When an impoverished woman in Laos died earlier this year, no relatives attended her funeral because she had left their ancestral religion to follow Christ.
Family members had let her waste away in poverty, refusing to care for her because of her faith, a local ministry leader said. Workers for the ministry arranged her burial, inviting villagers they had ministered to in various community and gospel outreaches.
Five Christian families that had also shown God’s love to many villagers attended the July 9 funeral as well. With the equivalent of US$30, the ministry was able to buy food for everyone who came to the burial, and as a local missionary described the Lord’s place in the woman’s life, he explained Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection.
When the service ended, 29 people expressed their willingness to trust in the God of the love they had experienced, the local ministry leader said.
“There were five families, one with 17 people, and all of them accepted Jesus,” he said. “They tore down all of the spirits’ altars inside of their houses and cut down all the items related to the spirits they had worshipped. All the unbelievers had just kept watching to see what Christians would do for the funeral, because this woman was the first Christian who died in this village. Thank you, God!”
Threat of Persecution
The gospel is finding receptive hearts in many areas of Laos even with the widespread threat of persecution.
Most anti-Christian hostilities in the communist country come in the form of clan pressure, with relatives and neighbors enlisting local officials to help exert pressure on new Christians. As people come to Christ, local leaders expel families from their homes or ostracize them – cutting off water supplies, prohibiting them from buying and selling and forbidding others to talk with them.
These measures effectively drive Christians into jungles. At least 40 Christians in Laos were forced to leave their homes or go into hiding for faith-related reasons last year, according to Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List report – in that category, worse than Libya, Nepal, China and 35 other countries. Those expulsions contributed to Laos ranking 22nd among the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
While Christian leaders have urged national officials to protect minority religions from bullying by local officials, grounds for village chiefs to persecute Christians remain. A 2016 decree on religion in Laos states that nearly all aspects of religious practice – holding religious services, building houses of worship, modifying existing structures, and establishing new congregations in villages where none existed – require permission from a local Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA) branch office.
The decree empowers MOHA to halt any religious activities or beliefs not in agreement with policies, “traditional customs,” laws, or regulations within its jurisdiction, whether or not a group is officially recognized or registered nationally. In a country where 60 percent of the population is Buddhist and 32 percent are animists practicing ethnic religions, a decree prohibiting anything against “traditional customs” gives village heads ample opportunity to persecute preachers of a new faith.
While the Lao government officially recognizes the religious umbrella groups for Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and the Baha’i, under the decree village officials can find several pretexts for arresting Christians – “causing social division” by preaching the gospel, worshipping Christ or introducing a new faith.
In spite of such threats, the Lao people are embracing Christianity – including several who put their faith in Christ at another funeral.
A local missionary officiating the funeral of a Christian on June 26 presented the gospel using diagrammed illustrations that he otherwise used in gospel presentations. After 18 people present indicated they wanted to follow the Lord in answer to a choice given on the last diagram, the worker led them to faith in Christ.
In another village on July 18, local missionaries led 16 people to Christ, raising the number of Christians there to 49. About a week earlier in another area, workers had provided radios for listening to digital audio messages from the ministry leader. Villagers clung to every word.
“One worker said one man was sitting and holding his radio and listening,” the ministry leader said. “Suddenly, he saw the worker come to him and greet him, and he thought the worker was the man preaching on the radio. He grasped his hand so tightly.”
The worker let him know that he was not actually the speaker and invited him and 16 other people who had been listening to the digital audio messages to a talk.
“They invited those 17 people to come and attend the seminar,” the leader said. “All of them came and accepted Jesus.”
Through home visits, social media messages, digital audio and radio broadcasts, local missionaries are seeing Lao people put their faith in Christ despite the threat of losing their home and communities where most have lived their entire lives. Please consider a donation today to equip and encourage workers.