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BosNewsLife (12/27/05) – A lack of Bibles and Christian literature in Laos is now becoming “the biggest threat” to rapidly growing Christian communities in rural areas of the Communist Asian nation, evangelical leaders say.

The Communist government imposed restrictions on the distribution of Bibles effected villages near the border with Thailand, where churches experience unprecedented growth, BosNewsLife established.

“But without Bibles and Christian literature, the many new Christians can not grow in their faith and study God’s word,” said 38-year old Pastor Khampet Deesakoun of an evangelical church in Nam Tee, a remote village of roughly 700 people, about 150 kilometers (94 miles) from the capital Vientiane.

The father of six children became “a born again Christian” 10 years ago and said the small church he started with a handful families grew into a thriving congregation of over 400 people. “About half of the villagers have become Christians, while the rest are still Buddhists or pray to ghosts,” he explained.

IMPOVERISHED POPULATION

He spoke as Asian cows and chickens were competing for attention with the impoverished villagers who saw Christian foreign aid workers, and a reporter, for the first time in their lives.

“We never received any help from outside,” they were told by an emotional Pastor Deesakoun speaking through an interpreter, after opening the doors of an unfinished church on a muddy hill top overlooking the Mekong river.

Besides Bibles, Lao Christians are in need of medical attention, the pastor suggested. That’s why the visiting team of US-based Christian Freedom International (CFI), a Christian advocacy and aid group, also included a doctor, nurse and dentist with packages of medical aid and toys for children.

LONG LINES

As news spread of the arrival of foreigners, long lines of people, including Buddhists, gathered in and outside the windowless church in hope to meet a doctor for the first time. “We don’t fix a teeth as in the West, but pull it out if needed, because many of these people will not see another doctor for years to come,” explained CFI Director Jim Jacobson.

“In addition we hand out medicines for illnesses such as Malaria, which is a big killer here…,” he said, as a woman nearby held two infants on her lap, waiting for a doctor.

While operations and consultations were underway in a filthy, hot, makeshift hospital corner of the church, children began singing Lao “revival” songs. Elsewhere in the village, Americans showed smiling children how to say, and sing, “God is Good,” in an apparent effort to help overcome anxiety within Christian families over persecution. Balloons were flying overhead. CFI also gave $100 dollars to complete construction of the village church, an amount that would have otherwise taken three years for locals to collect, Jacobson said.

A plan to bring Bibles to Nam Tee was cancelled Wednesday, August 10, following reports from Christians here that feared Communist secret service officials had been monitoring the area.

PASTOR SAD

Pastor Deesakoun appeared disappointed. “We really need Bibles and Christian literature. Also I need to grow and study more [to fulfill my dream] of planting new churches in nearby villages and preaching the Gospel there,” he told BosNewsLife.

However “I know of several villages where police broke up meetings, detained people and closed down a church,” warned 24-year old Xieng Suliyong Onbutda, a native Christian youth worker and CFI supporter, with close knowledge of the situation in villages across the region.

CFI and other human rights watchdogs are not surprised about the government’s perceived hard-line stance towards the spread of Bibles. Laos, they say, is a totalitarian and authoritarian country that seeks to control religious thought and expression. But the authorities have denied involvement in human rights abuses against religious and ethnic minorities.

GOVERNMENT POWER

“The practice of Christianity is often seen as a threat to the government’s power and the state’s ideology,” explained CFI President Jacobson. He spoke on a noisy motorboat, which links the village to the outside world. Watching those on board, the boat driver became a Christian himself Wednesday, August 10, despite expected persecution from Communist authorities, BosNewsLife learned.

Jacobson, a former White House official and analyst, stressed the Laos government prohibits foreigners from spreading Christianity and that those caught in distributing religious material can be arrested or deported. Laos officials have not reacted to the latest claims, but human rights workers say Christians are still tortured and in prison for their faith.

Jacobson defended CFI’s decision to smuggle Bibles into Laos if necessary. “I know the argument of some critics who say that our work is illegal. But I tell them that from a Christian perspective it is our obligation to fulfill His Great Mission so anyone can hear the Gospel.”

Christians comprise roughly 1.5 percent of the country’s mainly Buddhist population of over 6-million people according to estimates, but churches believe that number is rising in defiance of government oppression. Recently thousands of new Christians have been added to remote villages in what some now call “a revival,” according to church leaders. “I think that persecution can strengthen our faith…,” said Pastor Deesakoun.