Lao Officials Confiscate Church Buildings and Order Christians to Recant Faith
The two-day “Tricks of the Enemy” seminar warning against religious belief, which Khamnonsung Villagers were required to attend April 3-5, proved to be a sign of things to come. The advocacy group Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) reported that, following the seminar, Lao officials confiscated and sealed a church in Khamnonsung Village.
According to villagers present at the seminar, the officials alleged that Westerners were using the Christian faith to destabilize the government and declared that the 745 Christians in the village could only meet in private homes. They also claimed that permission had not been given for constructing the Khamnonsung church building – even though it was erected in 1963, prior to the 1975 Communist takeover of Laos. “How do these officials know that Khamnonsung did not follow proper procedures?” HRWLRF asks. “And if a permit is required for this building, why wait 49 years to tell them?”
Only one church in the district is now officially allowed to be open; all others will soon be shut down, HRWLRF reported. Some local Christians, however, have begun standing up to the officials. Protesting the restricted access to worship facilities, members of two other Lao churches recently met for worship in buildings that were previously confiscated by authorities. According to HRWLRF, at 7 a.m. on Sunday (April 1), Kengweng church members, whose church was confiscated on February 22nd, boldly removed the padlock from the door of their building, entered and worshipped there. Members of Dongpaiwan village church – closed by officials on September 22nd – did not enter their building but assembled outside of it for worship. A church in Nadeng village was confiscated on December 4, but members have not yet dared to meet in or go near the building.
The situation in this province is typical of recent increased pressure on Christians throughout Laos. In northern Laos, officials recently ordered Christians in several villages to renounce their faith or face expulsion, reports HRWLRF. On March 2, some 20 local officials summoned pastor Khamla of Dongvieng village, and sharply rebuked him for believing in Christianity. After interrogation, officials ordered Khamla to give up his faith within five days or “be cast out of the village.” Khamla was the only known Christian among the 20,000 people living in Viengphuka district.
On February 18, the chief of Hueygong village in northern Laos ordered 10 Christian families in the village, a total of 65 people, to give up their faith or face expulsion. The Christians, most of whom had become Christians only three months earlier, were meeting for worship in the home of a church leader. District officials had previously ordered Christians to report the number of church members and churches and apply for official permission to adopt the Christian faith. A house church leader explained to HRWLRF that the district chief, the religious affairs office and the local secretary of the Communist Party have to give their approval before Christians can openly confess faith and worship God. When local Christians failed to provide the numbers, officials gave them a month to recant their faith or face expulsion. To date the Christians have held firm to their faith, and authorities have yet to follow through on the eviction order.
Father, thank You for the faithfulness of these Lao Christians, many of whom are new to the faith. Strengthen them to remain faithful and enfold them in the safety of Your strong right arm. Bring about justice to allow them to worship together. Even in dispersion, may Your Spirit strengthen them through Your Word in the Bible. Protect them from discouragement and bitterness, and instead fill them with the hope of Christ. In the name of Jesus whom they worship, Amen.