Wednesday, June 4, 2014

RLPB 263. Laos: high cost of faith -- plus update on Nth Korea

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 263 | Wed 4 Jun 2014

LAOS: HIGH COST OF FAITH
-- also update on North Korea
By Elizabeth Kendal

The Communist regime in Laos has long been committed to 'eliminating Christianity' which it regards as a 'foreign' religion linked to its enemies. [The Lao Hmong aided US troops against communist forces during the Second Indochina / Vietnam War, in which the US bombed Laos heavily. After the war, a massive crackdown on the Hmong saw most Christians flee Laos for the US.] For decades, severe, targeted and systematic persecution of the Hmong continued and has included even the use of chemical weapons (see RLM Oct 2003). While the situation has improved, Christianity is still regarded as a problem and a threat by both the government and local people. Christians are still being imprisoned for their faith -- often constrained in shackles or stocks -- and torture is endemic. The most common forms of persecution involve high-level pressure to abandon their faith, with sanctions commonly including forced eviction, denial of service and social exclusion. Despite all this, and due to the amazing witness of local believers, the Church continues to grow. In fact stories like this from 2012 are not uncommon: 'Another Christian was expelled from a village in Bolikhamsay Province (east of Vientiane) for "having made 300 villagers embrace the Christian faith" (UCA, 21 May 2014).' Yet, as Operation World 2010 notes: 'The remarkable growth of the church is still dwarfed by the size of the task remaining.' Only 3.4 percent of Laotians are Christians and the cost of faith can be high.

Many Laotian villagers follow traditional religions that involve continuously appeasing ancestral spirits so as to avert disasters such as storms and crop failures. Consequently, Christians who refuse to engage in traditional religion are viewed as a threat to village prosperity. Village chiefs are enlisted to evict Christians from the village. Content to see the Christians persecuted, government authorities do not defend the rights of Christians but rather will exploit any opportunity to arrest them. Washington think-tank Freedom House ranks Laos as the least free country in South-East Asia and second only to North Korea in East Asia. According to one rights group that monitors Laos, dozens of Christians remain behind bars for practising their faith. Persecution is most intensive in the fertile highlands of Savannakhet Province.
LAOS - Radio Free Asia

On 11 May 23 Christians were detained in Paksong Village in Songkhone district, Savannakhet Province after being arrested for meeting in what authorities said was an 'unauthorised' location. Twelve were released after signing documents agreeing not to meet there again but eleven remain in prison. It seems the former village chief had given the Christians permission to meet but the new village chief had not.

On 20 May the chief of Saisomboon village in Atsaphangthong district of Savannakhet Province deemed that by becoming Christians, three female students had forfeited their right to an education. Noi (15), Net (15) and Nut (14) have been told they will not be permitted to sit their exams. Local Christian leader, Mrs Kaithong, has since appealed the case to the Atsaphangthong district education chief, who is negotiating with the school's director.

On Sunday 25 May police raided the home of Pastor Phupet in Donpalai village, Atsaphangthong district, where some 80 believers had gathered for worship. After abusing and intimidating the believers, the police confiscated 53 Bibles. This police raid occurred without the consent of the village chief.

On 29 May Lao police, under the order of the Loynam village chief, seized a Christian man, Sort (40), from his home in Nong district, Savannakhet Province. Sort was tied to a pole and publicly mocked and berated for refusing to recant his faith. About one year ago, Sort, along with his wife and two children, became the first family to embrace the Christian faith in the whole sub-district of Nathorn. The police had been trying to coerce Sort to renounce his faith since 15 May, when they threatened to confiscate all his property. At that time, Sort told them, 'I've embraced the Christian faith over a year and I have not broken any law!' Even after they confiscated Sort's savings, he still refused to recant. So on 29 May, after publicly humiliating Sort, they arrested him for refusing to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ. Sort is now being held in the Nong district prison.

[See: Human Rights Watch Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF)]

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HIGH COST OF FAITH IN NORTH KOREA
[Updating RLPB 251 (11 March)]
On Friday 30 May a court in Pyongyang sentenced South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jung-wook (50) to a life of hard labour. Kim had been found guilty in February on charges of espionage, anti-government agitation, and setting up an underground religious institution. Reportedly the North Korean defence attorney requested that the court commute the death sentence demanded by prosecutors on the grounds that Kim 'sincerely repented of his crimes and apologised for them'. The severity of Kim Jung-wook's sentence puts Pyongyang in a strong bargaining position with South Korea and it should discourage internal dissent also. As one high-ranking defector told DailyNK (2 June), Kim Jong-un 'is showing that he is going to eradicate any element capable of changing the people's consciousness and preserve systemic integrity'. In April 2013 Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae was sentenced to 15 years' hard labour on similar charges. When North Korean Christians are found practising Christianity they are executed and their extended families are sent to the gulag.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --

* all Christians suffering in Laotian prisons will know the comforting presence of Jesus Christ who promised 'behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age' (Matthew 28:20b ESV); may God restrain their captors and open their eyes to recognise righteousness and their hearts to receive the Gospel.

* Noi, Net, Nut and other Christian students will not be denied an education because of their faith in Christ; may God bless and work through the advocacy and witness of Christian leader Mrs Kaithong. 'Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us ...' (Ephesians 3:20 ESV)

* God will bless Pastor Phupet and his 80-strong house church in Donpalai village; may he supply more Bibles and continue to build his Church there. [Aid groups including Open Doors, Voice of the Martyrs, Bible League etc raise funds to facilitate provision of Bibles.]

* God will pour out his Holy Spirit (Joel 2:25-32) in generous abundance on Laos' capital city, Vientiane, so that, just as in Beijing (China), Christians might be found at every level of society, ready for when God brings freedom to their land.
[NB: 4 June is the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, an event that led many Beijing professionals and elites to abandon communism and embrace the Gospel. Today Beijing has Christians at every level of society.]

PLEASE ALSO PRAY FOR --
South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jung-wook, Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae and  the tens of thousands of North Korean Christians incarcerated for their faith in North Korea; may God preserve them and end this wicked regime's reign of terror.

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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HIGH COST OF FAITH IN LAOS & NORTH KOREA

Despite some improvement in recent years, persecution continues to bring great suffering to Laos' small but growing Christian community. The Communist government views Christianity as a 'foreign' religion linked to its enemies (mainly the US). Local residents who practise Buddhism and traditional religions view Christians as a threat to social order. Persecution commonly involves forced eviction, denial of service and social exclusion. Furthermore, Christians who continue to witness and refuse to recant their faith in Jesus Christ are arrested and imprisoned in shocking conditions where torture is routine. Please pray for the Church in Laos. Pray also for the Church in North Korea where on 30 May, South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jung-wook was sentenced for life with hard labour, and where tens of thousands of Christians are incarcerated.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)