Sundays with CWM (12 Mar): Cross, a sign of restoration for broken communities

by CWM Communications Team

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners (Isaiah 61:1)

Brokenness and woundedness are conditions commonly seen in certain communities and manifest in many forms. Physical brokenness occurs in war-torn zones and areas ravished by violence, while emotional and psychological brokenness occurs in areas under intense persecution. In Laos’ indigenous tribal Christian communities, Christians are weighed down by history. Being colonised by the French for 60 years and then becoming a puppet state of the Japanese, Laos was a battlefront during the Vietnam war and became the most bombarded country in history. Today, millions of unexploded American ordnances still pose a risk to inhabitants of rural areas. In addition to a difficult history, the indigenous tribal Christian communities in Laos find themselves struggling with a massive identity crisis and face quadruple persecution by the communist state, by the ethnic majority, by tribal non-Christians and finally by other tribal Christians themselves (communism-induced self-censorship). Representing the lowest stratum of Lao society, basic rights are non-existent, and dignity, education and freedom are luxuries only enjoyed by a privileged few.

In the face of all these, the indigenous communities find not just salvation but also hope and strong deliverance in the power of the cross. When the word of God was translated contextually into their indigenous languages, the radical love of God gave an identity to identity-less people as they saw themselves in the narratives of the bible. Previously living in bondage to physical rulers and spiritual powers, they experienced liberation. Some physically tormented by spirits were completely healed the moment they believed. In the relative absence of external support, the word of God became like yeast in a pack of dough, with the Holy Spirit slowly transforming the community. The power of the cross also drove out fear, as the people’s confidence shifted from something previously unknown to something known.

However, the process of transformation is an ongoing and painful one. In a community where the mark of a great leader is the amount of persecution and time spent in prison endured, the indigenous Christian congregations still struggle with communism, the only leadership structure they have ever known. As in other communities, women are particularly vulnerable and typically require years of support to soften their inferiority complex and trust issues built up over time in resistance to years of marginalisation. Beginning as a foreign, colonial tradition a generation and a half ago, Christianity now has a local flavour and sings to the tunes of traditional tribal melodies while resting on the spiritual fortress built by the early western missionaries. In the words of the female hymn writer Civilla Martin, “I sing because I’m happy; I sing because I’m free…” Today, the voices of the indigenous groups of Laos can be heard the singing of their spiritual freedom even in the midst of abject poverty and continued physical persecution.

Dear God of the least and the last, the first are last and the last are first in your economy. You use the weak to shame the strong. Be with the indigenous Christians of Laos as they struggle to rise from the shadows of colonial powers, marginalisation, and persecution. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Stephen Chia, Council for World Mission

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