Taking the good news into Laos
In this age of instant information and the Internet, few places in the world remain as remote and unexplored as Laos. It is surrounded by high, rugged mountains to the north, east and south; and by the mighty Mekong River along its western borders.
A dense, tropical forest covers the land, as the Mekong cuts its way through the mountains. Laos is truly breathtaking, but also truly challenging for those seeking to reach its 138 different people groups with the gospel.
About 60% of the people are Buddhists. However, the Department of Religious Affairs ensures that the teaching of Buddhism is carried out in accordance with Marxist principles. All monks have to undergo political indoctrination as part of their monastic training.
Almost all communities in Laos practise ancestor worship to some degree, often combined with animistic or Buddhist rituals. Adherents to ancestor worship believe they are responsible for the well-being of the souls of their ancestors.
The bulk of recent Protestant missionary work in Laos took place in a narrow window from 1954 until 1975. With the triumph of communism in 1975, all foreigners were expelled from the country.
The communists sought to wipe out religion. The persecution of Christians was exceptionally harsh between 1975 and 1978. During this time at least 90% of the trained church leaders fled the country and all Bible schools were closed.
Persecution and restrictions continued throughout the 1980s, with many believers imprisoned and Christian fellowships quashed. The years from 1997 until this present day have been the most oppressive for Christians since the communists came to power. Christians have been imprisoned and forced to sign statements rejecting their faith. Many have been put to death.
But today a group of Christians on short-term mission are visiting Laos, as the Lord leads them, to share their faith through mass distribution of gospel literature.
Through ‘Operation Monsoon’, mission agency AsiaLink is providing an opportunity to be directly involved in reaching Laos for Christ. Evangelistic work is difficult for the Lao people; for one thing, they are severely restricted in their movement around the country, both by communist officials and the mountainous terrain.
But even more inhibiting is the government’s stated policy of eradicating Christianity, for which it has allocated a significant budget.
At the heart of Operation Monsoon lie the stirring words of the apostle Paul: ‘The important thing is that in every way Christ is preached. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known’ (Romans 15:20).
Operation Monsoon is part of the work of Great Commission Christians to spread the gospel through various media forms, in the languages of the unreached people groups of Laos. That includes using tracts, booklets, audiocassettes, CDs, videos and DVDs.
The literature has been written or translated by national Christians using their first language in a culturally sensitive way without compromising the truth of the gospel.
A primary goal is to bring these people from never having heard the gospel to a general knowledge of Jesus Christ. Mass literature distribution plays a significant role in this work. Teams also deliver specific teaching and discipleship material for the church.
This literature distribution is part of a wider co-ordinated evangelistic effort by the underground church to reach the people of Laos.
Helped by radio broadcasts from a neighbouring country and — most importantly — by national Christians from Laos mobilising in personal evangelism, untouched tribes of Laos are now hearing of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone.
The underground church has seen significant growth in recent years and may number up to 100,000 professed believers.
These short-term trips, lasting from 2½ weeks to summer expeditions, are not without personal risk. The work undertaken by teams going into Laos would result in certain arrest and severe punishment if carried out by Lao believers.
Travelling for hours up and down the Mekong River and by pick-up along barely-made dusty roads, teams carry gospel literature to the needy tribal people of Laos.
We hope that Christians around the world will be motivated to pray for Laos. Two thousand years after Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, most of the people of Laos are still waiting to hear the gospel for the first time.