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In the presence of my enemies

"In the presence of my enemies" Continued...

Issue: "When the base cracks," July 21, 2007

Vong appeared to use his time well while locked up. "When I was in prison," he said, "five others became Christians."

Vong also said that at other times local police have confiscated Bibles from his church members and burned them. The Lao Evangelical Church, recognized by the national government to oversee all Protestant groups, provided replacements.

0 Kham has undergone more recent duress. Government representatives visit his village regularly, and some fellow residents are watching the activities of Christians there to report anything suspicious to the authorities. He said the officials have visited his church's families individually and warned them about their worship practices and evangelizing. The officials told them Christianity "was from foreigners" and not the religion of the Lao government. He left the village undetected, he said, in order to attend a group meeting with other church leaders in his region.

"If they knew I was answering your questions," he said in the interview, "they will kill me."

He said four families left his church because of fear, but approximately 60 individuals remain. He has been told several times to dissolve his house church, and he even lost his job because of his Christianity.

0 Saeng leads a somewhat larger church and has planted a few other churches. His own church has grown rapidly since he began as pastor during the 1990s.

He says there have been many occasions when people who are ailing or suffering emotionally, but who may not be Christians, request him to come to minister to them in their villages. When he gets called to villages that are not his own, he is often questioned by local authorities. He has been threatened many times with imprisonment and further harassment.

In response Saeng says he called together the church leaders in his area to pray. Their desire, as with all of the men interviewed, is that they are allowed to serve the Lord in peace in their own country. They say they do not promote resistance against the government, nor do they desire to get involved in politics at all. But because fellow citizens and government officials see them as a threat, they end up having to answer to the government, anyway, which forces them to engage in politics.

Reports from human-rights organizations buttress the testimony of the Lao house-church leaders interviewed by WORLD. According to the State Department's 2006 Report on International Religious Freedom, "Authorities in some areas continued to display intolerance for minority religious practice, especially by evangelical Christians."

Most of the prejudice derives from those who don't want to see friends or family converted from their Buddhist or animist beliefs-the predominant religions of Laos. That makes Dao's work as intermediary seemingly without end. Dao at least is able to talk with most government representatives: "It is not a good relationship yet," he said, "but it is improving-very slowly."

-Paul Chesser is associate editor of Carolina Journal

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