Christianity in Thailand and Laos
Growing up in the West we were indoctrinated into the belief that missionaries are doing the greatest work in God’s church. We prayed for them and donated our funds towards their success abroad. It wasn’t until I spent a considerable amount of time in Muslim and Buddhist nations that the illusion started to crack.
Drive up about an hour or so northeast of Chiang Mai and then get off the beaten path. There you will find small non-descript buildings that house the missionaries. I came upon them completely by accident due to my loathing of organized tour groups. Why are they there? Why don’t we see them in such large concentrations throughout the country?
I found myself intrigued by these little communes so I made it a side trip to figure out just what they were up to. After some mild poking around I ran into a set of blue eyes with a curious look at this strange Westerner bounding through their sanctuary. I recalled my best Sunday school lessons and posed as a devout Christian tourist who was staying close by and was looking for a good church to attend on Christmas. Recognizing me as a fellow imbiber of the Kool-Aid I got the story.
It turns out these places are not there for you and I to have a place of worship on holiday nor are they for the local Thai populace to come worship. Their sole mission is to convert the Laotian heathens across the border. You would think we messed with them enough in the 60’s and 70’s.
Some of you might be wondering why base a mission in Thailand whose goal is Laos. Well the reason is the Laotian government has made it illegal for foreigners to come into the country and proselytize. It is also illegal for Laotians to act on behalf of foreigners wishing to convert. More on that later…
So the way they spread the Word through Laos is by sitting on the border and getting Thais to find desperate looking Laotians crossing the border to bring back to the mission. While at the mission the Laotians are given food, shelter, medicine, and creature comforts. During this time through Thai interpreters they put the whammy on the naïve Laotians. Their system is classic brainwashing and re-education on a person who lacks a strong deductive background. When they are satisfied the convert is thoroughly re-programmed they are sent back to Laos with a good amount of supplies to get others to follow the path.
This is where it gets hairy. It is like training a salesman. Making him or her believe in the product is easy, but their ability to convince others can be lacking. I was told this is their major hurdle. The convert’s first mission back to their home village is to change the entire dynamic of worship in the village. The villagers are told to abandon their idolism and turn to Jesus. Usually this leads to a split where a few buy into it and most don’t. When it comes time to participate in the religious traditions of the village the converts refuse and their refusal foretells bad luck for the community and they are forced to move from the village. The junior missionary brings his converts back to the mission and they all get ample brainwashing and supplies to bring back across the border and come back with more. The idea is eventually they will make a strong enough hold for Christianity in Laos that the climate will change and they can move inside the country and begin the real work.
That is not the worst of it though. After that we talked about martyrs. The Thais and Westerners who work in the missionary are all well aware of Laotian law and steer clear of the country for that reason, but those Laotians they convert are completely ignorant of the law. When the government got wind of the religious incursion they came down swiftly on those who were acting as agents within the country. I did not find out if they were executed or imprisoned, but none had ever been heard from again.
His tone and description seemed to convey a complete belief in their system of conversion and he saw no flaw in their methodology despite the fact that it tore families apart and led to unthinkable consequences for the hapless believers. It was at this point I became emotional and angry at their hubris. I contained myself because I had to get more information out of this guy. It turns out the funds come primarily from the Philippines with high level officials from that country taking a strong role in converting Laos. All the men I met were Americans, and apparently made a good living out of doing this type of work. They ferried between Thailand and Philippines with the Filipinos picking up the tab. They had locations all along the border and surprisingly although relying heavily on Thais to help in their operations they didn’t require the Thais to be Christians at all. Another oddity I found was this guy’s ignorance about Laos. He had been doing this work for 12 years in Thailand and could only name two cities in Laos (mispronouncing both). His Thai was on the level of a first time visitor, and he had never been anywhere except Bangkok and the mission locations.
It was all very creepy. It made me angry and sick at the same time. I left that compound feeling sad that my countrymen are engaging in such activities.
Fascinating insight into the dreadful things these truly evil people are doing. They have little understanding of community in this part of the world and how trying to make locals change and by brainwashing some in an effort to get others to change can be detrimental to not just their life, but that of their family and the entire community.