Tuesday, November 18, 2014

RLPB 287. Laos: Christians purged and arrested

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 287 | Wed 19 Nov 2014

By Elizabeth Kendal

Laos is a one-party state ruled by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. There is are no free media, dissidents are jailed and prisoners are tortured. Whilst the government protects the Buddhism of the ethnic Lao and permits the traditional animism and spiritism of the ethnic minorities, it is hostile towards Christianity which it regards as foreign. Because ethnic Hmong allied with the 'Christian' US against the Communists during the Second Indochina war (the Vietnam War), the regime is especially hostile towards Hmong Christians. When the war ended in 1975 persecution or retribution was so intense that thousands of Hmong -- including nearly all Hmong church leaders -- fled en masse to the US. The regime subsequently expressed a desire to eliminate Christianity. The situation has since improved and the Laos Constitution of 1991 provides for freedom of belief, speech and assembly (Articles 30 and 31) and Ministerial Decree 92 'protects legitimate religious activities'. Yet the hostility towards Christianity remains. Christians comprise just 3.4 percent of the population but are growing at a rate of nearly 6 percent per annum. However, for them religious freedom is little more than a mirage. The Church's needs are enormous, especially as over 90 percent of Laos' 147 ethnic groups are as yet 'unreached' (Operation World 2010).

The traditional animism commonly practised in ethnic minority and tribal areas require the spirits to be constantly appeased through sacrifice and ritual. If the spirits are offended then trouble will come, such as hail or drought, death or disease. Consequently animist villagers feel greatly threatened when members of the village reject animism for Jesus Christ. Fearing angry spirits and seeking to avoid disaster, the animist villagers will demand the Christians renounce their faith and return to appeasing the spirits. When Christians refuse to do so they are usually driven out of their homes, off their lands and expelled from the village. At other times angry villagers will complain to the local authorities who will arrest the Christians for 'disturbing the peace'.

Some of the displaced Christians
On 13 November, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that six Hmong families (comprising 25 individuals) were forced to leave Ko Hai village in Khamkeut district in Laos' central Bolikhamsai Province recently after they refused to renounce their Christian faith and revert to animism. When the local authorities first tried to force the families to renounce their faith in July, they seized two of their men and detained them for over a month. That failed and on 27 August two of the families were expelled. Then on 18 September the other four families were driven out. Though the displaced believers have all found refuge in another village, they have lost everything and no longer have the means to support themselves or to resettle. Destitute, they desperately want to return to their homes and farms. The governor of Khamkeut district told RFA he was unaware of the forced evictions and promised to investigate.

click on map to enlarge
On 2 November seven other ethnic Hmong, including a 14-year-old boy, were arrested in Laos' north-western Luang Namtha Province after they converted from animism to Christianity. Five were released after they renounced their faith, while the two who refused were transferred to the provincial prison. Security officials in Luang Namtha told RFA that the seven were not arrested over religion but were merely taken in for questioning because they were 'disturbing the social peace'. Conditions in Lao prisons are appalling -- squalid and inhumane conditions are the norm, and torture is routine. Several Christian leaders remain imprisoned in the southern province of Savannakhet.


* move the conscience of Khamkeut district's governor, Thongsam, to recognise injustice and work to set things right. 'The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.' (Proverbs 21:1 ESV) May the displaced Christians be permitted to return to their homes and farms, may they prove to be a blessing to the village and may the Holy Spirit move through Ko Hai village and Khamkeut district.

* be a powerful sustaining presence -- a sanctuary -- to all those Christians imprisoned in harsh conditions in Laos for their faith; may the Holy Spirit fill them to overflowing so that those who abuse them cannot help but be deeply challenged by their enduring faith and their amazing grace.

Remember, the Lord '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).

* provide the struggling yet growing Lao Church with all it needs for the enormous task it faces; may he provide pastors, evangelists, linguists, literature, media, labourers, comforters, supporters and especially an abundance of divine wisdom with which to navigate the social, religious and political situation especially at the village level. 'The Lord is my shepherd . . .' (Psalm 23)


The animism practised by Laos' ethnic minorities require constant appeasement of spirits. When villagers become Christians and stop participating in sacrifice and rituals, animists consider this a serious threat. Fearful and angry, animist villagers drive Christians from their homes and farms, expelling them from their village and leaving them destitute. Six ethnic Hmong families (25 individuals) recently driven out of their village in central Laos are desperate to return. Please pray as the district governor, Thongsam, has agreed to investigate. Also seven ethnic Hmong were arrested in Laos' far north-west on 2 November after they became Christians. Five were released after renouncing their faith, while the two who refused to recant were imprisoned. Lao prisons are squalid and torture is routine. Please pray for Laos and its Church.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).