June 2017

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Welcome to the forgotten land of Laos!

by Paul Hattaway, Asia Harvest

(These are excerpts from the introductory article to the 1999 book, Faces of the Unreached in Laos by Paul Hattaway of Asia Harvest)
Welcome to the forgotten land of Laos! We hope as you read about the numerous needy people groups in Laos and see the faces of the unreached tribes, not only will your knowledge be expanded, but your heart will be touched to pray for the precious people within this Southeast Asian nation.
Laos is a land-locked country of about 6.75 million people. Surrounded by high, rugged mountains to the north, east and south, and by the mighty Mekong River along its western borders, it has managed to develop at a much slower pace than its neighbors. Today many Westerners still cannot locate Laos on a map of the world. In this age of instant information and the Internet, few places in the world remain as remote and unexplored as Laos. Information is also scarce about the culture, the customs, and the historical development of the Laotian people. There is almost no record of missionary activity in Laos, partly because the bulk of mission work took place in the narrow timeframe between 1954-1975. In 1975 when communism took over Laos, all foreigners were expelled from the country.

The Disgrace of Ethnic Diversity
To some degree the Lao majority people today see the diversity within their own country as the result of a failure on their part. This attitude frequently emerges in conversations with Lao people. They believe if Laos had been a unified and stronger country in the past, that the numerous tribal peoples would have willingly come into the fold and eagerly adopted the Lao language, culture, and religion.


How Many Groups Are There?
Although some linguistic material has hinted at a larger number of people groups and languages in Laos, only in 1995 did we have a clear picture of the true diversity of different peoples living in this country. In the publication of Frenchman Laurent Chazee’s groundbreaking book, The Peoples of Laos, Chazee found there to be 130 different people groups. This book was the starting point for another book, Faces of the Unreached in Laos, and also indirectly for the Joshua Project’s list of people groups in that country. We now have profiled 138 groups that we believe to be separate entities in Laos. (Editor’s note: Since that time, the number has been reduced to 126.)

Barriers to the Gospel
Missiologist Lawrence Radcliffe has poignantly stated, “Ethnic identity is not so much in the blood as in the head and the heart of the subject or the observer.”
From a Christian point of view, it is vital to understand the cultural and ethnic barriers that exist between people groups. These barriers often stop the flow of the gospel from one group to another. For example, in 1900, there were very few Christians in South Korea. But today at least 30-35 percent of the Korean population follow Jesus. Part of the reason for this growth is that Korea has one culture and one language, so it was easy for the gospel to spread far and wide. There are no tribal people with other cultures that need someone to reach them using a different language. Racial prejudice was not a factor to be reckoned with.
In Laos, by contrast, Christianity has gained widespread acceptance among a mere handful of the 138 ethnic groups, including the Khmu, Lahu, and Bru. The gospel has not penetrated other cultures and languages.
Most mission agencies have looked at the relatively small population of Laos and decided there are other needier nations. From a people group perspective, however, Laos is one of the most needy and neglected countries in the world.


Is Laos a Buddhist Nation?
Buddhism is commonly viewed as the dominant religion of Laos. As you will soon realize, however, animism (traditional tribal religion) plays an equal part in the daily lives of the people, particularly among the rural and tribal peoples. Even those who are professing Buddhists mix their faith with many rituals and ceremonies from pre-Buddhist spirit worship. For example, the central image which is worshiped in the Si Muang Temple in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, is not a Buddha, as might be expected. It is the city pillar in which people believe the guardian spirit of the city resides. Local residents make daily offerings to it.
Theravada Buddhism has mainly taken hold among the ethnic Lao majority and several other Tai-speaking groups. The Grand Stupa, a mound-like or hemispherical structure containing sacred relics of the country, is housed in Vientiane. The That Luang is the most sacred monument in the country. It supposedly contains the spirit of the Lao nation, and is the barometer of the nation’s fortune, and simultaneously the cause of its prosperity. Every monarch has a That, just as it has its protective statue.
Two thousand years after Jesus Christ died for their sins, many peoples of Laos are still waiting to hear the gospel for the first time. We hope that believers all around the world will be motivated to pray for Laotians and seek God regarding what they might do to see all peoples of Laos worshipping Him who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the father except through me.” (John 14:6, NIV)

Let’s Pray!
• Pray for the Lord to thrust out workers from the reached peoples of Laos such as the Khmu to take His good news to the unreached groups of Laos.
• Pray for leaders among each of the unreached people groups in Laos to be prepared for the Lord’s blessings through divine encounters.
• Pray for the Lord to push aside any hindrance to the gospel penetrating these unreached tribes and nations.

From the Editor

by Keith Carey

When you contemplate Southeast Asia, one of the last countries you would think of is Laos. It is small, landlocked, and is often forgotten. It contains approximately 126 unreached people groups, and it needs more frontier mission work than any country in Southeast Asia except Indonesia. People practice the darkness of traditional animistic religion blended with superficial Buddhism. Therefore, they have much fear of the spirit world.
While making assignments this month, I talked with one of my new writers who suggested that we use “freedom” as a theme for this issue. It makes sense to pray for spiritual freedom for people being controlled by a malevolent spirit world. You will notice a couple of times our prayer entries included this as a theme—and I didn’t even say anything to the writers about it.
Fortunately, Laos isn’t forgotten by believers. Thanks to the staff of Mekong Ministries and to other believers, I had plenty of feedback regarding what people groups to highlight this month. With so many needy groups to pray for, instead of including a three-day biography like we normally do, we will start this GPD with unreached Laotian people groups that need prayer.