Reflections on Christian Laotian Youth

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.   


Reflections on a Canadian Summer

I am usually very reluctant to go back to my home country. It means hours of tedious air and car travel, public speaking, raising funds, and often poor mattresses for my bad back. And I could say that the above was pretty well true for much of my recent time in Canada. Nonetheless something happened in me to strengthen my heart and return my lost love for Canada.

If you love surprises, so do we, and the surprises began and kept coming…

The beauty of early summer. I have always had a love for ancient cultures and inspiring landscapes. While visiting England I have experienced the silent awe of walking the ground that was trod by kings and queens of antiquity. The very soil exhales history. While in France the narrow roads winding through fields of green and quaint villages whispered and tickled my soul. The centuries of cow paths now turned into roads and soldier’s foot battles must have happened mere inches from our presence. How I want to also boast of my native Holland and it’s windmills and brick roads reminding me of a heritage of hard working people who knew how to tame nature’s fury; not to metion the ancient cheeze recipes and salted licorice! Seriously, everywhere one would take a Euro-glance one would be greeted with a monument of man or nature that said, “We have been here way before you, yes, for countless generations.”

But my ‘Oh Canada’, so young, never gave me the sense of majesty and history like my birth continent. As I drove the back roads I saw uneven highway being gobbled up by unhappy growth and the wildness surrounded by sad-sack fences that needed human mending. The major highways were tedious with weeds and uninspiring landscapes. And yet this summer the boredom was replaced by a pulling in of the beauty of the Maples and Spruce and the wild untamed. I found the green of the grass thick with splendor. The hours on and in rivers warmed by summer’s heat invigorated my body with natures wild and dark-watery embrace. The cool evenings blessed me consistently, giving relief to hot days. The evening fireflies showing off their incandescent wonder delighting our eyes and inspiring a kiss or two by the sacred pond.

Then there was the joy of reconnecting with my church life. This was one place I wanted to avoid, the church stage of pressure and performance; it seemed to kill the natural bent of the land and my heart. How could I avoid putting a good show in these big buildings built explicitly for the show? Standing in front of hungry-for- validation-ears and I was being asked to validate myself so to justify my presence and their support of my ministry, or my mission. I asked the Lord to bless me with Jabez-like provision. I also told the Lord to free me from the worry and the need to ask for money, even if the iron was hot and the shirt needing pressing. I had booked every possible weekend but one. It too got booked in the city of Ottawa on the very day we celebrate our country. It was like Jabez’s prayer was stretching the centuries over upon us as we gawked with the tens of thousands for a sight of English royalty and being rewarded with a fleeting glimpse. My adopted daughter, who had spent all of 17 months of her 14 year old life on Canadian soil, squealed with delight on the shoulders of her mother, “I am so glad I am Canadian!”

And there were the unlikely friendships that were conceived unnaturally in Thailand by unknown Canadians who had come to experience first hand our lives. Instead of fading like the dandelion they took on a new shoot like the bamboo. Barbecues, boat rides, Wonderland, and horseback riding filled and thrilled our days. My family was blessed to live in the heart of Toronto the good for almost a month because of an unlikely friendship. And financial pressures were relieved when a Pastor asked his church near the beginning of our time to bless us so we could have fun without continually thinking about expenses. Surprised by the response to our message.

This could be really the better part of it all. After twenty years of spiritual and physical and mental labour in Thailand we had nothing really to boast about, save the grace of God. We spoke of our trials and failures and the dangers of entitlement. We shared of our changing perspective of what defines the good life. And then we closed the thirty minute presentation raising our Ebenezer to the sufficiency of God’s grace. Our scars speak not of shame, but of faith’s survival and renewal. So many words of encouragement afterwards left us thinking that the time spent in trials and testings may have had a deeper purpose than we thought possible.

I told my family that I was sad that we could not stay longer and see the snow fall and the air explode from our lungs on a frosty day. I was falling in love not only with the rugged beauty but with the Canadian way. It was all so wonderful and the stories and memories of the summer of 2011 will keep us riding the wave for a while still. Thank you Canada for your land nd freedom. And thank you the Pentecostal Assemblies, you have blessed me so much and remained my spiritual family for a long time. “I am so glad I am Canadian!”