The incredible story of how one Hmong church in rural Laos grew from the faith of one man and is now bursting at the seams. But Bibles are very scarce.
“We are truly blessed to be able to worship here,” says Pastor Va Cha, as he looks fondly at the modest wooden church that he helped build 10 years ago. “One of the very first things we did as a community when we moved to this area was build our church.”
Va and his congregation are from the Hmong ethnic minority ethnic group who number more than 400,000 in Laos. In 2003, his entire village – around 300 families – were among thousands of Hmong people who moved from the mountains in north Laos to Vientiane Province, where fertile land was more readily available. The people from Va’s village all settled together.
It was a fresh start for a changed people – just prior to moving all of them had given up their animist beliefs and become Christians through Va’s faith. He became a Christian in 2000 through listening in secret to FEBC radio programs in the Hmong language.
“I was fiddling with my radio one day and was excited to hear a broadcast in my mother tongue,” he says. “I stopped to listen and although I didn’t fully understand the things they were talking about, I felt soothed. So I kept listening in secret every day and one day I said the sinner’s prayer and gave my life to Christ.”
Va knew that he had to keep his new faith hidden. Turning his back on the traditional Hmong beliefs would have dire consequences, especially as his father was a well-respected shaman.
Gave each other courage
But over the next three years Va met three other Hmong people from other communities who had become Christians. Together they gave each other the courage to start sharing the Gospel.
His father was furious and tried to harm him by casting spells. But Va kept talking to him about Jesus. His father often used drugs as part of his shamanistic ceremonies and had become addicted to them. One day, in a drug-induced trance, he met the God that his son kept telling him about and became a Christian. One by one, everyone in the village turned to Christ, too.
“Now our church is bursting at the seams with all the people who come,” smiles Va, who plans to build an extension to accommodate his rapidly growing congregation. “We still pray daily for protection because although things are getting easier, Hmong people continue to be a marginalised group in Laos. But we praise God that we are able to worship him and that we have our own church.”
Main religion among the Hmong
As Christianity grows among the Hmong people (in fact, it has become the main religion of Hmong communities in Vientiane Province) they face a significant challenge: a shortage of Bibles.
“We only have five Hmong Bibles in our church – not nearly enough to go round,” says Va. “We place great importance on being able to read God’s Word in our own language, so we are teaching our children to read Hmong, which uses roman script, in the belief that God will one day provide a Bible for every Hmong Christian. This seems far out of our reach now but we know that God never forsakes those who follow him and we keep praying.”
Text and photos by Grace Smith, Communications Officer – Bible Societies of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam