Texas Churches bring water to children and hope to persecuted pastors in Laos
By Peyton Lindsay
Pastors with the Laos Mission Initiative recently returned home from their journey to Southeast Asia, bringing with them photographs to share with their congregations. They wanted to share the fruits of their fundraising labor, how a few churches in Texas were able to help hundreds of children access water and go to school.
Dr. Linda Christians, Senior Pastor at West University UMC, Houston said it all started last year with a tour of an elementary school in Laos. She was with a group of pastors from Texas, including Dr. Jeff Olive, senior pastor at FUMC Conroe, and Rev. Jeff McDonald, who currently serves at St. Paul’s UMC in Houston but was at FUMC Nacogdoches at the time.
After seeing the classrooms, the pastors from Texas went outside and saw a spigot. “Picture the faucet at your house, where you would connect a hose but with no hose,” Christians said. “They had one pump for 200 children. I was just heartbroken.”
This was where children would go to wash their hands and to get drinking water. Already, the Texas Annual Conference’s Laos Mission Initiative was helping children go to school and providing school supplies. Making sure students also had access to water was a necessity, Christians said.
When Christians came back to Texas, she reached out to her church, which was St. Luke’s UMC at the time, to help fundraise. When she was appointed last year to West University UMC, the congregation joined the effort.
Olive did the same with FUMC Conroe, as did Jeff McDonald at FUMC Nacogdoches. All of the congregations rallied to help, raising more than the $6,000. “Enough money was raised, so much so that not only was there enough for the water project, but we were also able to replace the roof of the school,” Christians said.
Once the donations were compiled, they were sent to the General Board of Global Missions office, which was able to get crews going to work in Laos. By the time Christians, McDonald and Olive returned this year, the water stations and the roof were complete.
Dr. Olive said that there was a ceremony in July when local government officials recognized the pastor and missionary in Laos for the water stations and the roof. “It was a big deal for the community,” Dr. Olive said.
He explained that the water project was important for more than the obvious reasons of serving children and leading to healthier hand-washing practices.
“At a deeper level it was building trust with a community of people who are unfamiliar with Christianity and mistrustful of outside help,” he said. “This was a bridge moment for the pastor and small gathering of Christians in the community. They were seen as the ones bringing this project to pass. This was helpful in bringing better relationships and positive feelings toward those Christians in this community.”
Additional funding from the churches in Texas also helped augment pastoral salaries in Laos, Christians added. “Some of the pastors hadn’t been paid in six months,” she said.
Being A Methodist is Dangerous in Laos
Religious freedom is still restricted in Laos, Christians explained. Being a Methodist can be dangerous, since the government has not registered or recognized the faith. These pastors are called to ministry despite pressures against them.
“There’s a lot of work still to be done,” Christians added. “But Laos has captured my heart.”
Christians said that more ministers will be ordained next year – and that will help Laos move forward to become more sustainable. “What God has done through us has a much greater potential for a lasting impact,” she added.
Olive agreed. “The hope of the UMC is to have sustainable and local leadership around the world,” he said. “Ideally we complete our work and turn it over entirely to those who live in the country.”
He explained that there are currently seven elders ordained in Laos. “It takes at least 10 before they could apply for provisional membership as an annual Conference,” he said. “Next year we hope to ordain another five.”
Breast Cancer Number One Killer in Laos
Christians is also working on a new project. Last year, she visited one of the teaching hospitals. As a former nurse herself, she was shocked to discover that breast cancer surgeries were occurring almost every day.
“Breast cancer is the number one killer in Laos,” she said. “I almost cried, thinking this cannot be true.”
The problem is that there are no mammogram or ultrasound tests for women to take. Now she is working with the women’s group at her church, called Go With Grace, to provide information about self-exams to hopefully lead to early detection.
Christians is also working with Medical Bridges. The nonprofit, which provides needed medical equipment and supplies around the world, started at West University UMD.
It’s all about making connections, Christians said, identifying a challenge and finding the right people who can help. Then, God does the rest.