The annual leadership development training for church women in the Lao Evangelical Church (LEC) organized by the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) from 29 November to 1 December 2018 brought together 65 selected participants from rural congregations in 17 provinces of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR).
The training, held at the headquarters of the LEC in Vientiane, was organized in collaboration with the women’s division of the Church and aimed to enhance women’s leadership at the grassroots in Laos, a landlocked and longtime isolated country in South East Asia.
All religious activities were banned in Laos for decades, starting from 1975, but the country experiences comparatively more religious freedom in recent years.
The Lao Evangelical Church is the fastest growing Christian church in the country with about 1000 congregations nation-wide. Approximately 20 percent of a total of more than 200,000 members of the LEC are women.
Lao Evangelical Church (LEC) is the only CCA member church in the country.
“Despite restrictions and hindrances faced by the Church, God has enabled us in witnessing the Gospel. However, we really feel the lack of trained pastors and lay leaders to lead our congregations. It is also an urgent need to strengthen women’s leadership and their biblical-theological capacities to equip them to share the Good News and serve our people in Laos” said Rev. Dr. Khamphone Khounthapanya, Executive President of Lao Evangelical Church in the opening of the leadership training.
Pastor Nanivanh Aphaiyamath, President of Women’s Division of LEC stated, “God calls women to church ministry in our own communities. Whenever I visit our members in remote provinces, I am greatly moved by the tearful prayers of Christian women that come out of their own burning desire to serve God and help other members in the community. LEC’s Women’s Division has been organizing different programmes for LEC members in rural and marginalized villages, for which more women facilitators need to be trained.”
“We need to focus more on increasing women’s abilities and capacities which will help achieve gender equality in Laos too. We believe our initiatives, with the accompaniment of CCA, would help our women members to empower themselves and also other women in the villages”, added Mrs. Aphaiyamath.
Synpone Lavanh, a social worker who led sessions encouraged the participants and told them, “We should make women’s voices heard. We hear many sad news regarding female victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, particularly in the rural areas. They get lesser opportunities of proper school education, health care and counseling support. To strengthen women’s social status in Laos and overcome illiteracy, poor reproductive and basic health, food insecurity and economic backwardness, we must work together to rank the status of our women high and set the development priorities”.
“As Christian women leaders, we can do much together to empower our sisters in villages through our nationwide network of LEC women’s fellowship”, encouraged Ms. Lavanh.
During the three day training, the participants were provided opportunities to reflect on the biblical/ theological basis of leadership, contextual reading of the Bible from Lao women’s perspective, and women’s engagement in God’s mission relevant to Lao context.
Ms. Nany Boommy from Mit Sum Phum village of Sanamxay District, an area badly affected by the flooding from the recent dam collapse, shared stories of the plight of affected communities. She said, “As soon as we heard of the flooding, Mit Sum Phun congregation, the only church in my village, opened its church space to the victims for their temporary shelter. The church members also welcomed their victimised neighbours to their homes, providing food and clothes. For the last four months, we’ve been sharing what we have and helping each other. Now after participating in this training, I feel more confident that this is my new task given by God to help my neighbors in need. It was also a great opportunity to meet many women lay leaders from various provinces that I have never been to.”
Naly and Douayi, the youngest among the participants at 15 years old and both married, travelled continuously for two days from Namham Province to Vientiane to attend the training. They said, “We are very happy to be part of this training. We could not fully understand the sessions in Lao language since we only speak the Mong dialect but we learned a lot to share with friends in our village…and also a tip on how to teach the Bible to the Sunday School students.”
Recollecting his experiences in working with churches in the then socially and politically controlled closed door communist Indochina countries such as Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in 1990’s, Dr. Mathews George Chunakara, General Secretary of CCA said at the closing session of the training that “The CCA has been accompanying the LEC for past decades and has made several efforts, especially since 1993 to bring the Lao Church to the mainstream of the Asian ecumenical movement. The Church in Laos had undergone traumatic experiences for two decades and this has affected proper leadership development within the Church”. “Capacity building of pastors, lay leaders, women and youth will be a priority of CCA’s on-going engagement in Laos through LEC, and CCA will continue to work with you to develop the leadership of the women in the Church and Lao society. The participation of the Church in social development as well as women’s empowerment also should be taken into account by local congregations”, said the General Secretary of CCA in his closing remarks.
The training was facilitated by CCA staff members Rev. Dr. Chuleepran Srisoontorn and Rev. Grace Moon together with Rev. Dr. Khamphone Kunthapunya, Pastor Nanivanh Aphaiyamath, Pastor Thephaivone Phouthene, and Ms. Synpone Lavanh.
Laos shares its border with 5 other neighbour countries: China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar.
Christianity is a minority religion in Laos with less than 300,000 followers including 40,000 Catholics, many of whom are ethnic Vietnamese.
The Lao Evangelical Church, the main protestant church recognized by the Lao PDR government, grew out of the work of Swedish Protestant Mission in 1890, followed by Swiss Brethren in 1902 and Christian and Missionary Alliance in 1928. The LEC was officially founded in 1953 after adopting a constitution.