Our trip through Asia recently took us from Vietnam to Laos, and as usual we prayed for God to show us a glimpse of what he is doing in this destitute, corrupt, spiritually blind country.
Laos has been squashed by bigger neighbours right through its history. It is land-locked, mountainous in the north and stinking hot in the south. At various times the Thais, Khmers from Cambodia, French and the Vietnamese have ruled it. Some 2 million US bombs were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War in an effort to stop supplies coming down to The Vietcong in South Vietnam. This destabilised the monarchy and allowed Communism to usurp power. Hundreds of thousands of Hmong hill tribes people from the north, who had been fighting with the Americans, then had to flee the country, mostly to the USA.
the current Communist government oversees a deeply impoverished country and it is mainly their own fault. They steal everything from their people, from foreign aid doners, from the Chinese, from tourists. They are thugs with a whole country at their mercy and tolerate zero non-government institutions and activity. To illustrate; internationally respected organic agricultural pioneer, Sombath Somphone, disappeared off the streets of Vientiane in late 2012. Camera footage shows him being abducted by police. His crime; becoming too popular with local people trying to improve their lives. He was outside the only authority allowed, the government. Never did he have any political intentions, such is the insecurity of the politically incestuous idiot thugs that run Laos.
The mighty Mekong is Laos’ greatest resource, and at present there are at least fifty hydro dams recently constructed, under construction, or planned, with Chinese money of course. With increased daming upstream in China, combined with climate change, many are deeply worried about the future of this river system. The super high speed rail link from China to Singapore is also under construction but development has not yet reached Laos. The Chinese era of colonisation has begun.
into this sad situation, one rarely considered seriously by the throng of western and Asian tourists that come to Laos for pleasure of various descriptions, God is at work. The French occupation from the late 19th century till the onset of Communism left a legacy of backwardness…and the Catholic Church. Somehow though, in the midst of suffering and poverty, the seed of the true gospel has taken root. Some 2.5% of the population is now in relationship with Jesus. This is higher than all other South East Asian countries. Most of this number made up of believers from the various hill tribe peoples of the north, people who were not Buddhist but animist. This is a very similar situation to that of Vietnam. Nearly all of these believers meet in homes as no non-Buddhist religious buildings are allowed to be built in Laos. This simply speeds the growth.
During our 10 day journey from Vientiane to the far north we met no believers. However on our last day in the country something interesting happened. Annette was downstairs at the laundry section of our hotel and started chatting to a young local lad in his early twenties who had started working at the hotel just two days earlier. It turns out he had just completed his training as a novice Buddhist priest, as many young men do in this part of the world. When Annette mentioned she was a Christian he replied with a startling statement. He said he was on a journey to becoming a Christian himself!!! He had lost faith in Buddhism and had been engaging with a local Christian for four months and had wanted to learn about the teachings of Jesus.
His greatest stumbling block was interesting. He said he had been asked to teach on Buddhism at the local university and felt he couldn’t do so if he became a believer in Jesus. Annette helped him out by telling him of the Hindus and Muslims we have met in India who now happily worship Jesus while keeping their traditional external culture. She suggested he teach the good things from Buddhism as a lifestyle while maintaining his faith in Jesus. He seemed visibly relieved at hearing is news. The next morning we gave him a translation of Pauls writings to keep, and then caught the bus. It was all over so quickly. God is good!