Recently I came back from a Laos Youth Leader’s Conference in Northeast Thailand that I
helped organize along with some of my Thai colleagues. The original plan was to go there somewhere in Vientiane and help teach them how to run a conference. Unfortunately so many government restrictions placed upon the church hamper any significant help we could offer. So we invited them to come to Thailand. About seventy of them joined us for three days and two nights of teaching, worship and fun!
One of the things that become evident quickly to someone like me who has ministered in Thailand for twenty years and has lived on the Mekong River for two years is that the social and religious context of Laos is very different from the larger Thailand. Laos is a communist state. During the beginnings of communism in 1975 the government tried its best to eradicate Christianity and persecution was harsh for the years following. In the 1990’s the persecution lessened, but the church is still looked upon with a wary eye because of its association with the western free world. There have been seasons of increased pressure on the church in the late nineties and still flares up every once in awhile.
Even though there is a resurgence of Buddhism taking place in Laos, Christianity too, in the midst of all the difficulties, is growing. Some point out that it has made some significant gains mostly among the ethnic tribal communities, but it has also made gains among the Lao people as well. I was told by one of the top leaders that serves as a liaison to the government that the churches have grown to 600 in number in this extremely poor country. He shared with me that the greatest way we could help them now is with training and helping poor families with the education of their children.
Our theme for this past conference was courage. The attentive participants responded wholeheartedly to this challenge and need. The prayer times were intense, the worship was sincere and a sense that this was the right timing for the message was confirmed. Four of the participants had recently spent a month in jail for holding a meeting with kids in a village without receiving permission from the authorities. One of the young men told me the story with tears on how the cell barely had room to lay down for the many incarcerated. Imagine the stench of having no fans, no electricity, one toilet and thirty cell mates! Another young lady told me how she was interrogated four times for her decision to be a leader in the church, once at gunpoint.
What was particularly exciting to me is that the Thai National leadership that I am a part of has taken this country of Laos on as their first official mission field. There are still no Thai missionaries from the group I work with living in Laos, but relationships are being established.
Pastor Songran Wathasitthikul shared powerfully on how she had, as a child, fled Laos to come to live in Thailand. Listen to her brief story.
It has been 33 years since I had to flee Laos at the tender age of 5 years. I still remember hearing the bombs and guns as I joined my father and mother fleeing from the communist takeover. We gathered all our resources and hired a fisherman to take us to the other side of the Mekong River, it was Thailand. That was my new home, North East of Thailand where I grew up in the city of Khon Kaen and eventually found the Love of God.
So for me to be invited to be part of the teaching team for this camp was incredible. In fact at this particular camp something happened in me that’s never happened before at all the other camps I have been a part of. It was like my calling to ministry and God’s preparation time in my life were colliding towards a greater fruition, confirmation and maturity. It was like watching my life on screen and seeing the hand of God clearer than before and the voice of God saying, “This is why you were born!” What a powerful confirmation of His life’s purpose for me!
During this camp I also saw how wonderfully God inspired the Youth to seek His face. God was near, so near that we met Him, loved Him. I believe Laos will have greater hope because of what God has spoken and prepared from the womb of Laotian women. Those lives will grow and will become a show of God’s loving grace to Laos, there is no doubting this.
Yuwaadee Kajoonsri, who is the Thai Youth Coordinator , also had some good words to say. She says,
“The pressure of living in Laos has made the Christian Youth hungrier to know God and to worship Him. Maybe it is not so surprising that the Youth were ready to respond to the challenge of courage during our conference. They were reinforced and renewed in their love for Jesus to make a difference in Laos. The Lord spoke powerfully about the ownership of Laos. It belongs to the Lord and ultimately the people of God shall be bold as lions in the land!”
It is ironic that I used to live on the border of Laos, on the Mekong river, but have never stepped foot into this land-locked country. Each morning as I walked down the steps I could see Laos across the river and would pray silently for the day I could encourage my Christian family there. God has had other plans and has seen fit for me to invite the family over to our Thai side. I’ve been doing this for some years now. But one day I am determined to feel the Laotian soil between my toes. One day, maybe soon, a Thai young man or woman will respond to a sense of calling to this nation and move his family there to be an inspiration and a help. But for now, we continue to hope and pray for new freedoms, new courage, and new love for the Laotian Youth Leaders of today.