Christians from several villages in Laos are being threatened with an ultimatum: perform acts of spirit worship or face eviction.
In Vongseekaew village, Savannakhet province, 13 Christian families were ordered in early October to take part in traditional animist rituals of oath-making and drinking “sacred water” that had been through ritual incantation by a spirit medium. Doing so would be viewed as a public statement that they were returning to the village’s traditional religion and renouncing their Christian faith.
The Christians were told that performing the rituals was necessary for them to be allowed to remain in the village. When they refused, the families were ordered to leave immediately. A few days later, the pressure on them intensified when the authorities threatened to seize and tear down their homes.
But the district chiefs intervened and declared at a public meeting that residents of Vongseekaew could follow any religion of their choice and that no one should stop them.
The tactic is however being used against Christians elsewhere. In Allowmai, which is just eight kilometres away from Vongseekaew, six Christian families, along with their pastor, Bounlert, were ordered on 18 October to take an oath with sacred water in order to be allowed to remain in the village.
Pastor Bounlert was detained in September along with four other Christian leaders; two of them were released after two days. The provincial authorities subsequently ordered the release of Bounlert, Adang and Onkaew, saying that their arrest by the district police was unjustified. But the police have kept the pastors in custody and threatened to imprison them for two to three more years if Christians in Allowmai do not perform the rituals.
Christian leaders in Savannakhet province believe that the police are trying to force Christians to recant their faith through taking part in the spirit rituals because they were unsuccessful in pursuing legal action against the pastors.
Elsewhere in the same province, a public meeting was organised on 19 October in Kengsaiyai village to which residents, both Christian and non-Christian, from the surrounding villages were called. They were all told to take an oath stating that they would adhere to the traditional, spirit-cult religion.
The 30 or so Christian families were required to sign documents as proof that they had returned to these practices and had renounced Christ. They were told that without performing the ritual, they would no longer have the right to stay in their villages. But the Christians have refused to participate.
Source: Barnabas Aid