Recant your faith or get out – that’s the ultimatum issued recently to 50 Christians living in a rural community in central Laos.
On August 30, leaders of Nongdaeng village summoned representatives of 11 Christian families to the government headquarters building for an official meeting instructing them to recant their Christian faith and return to their village’s traditional animist religion.
According to a report from the Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF), on August 30 the leaders of Nongdaeng village summoned representatives of 11 Christian families to the government headquarters building for an official meeting concerning religious affairs in the village.
During the meeting officials ordered all 11 families, comprising 50 men, women, and children, to recant their Christian faith and return to their village’s traditional animist religion.
“They charged these Lao Christians with believing the religion of a foreign Western power, which is considered destructive to the Lao nation,” stated HRWLRF. “Officials expressed their intention that no Christian faith can be adhered to or practiced in Nongdaeng.”
The order took effect immediately, and the Christians were given three days to comply. However, on Sunday, September 1, this committed group of believers continued to practice their faith and conducted worship in one of their homes. The Lao Christians insisted they have the religious right and protection under their country’s constitution to practice their faith in the village.
“Between April and May 2013, three Lao Christian families began worshiping God in their homes in Nongdaeng village. Prior to that period of time, they had been traveling to Nonsomboon village for worship, which is about 70 kilometers from Nongdaeng,” the HRWLRF reported.
“After beginning the worship in their homes, eight other families in Nongdaeng became interested in the Christian faith and decided to embrace Christianity themselves, resulting in a total of 11 Christian families at the present time.”
HRWLRF is appealing to the Lao government to allow the believers in Nongdaeng to stay and to freely live out their Christian faith. In addition, the group is urging the Lao government to punish village officials for “illegally issuing an eviction order that has now brought hardship to the lives, as well as defamation of the name and honor of Nondaeng villagers who are Christians.”
In February, Christian Aid reported a similar incident in which a couple in their 50s was evicted from their home village when they converted to Christianity.
Open hostility and persecution of Christians continues in Laos, where over 56 percent of the population is Buddhist and animist traditions remain prevalent in rural areas. Evangelical Christians make up less than two percent of the population.
Despite the challenges, a Christian Aid-assisted ministry in Laos is working quietly behind the scenes to start fellowships among small groups of believers.
If the 11 families are displaced, the ministry would like to supply them with mats, blankets, and pillows. They also want to give them five cows to help them become financially self-sufficient, as well as building materials.