Laos (MNN) — The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom urged Obama to discuss religious persecution in Laos at the ASEAN Summit this past weekend.
While it’s unclear whether or not this was a highlighted conversation, the USCIRF brings up an important reminder.
Christians in Laos are under the heavy weight of persecution.
The USCIRF says while some religious groups feel things are getting better for them, others continue to face harassment or legal punishment for their faith. They must also look to the government to approve big decisions or activities done as a religious group. The government’s activity against religious groups is described as systematic.
Patrick Klein of Vision Beyond Borders has been visiting Laos for 20 years. He says ministry to this area of the world is no cake walk.
“It’s very difficult because it is a communist country. The majority religion is Buddhism, but it is a communist country. We’re seeing them crack down more and more.”
Klein says, often, Laos and Vietnam take their cues from China. When China tightens the reins on the practice of Christianity, so do Laos and Vietnam.
The summit took place in Laos. Klein says, nearby, a man still waits imprisoned for his faith. Authorities are trying to find out who his contacts are who are bringing in Bibles.
Fighting on two different fronts
No matter where you live, Christianity will cost you something. There will be resistance to a life lived out like Jesus. In Laos, the resistance is in the form of government and religious majorities.
“Christians have to be very careful what they say,” Klein explains, “When they come to Christ, you’ve got two different elements that you’re dealing with — you’ve got communism, but also you have got Buddhism.
“Since Buddhism is kind of the accepted religion, when you become a Christian, you’re kind of a threat right there. They don’t want you to leave Buddhism, but then also you’ve got this communism element that’s trying to control your life as well.”
The truth is, no government can control the spread of the Gospel. No force on earth can inhibit God’s work. Instead, the Gospel seems to flourish under the heavy hand of persecution. And when governments like that of Laos feel the lack of control, they take it out on Christians even more.
“We’re seeing in the villages especially, the Christians are really being persecuted. They’re being arrested, they’re being detained by the police and held for days.”
Klein says earlier this year, two Vision Beyond Borders teams were arrested at gunpoint and placed into Laos prisons for over two days. Klein says it’s extremely unusual for them to mix American prisoners in the local prisons.
After these teams were released, they were not discouraged. In fact, they were reinvigorated in their work of helping the Church.
“It was good for them to see kind of what believers face on a daily basis in Laos — no access to Scripture in the Laos prisons.”
Waves of persecution
Klein says all over the world, persecution ebbs and flows. When he first started going to Laos, he says things were very tightly restricted. Over time they loosened up, but over the past few years, it’s gotten worse.
However, it’s during these times of persecution where Christians must fully lean on Jesus. And, it’s at these times when the Word of God, memorized and kept in their heart, gives them strength to keep going.
There is an attitude adopted by Christians who face trials daily. Klein says they always remember this place is not their home, and because of the life found in Jesus, no earthly peril will overcome them.
“These people, they’ve really suffered for their faith, and they really love Jesus and they realize this life is so temporal. And they realize the more they love Jesus, the more they will be hated by this world, and they’re seeing that lived out right in front of them.”
Klein says there is a sort of freedom in that knowledge, saying, “The more you die to yourself, the easier it is to live for Jesus.”
And so, with these Christians in mind to inspire us in our own walks, we ask you to be praying for them.
Klein says, “It’s important that Christians be praying — and not that the persecution ends — but that Christians will be strong, and that they’ll be bold in their faith, and that they will not back down, even though they have opposition, and that they’ll use every opportunity to preach the Gospel.”