Update: We have just received word that Wayne, Autumn, and Joseph have been deported and crossed the border into Thailand Thursday afternoon.
Laos (MNN) – Lao authorities detained three Americans in the Luang Namtha province and seized their passports 10 days ago, accusing them of ‘disseminating religion’ without proper approval.
Todd Nettleton is a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA. “The three Christians were a part of a team that was traveling from a ministry that’s based in Wyoming, a ministry called Vision Beyond Borders. They were detained, apparently handing out Gospel-related materials.”
Due to the sensitive nature of the situation, VBB identified the three Americans by their first names only: Wayne, Autumn, and Joseph. As of this writing, the trio remains in a guest house in Luang Namtha, according to Radio Free Asia. Of the charges, that’s yet to be determined. Nettleton says, “My understanding was this was not Bibles, but rather mp3 players with the Scripture recorded as well as other Scripture recordings that they were giving out.”
From Where Does The Pressure Come?
On the issue of ‘disseminating religion’, Nettleton explains, “The law is that the government wants to control the distribution of Christian materials. Bibles are not sold in bookstores. They’re not available to the general public. At a government-sanctioned church, you can get a Bible. So a group from America that is just freely distributing Christian materials is going to get the attention of the Lao authorities.”
Nettleton says this case has a couple of unusual elements to it. First, “A lot of the persecution that happens, happens at the village level. If somebody becomes a Christian, the other people in the village may say ‘we don’t want any Christians in our village because that might anger the spirits of our ancestors, so if you’re going to be a Christian, you’re going to have to leave.’”
Second, “It appears that the US Embassy there in Laos is involved in the situation, so the US government is aware of what’s going on and is working on behalf of these three Christians. At this point, probably the most significant thing we can do is pray.”
It could be the involvement of the US Embassy that kicked things into a more high profile situation since persecution doesn’t typically come down from the national government level. “It’s interesting to see Americans be detained and see that escalate up to the national level of ‘why are these Americans being held? What’s the charge against them?’”
However, there’s another issue to consider. “The other question obviously, from a ministry standpoint is, what happens to other Christians that they may have connected with, or spoken to, even met on the street in Laos? Will there be some repercussions for those believers. We pray that that’s not the case.”
A Call To Action
In a press release, Vision Beyond Borders says it “exists to serve the persecuted church in closed nations around the world. It directly supports Children’s Homes for orphaned and impoverished children, Safe Houses for women against sex trafficking provides refugee relief supplies for the Middle East, provides Bibles to impoverished and oppressed Christians, and supports pastors and mission work in closed countries.”
The ministry came to the defense of the three detained Americans and added the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1 which states:
Article 18 Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.
Article 19 Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
VBB calls for the release of Wayne, Autumn and Joseph, and further asserts, “The government of Laos is acting in direct contradiction to the Universal Declaration. This is part of a larger pattern of serious oppression against Christians and other minorities in Laos as documented by the 2017 International Religious Freedom Report 2 .”
As the situation is still unfolding, Nettleton urges us to “Pray for these three Americans that are being detained. We can pray for the protection of any Lao Christians that were their contacts or were working with them.”
Headline photo courtesy Open Doors USA