which links the village to the outside world.

Jacobson, a former White House official and analyst, stressed the Laos government prohibits foreigners from spreading Christianity and that those caught in distributing religious material can be arrested or deported. Laos officials have not reacted to the latest claims, but human rights workers say they are convinced that Christians are tortured and still in prison for their faith.

Jacobson defended CFI's decision to smuggle Bibles into Laos if necessary. "I know the argument of some critics who say that our work is illegal. But I say that from a Christian perspective it is our obligation to fulfill His Great Mission so anyone can hear the Gospel."

Christians comprise roughly 1.5 percent of the country's mainly Buddhist population of over 6-million people according to estimates, but churches believe that number is rising despite persecution. Recently thousands of new Christians have been added to remote villages in what some now call "a revival," BosNewsLife learned. "I think that persecution can strengthen our faith...," said Pastor Deesakoun.

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