”If I only had the opportunity to teach people the Scripture”, said Tom. “My classes would be so packed that I wouldn’t have a chance to help everybody”. Tom addresses the main obstacle that the Christian community in Laos face. State policy says that all religious teaching is prohibited, even tough most of the primary schools are located in Buddhist temples. The restriction does not apply for most of the Buddhist practises. Why? Due to a long Buddhist tradition the government has figured out that it is too difficult to restrict their practises, and the fact that quite a large portion of the high ranking officials are Buddhists doesn’t do any good for the situation either.
What are you saying? Should the government persecute the Buddhist population as well? In the apostle Paul’s wonderful fashion I will reply: No, far from it! But when 55 followers of Jesus are being thrown out of their village and have to live in caves in the mountain, just because of their belief, then there’s something wrong! This is, in fact, the only time the UN has reacted to the persecution in Laos, as far as I’m aware of. Today the Nobel Peace Prize Committee announced that Liu Xiaobo, the human rights activist in China has won the prize for his campaign against the government who continuously neglect the human rights in the country. We will have to see how much this prize will impact the situation there, but perhaps the Christian communities in Laos could use a Nobel Peace Prize winner as well?
Another aspect of the challenges the believers face in Laos is the scepticism the majority of the population have towards the church. To give you an example: There was a boy in a village that was sick and had a high fever. The parents took him to the local witchdoctor, which is common in the rural areas where there is a strong belief in phii, or evil spirits. When the witchdoctor failed they went to see a Christian lady who lived in the village. They asked her for help and she prayed for the sick child. A week later the child died. Did God not answer? Many of us would ask. But in here in Laos they had quite another reaction. A few days later the police shows up on the lady’s doorstep. They ask her: “What did you say to the child? What kind of spell did you put on him?” For the Lao society, the spiritual realm is so real that they were sure that the prayer was actually a curse.
For me this sounds weird and strange, but on the other hand it is quite scary. What if it is real? I don’t believe that the prayer was a curse, but what if the spiritual realm isn’t that far away as I would like it to be? What if our actions actually have a part to play on a stage far greater than this earth, not to mention our lives? The Bible says that everyone who believes in Christ will be persecuted (2. Tim 3,12). Is there actually a warfare going on here? And if we are to believe the Bible, then we also have to ask ourselves: Are we being persecuted? And if not, then are we actually living a god-fearing life?
At least in Laos it seems as if that is the case.