From the Worldwide Faith News archives

WCC: Laos visit

From "WCC Media" <>
Date Fri, 28 Feb 2003 17:23:36 +0100

World Council of Churches
Update UP-03-06
For Immediate Use
28 February 2002

WCC visit to Laos: 
Raiser stresses cooperation for peace and reconstruction

Cf. WCC Press Release, PR-03-11 of 24 February

On the first leg of a 26 February - 9 March four-nation visit to Asia, World
Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser met with
leaders of the Lao Evangelical Church (LEC), Buddhist leaders, high-ranking
government officials, and representatives of international ecumenical
development agencies. In this first-ever visit of a WCC general secretary to
the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Raiser emphasized the need for common
commitment to the well-being of the whole society.

The church in Laos
Christianity was brought to Laos by Swiss Brethren missionaries in 1902, but
a communist revolution in 1975 banned church activities and the country
remained "closed" until the early 1990s. During the communist takeover in
1975, most Christians left Laos and the membership of the LEC dropped to
about 10,000. Today, it is the largest Christian church in the country, with
a membership of about 100,000 and 400 congregations scattered over 18

According to LEC head Rev. Khamphone Kouthapanya, "this growth of believers
has been happening since the mid 1990s without any assistance from overseas
missionaries, and in the midst of lots of restrictions by local authorities
of the communist party-led government. Once viewed as agents of the West by
the new revolutionary government and the party, the church is growing fast
today and the government and the party have understood the people's urge to
believe in their faith. The church contributes to social reconstruction and
development, and this has been acknowledged by the government in recent

At a public reception, Raiser confirmed that "the LEC has contributed
significantly to the development and well-being of the country and the
people. The relationship between church and state has been restored and
strengthened. What we see now is a church that is thriving, striving and
self-confident, a church that fully shares the aspirations of the country.
The global ecumenical movement assures its support to and accompaniment of
the church in Laos."

Reconstruction and religious freedom
During a meeting with communist party officials, Raiser spoke of the WCC's
long-standing commitment to the people of war-torn countries in Indochina 
including Laos, and its contribution to Laos' reconstruction. Although there
is no WCC member church in the country, the Council has been instrumental in
mobilizing support for Laos among ecumenical partners. 

Lao government officials briefed Raiser about recent policy changes in the
economic area and that of religious freedom. Referring to a newly-promulgated
presidential decree on Management and Protection of Religious Activities in
the country, Raiser said that "We cannot practise faith without linking our
love and concern to our neighbours, and we cannot forget our social
involvement." He expressed hope that the mission of the church in Laos will
"express faith in God's love and care for all", and that practical
application of this belief in actions will "ultimately strengthen commitment
to work for the well-being of all in society, irrespective of religious and
ideological beliefs". 

Religions working together for "our common humanity"
Raiser was received by the Supreme Patriarch of Lao Buddhism, who affirmed
that "as religious people, we need to work together for peace and harmony in
society". Noting that Buddhism is the religion of the majority of the
population in Laos, Raiser suggested that the "core belief" of all religions
is "the well-being of all human beings". Peace, healing and reconciliation
are the needs of the hour; thus any visible act of cooperation will benefit
"our common humanity", he said.

Raiser later visited a hospital run by the Buddhist monks and presented a
gift from the WCC, through the Lao Evangelical Church, of ten units of
hospital beds as a symbolic expression of inter-religious cooperation. 

Development challenges 
A landlocked country, Laos is one of Asia's least known and least developed
countries, still suffering from the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Ruled by
the Lao Revolutionary People's Party since 1975, Laos is now experiencing
economic transition from a centrally-controlled planned economy to a
market-oriented one.

Meeting with Raiser, representatives of ecumenical development agencies based
in Laos shared information on the constraints to development. Twenty-seven
years after the Vietnam war, the damage sustained still constitutes a major
infrastructural challenge: Laos is the most heavily bombed country on earth -
two tons of ordnance per capita. Eighty percent of the country's subsistence
farmers are still threatened by unexploded ordnance widely scattered over the
cultivable land. Other serious infrastructural deficiencies include a
shortage of hospitals, medical clinics, schools, drinking water facilities,
power supplies, roads, and telecommunication links. Almost half of the five
million population of the country is chronically malnourished. Over the
years, European and North American ecumenical agencies have contributed
substantially with development assistance and clearance of unexploded

At the end of the WCC visit, Rev. Khamphone Kouthapanya said it would
contribute significantly to boost the morale of the church in Laos and
further strengthen its relations with the government and the party.
Accompanied by WCC Asia secretary Dr Mathews George Chunakara, Raiser travels
next to Thailand on the second leg of his tour.

For further information, please contact the Media Relations Office, tel: +41
(0)22 791.6421/6153  


The World Council of Churches (WCC) is a fellowship of churches, now 342, in
more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian
traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works
cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which
meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in
1948 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary
Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.

World Council of Churches
Media Relations Office
Tel: (41 22) 791 6153 / 791 6421
Fax: (41 22) 798 1346

PO Box 2100
1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland

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