In Laos, as in many persecuted countries, Christian persecution often comes from the family when they discover a family member has turned from their family’s religion. In this article, we meet 17-year-old Nani* and sixteen-year-old Nha Phong* who received Christ in Laos, where Buddhism, animism, and communism live side by side, and room for Christianity is tight. The sisters met with some of our Open Doors representatives in a church, traveling for a day to be far away from their remote village where threats and danger lie. Their greatest danger? Their family who tied them up, locked them out of the house, and left them there for four days.
An Easy But Weighty Decision
Nani’s words echo through the small chamber long after she has stopped singing. It was a sacred moment, as if a choir of monks had just performed in an old monastery. But Nani sings as a one-woman choir, the words leaving her lips as a gentle river of living water.
”When we pray in the name of Jesus, we will win, and the darkness has to flee.”
The melody was light and cheery, a worship song fitting the prayers and hopes of a young, innocent girl. But though young and innocent, Nani and her sister Nha Phong are no strangers to pain–it was inflicted on them by the ones they loved the most.
In autumn 2016, Nani, 17 and her sister Nha Phong, 16, received Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Their decision to follow Him has been a difficult journey and still today they meet persecution – especially from their own family.
“My cousin told me about the Good News,” says Nani. “He is a pastor in a church located in a village near ours. I liked what I heard very much, and that´s why I became a believer.”
It was an easy decision – she talked about it lightly, but the commitment she made was weighty. The love she received from God was so great that it filled her and overflowed.
Even though Nani and her sister haven’t been Christians for very long, Nani began leading worship at the church and Nha Phong started taking care of the children in Sunday school. But their family, especially their dad, strongly opposed their decision to leave their animistic religion behind to become followers of Jesus.
‘Do You Still Believe in God’
“When we went to church one time, our family became very angry at us. They told us not to go. My cousin and nephew said I needed to go back to my old religion, and if I didn’t they would hit me and force me out of the church,” says Nani.
That time, the cousin did not fulfil his threat, and he let her be. But three weeks later, things got worse. Both Nani and Nha Phong went to worship that day.
Nani says it was she who came to the church first because she would lead the worship, and her younger sister came after her. Several cousins and family members – around six to nine people – followed them secretly. Outraged, they dragged the sisters out of the church.
“They tied us up and my dad hit my sister, but he didn’t hit me. I don’t know why,” says Nani.
They took the sisters back to their village, where they were separated and kept tied up for several days.
“They took me to my uncle’s house and asked me over and over again: ‘Do you still believe in God?’ They threatened me and told me that unless I renounced my new faith, they would keep me tied up,” says Nha Phong.
Eventually, after four days, the sisters were released. They speak quickly about this time and hesitate to go into details. It is difficult to talk about what happened.
“Our family was still very upset over our decision to stand firm in our faith in Jesus,” says Nha Phong.
‘Our strength is a gift from God’
Nani and Nha Phong’s mother has not been as upset as their dad, but she has not defended them. Sometimes she has followed her daughters to church, but she has not yet received Christ as her Saviour.
“Our mother never hit us, but our father did. He did this after the head of the village told him to. Dad listened to the authorities who did not want us to go to church,” says Nani.
In Laos, the family ties are strong, and you listen to and obey your parents. When the sisters decided to follow Jesus, they opposed their father by refusing to leave their new faith.
“It has been really hard to not obey our father, who is the head of the family. But we want to obey Jesus more than anyone. We know that Jesus died for us, and we do not want to go back to our old religion. Even if it is difficult, we want to follow Jesus,” says Nani. She continues with a gentle smile: “I believe that our strength to stand firm is a gift from God. God gave us the passion to believe.”
But the situation hasn’t been easy for them, and their dad has not allowed them to keep their Bible.
“He didn’t want my Bible in the house, so he took my Bible and hid it somewhere I couldn’t find it. I found it later, so now I can read my Bible again,” says Nani, with an obvious joy.
Displaced from their home
The girls have been able to go to church for Sunday service from time to time, but this is not without risks.
“The head of the village told our mum that if we, her daughters, continue to go to church, they will throw us in jail. They said that we should get out of the village,” says Nha Phong.
In May this year, the authorities came to apprehend them, together with seven other Christians. Shortly after, the sisters were released and they escaped to another village, displaced from their home. Today they live in their Christian cousins’ village. And thanks to Open Doors supporters, they will receive help to stand firm in their faith in Christ. But still, the sisters don’t know what the future will look like, whether or not their family will someday accept their new faith.
“There is a Bible verse in Ephesians 6,” Nani says. “When people fought in the past, they used a shield, and I want to have faith like a shield. When the evil one tries to shoot arrows at us, I will use the shield to protect me. So I have to put my faith in Jesus.”
Her younger sister cannot read and has no access to the Word of God other than through the pastor’s preaching or through worship when she’s able to come to Church.
“But I believe in my heart,” says Nha Phong with a shy smile.
Maybe the fact that she can’t read the Bible on her own is the reason singing worship songs means so much for Nha Phong. The words in the songs remind Nha how faithful God is – even under persecution.
Like Nani, Nha Phong sung her favourite song for us. Earnest and pure, her childlike refrain rang sweetly through the sanctuary. She declared God’s goodness and greatness: “Let us praise the Lord, He died for us, let us praise his name, Hallelujah.” Her song comes straight from the heart, and it does not leave anyone untouched.
Through your support, Christians in Laos receive persecution preparedness training, practical aid and trauma counselling. Through our partners on the ground, we have extended help to Nani and Nha Phong, and we fellowshipped and prayed for them during our visit. Through your prayers, giving, and visits, more persecuted youth in Buddhist countries can be encouraged.
Pray for Nani and Nha Phong:
That their mother, father and cousins will come to believe in Jesus.
That God will give Nani and Nha the strength and courage to stand firm, and that they will know Him better.
That Nha will be able to learn to read and write so that she can read the Word of God for herself. Pray that she will always be near God, and that she will get to know Him better.
*Names changed for security reasons