In December, Pastor Wanna informed authorities that church members would gather at his home on Wednesday (Jan. 5) to celebrate Christmas, in line with official celebrations by the government-approved Lao Evangelical Church scheduled between Dec. 5 and Jan. 15. But, on Jan. 4, while quietly sharing an evening meal, a truckload of district police officers with guns cocked and ready to shoot burst into Wanna’s house shouting, “Stop! Nobody move!” They then forcibly detained 11 Christians and charged them with conducting a “secret meeting” without approval.
Of those arrested most have been released, including two children ages 4 and 8. Three church leaders, Pastor Wanna from Nakoon village church, Chanlai from Tonglar village church and Kan from Nahin village church remain behind bars. These church leaders from the Hinboun district in Khammouan Province are being charged with a political offense that is punishable by law, according to advocacy group Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).
Since 2008 Pastor Wanna has been under the watchful eye of authorities. According to Compass News, it began when a handful of Christians began meeting at Wanna’s house. The number however soon grew to over 100 people, or 25 families. During that time, local officials repeatedly interrogated Wanna, threatening him with arrest and imprisonment if he did not renounce his faith and cease encouraging others to believe in God. Wanna, however, continued to hold meetings until officials arrested and imprisoned him last May.
Authorities then rounded up the church members and subjected them to several days of re-education. They declared that worship meetings were considered to be “secret meetings,” a term with political connotations punishable by law. Under great duress, five families or a total of 27 Christians signed documents renouncing their faith; the others refused, but they refrained from meeting together for fear of further punishment.
After releasing Wanna in October, officials warned him to practice his faith in private and hold no further meetings at his home. Wanna ignored these warnings which ultimately lead to the latest arrest.
Laos is the only other Communist-ruled country in the top 10 position on the 2011 World Watch List (with North Korea). The government’s attitude is very negative and restrictive towards Christians, and all believers are under strict surveillance because they are regarded as agents for the USA to bring political change in Laos towards “democracy.” Christian converts who renounce evil spirit worship come under great societal pressure. Despite the high level of persecution in Laos, there are many unregistered activities and the Church appears to be growing.
Father, as we read this report of persecution in Laos we stand in prayer with our brothers and sisters there, especially those who are in prison for their faith in You. Father we ask that while these men are in custody may many hear of You and accept You as their Lord. Be with these church leaders and give them Your strength to preserver in the midst of these trials. We also ask that You are with the church members helping them to stand strong and not cave into the pressure that surrounds them. May Your light shine brightly in their lives, drawing those who do not yet know You to Yourself. Amen
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Be On World Watch
Over the next 10 weeks Open Doors will host a countdown of the top ten countries on the 2011 World Watch List (WWL). Due to the recent political and social instability in the last few months, we will go against the “norm” and begin the countdown with the country listed in the eleventh position, Pakistan.