The Joy of Planting New Congregations in Laos
Scott J. Jones
Mary Lou and I just returned from a week-long visit to the United Methodist Church of Laos along with four members of the Texas Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. In a predominantly Buddhist country, we were touched to see how the gospel is spreading throughout these churches. Laos has many different ethnic groups, each with its own language. The Hmong people have been sympathetic to Christianity for many years and God is opening many doors.
The United Methodist Church of Laos includes 60 pastors and churches, some of these being house churches. Most of the pastors are farmers, supporting themselves by growing crops as well as serving the church. In a country where the normal wage is $111 per month, we are paying our pastors $57 per month.
During the annual meeting, (their equivalent of annual conference) I spent six hours a day teaching. It is always a challenge because none of the pastors speak English. I would speak, then a translator would repeat it in Lao, and then another translator would repeat it in English. In the morning I talked about pastoral care and in the afternoon about stewardship. In a desperately poor country, it is still important to talk about stewardship and to hold out the vision that one day their congregations will be self-supporting.
We visited the Plain of Jars, famous because so many bombs were dropped there during the Vietnam war. The Jars are 2000-year-old stone creations, some as tall as 5 feet and 4 feet across. In this remote part of the country, we learned that one church, and the possibility of two new house churches are being formed.
Last year at the annual meeting we commissioned 12 pastors- the first group to get an official “laying on of hands.” These pastors still have more educational requirements to meet, but there is a possibility some of them will be ordained elder next year.
We certainly have our challenges here in the United States, but our problems pale in comparison with the problems facing these pastors. We are praying that the government will accept our application for official recognition. This would diminish the harassment we experience from local government officials and give us official standing in the society.
The Texas Annual Conference does not have any official partnerships with international mission work. Instead, we encourage local churches to develop those partnerships and nurture them through prayer, mission trips, and financial support. Congregations interested in Laos (or Thailand) can contact the bishop’s office at 713-533-3710 to find out more information.