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Hope and fear as vandalized Lao church reopens

House church in Kaleum Vangke village in Savannakhet province’s Xonboury district is being rebuilt under ministry's protection
A Lao Christian woman is seen in this undated image. Christians in Laos face abuses as many Buddhists still consider Christianity an alien faith.

A Lao Christian woman is seen in this undated image. Christians in Laos face abuses as many Buddhists still consider Christianity an alien faith. (Photo by Alamy via Open Doors US)

Published: March 01, 2024 10:55 AM GMT
Updated: March 01, 2024 11:22 AM GMT

Christian villagers in southern Laos expressed joy after a house church vandalized earlier this month was being rebuilt but also feared further attacks from Buddhists who consider Christianity an alien faith.

The house church in Kaleum Vangke village in Savannakhet province’s Xonboury district is being rebuilt under the protection and supervision of the Ministry of Public Security, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Feb. 29.

The Evangelical Church used by dozens of members was vandalized by a Buddhist mob led by local village authorities on Feb. 4 during Sunday liturgy. During the attack, the mob reportedly burned copies of the Bible and other documents.

This week, the officials from the ministry announced Christians could resume worship in the church and asked local Buddhists not to harass Christians anymore, RFA reported.

An unnamed source said Christians were eager to start worship despite the rebuilding was not complete as they had no other place for worship.

“So, starting this week, we are rebuilding our place of worship. Right now, we are putting wooden planks back up,” the source said.

A local Christian who declined to be named said that they would not back down from continuing their worship despite threats from the villagers.

“The village authorities and other non-Christian villagers are still threatening us to tear down our place of worship again,” the source said.

“But we are getting stronger now. We are not afraid to get together at that house anymore,” the source added.

The district-level authorities had warned the village authorities not to harass Christians again, the source told RFA.

Sources from the neighboring province of Saravan alleged that the Kaleum Vangke village authorities have banned visits from Christians of other villages for worship.

“Other Christians still feel unsafe to go there,” the source said.

The incident was the latest in a string of similar assaults and legal moves against Christians in the communist state.

The attacks against Christians, mostly in rural parts of the country, continue despite Laos passing a law in 2019 that recognizes freedom of religion or belief.

Critics say very little efforts were made to publicize the law across the country where many Buddhists still consider Christianity as a foreign religion.

Buddhist-majority Laos recognizes Christianity, Islam, and the Baha'i faiths.

Yet, Laos is ranked among the top Asian nations for violation of religious freedom.

US-based Christian rights group, Open Doors, ranks Laos 21st among 50 nations in the world where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

A government official said religious freedom situation remains largely unchanged due to a lack of implementation of the law, so many villagers are unaware of the right to practice faith freely.

“The district police haven’t done anything to re-educate or punish those village authorities and the group of villagers who tore down the Christian place of worship yet,” the official told RFA on condition of anonymity.

There are an estimated 212,000 Christians out of about 7.4 million people in Laos, according to Open Doors.

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