One of the English teachers, Pom, is a Christian, and she invited us to her Christmas celebration. It began on Friday night, lasted all day Saturday, and culminated on Sunday. I have never heard of this. They have a big celebration with the whole Christian community coming together.
America tends to have private small family gatherings at home. I recently read an article that The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens became the model for the Christmas dinner and family gatherings that influences the way that Christmas is celebrated in the West.
Pom’s father is a tuk tuk driver so he picked us up at the school. There were a lot of stares as we arrived at a large gathering under a tent. Pom’s father ushered us down a long aisle through a crowd to the front row. We really thought that we would be back-row people.
We arrived at 9pm without eating dinner. Pom’s mother prepared dinner for us. Much of the food was too spicy or too rough for us to eat but we chowed down on the sticky rice. I took a spoonful of fish soup, but it largely consisted of fat that coated the roof of my mouth for the rest of the evening.
There were lots of Christmas decorations at the church gathering.
Everyone was dressed in their finest traditional clothing. These girls are doing a Khmu traditional dance.
These two young men were leading the youth in songs and dance. We spent some time talking to the youth since they are always eager to practice their English.
Much food and many gifts were passed out, especially to the children. We were given some Dum Dum lollipops. Mine was root beer flavored.
A man gave a sermon, and he was very loud AND was using a microphone.
Missionaries came here in the late 1800’s, but communism has tried to eliminate all religious activity since 1975. Here is an interesting synopsis about Laos and Christianity.
Laos Evangelical Church is government run and controls what the pastor is able to say. They do not want influence from the West.
We understood that non-Lao can attend church but cannot hold leadership positions. Ironically, that is what missions strive to do…a church run by the people group.
There are underground church groups and government-sanctioned churches who are often in conflict. This article is a few years old but attempts to explain the problem.
Pom’s father took us home since we were tired. It had been a long Friday.
On Sunday morning, we walked to Nongkham Church. On this year-long adventure, we have been in a different church each Sunday. However, since we have been in Luang Prabang for quite some time, this will be our third time in this church.
We were very excited as this was the big Christmas celebration. We knew that it would be packed.
The service was well under way when we arrived. Loud music was coming from the building. It was standing room only. We sat down in the overflow section outside. That was fine with me because I didn’t bring my ear plugs.
There were lots of children running around. We had lost all visual cues for what was happening, but when in doubt, follow the locals. We stood up when they did and sat down when they did.
At this celebration everyone comes to see each other and wears their finest traditional clothing. Food is served and there are lots of planned activities throughout the day.
We definitely stand out. A young man and his wife sit next to us. He speaks English very well, and we started a cheerful conversation. Then a man talked to him, and he gave up his seat to him. This man started to ask me lots of questions.
“Why are you here?”
“I am here to worship and celebrate Christmas.”
“Do you work in Luang Prabang?”
“No. I am a tourist.”
“Where are you staying?”
“Villa Chitchareune 2.”
“Where are you from?”
“We need to have your names and passport numbers.”
“This is a new procedure that we are starting this year. Everyone has to submit their identification.”
Rob was reluctant, but we have had to give our passport information at every hotel so it kind of made sense albeit a little strict for a church.
We gave him all the information that he needed, and he left. The other man returned to his seat. The man who left was the tourist police.
Then another young man sat on the other side next to Rob and told him that we needed to leave.
Rob and I were confused. Is this a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing? We had just given all our information and now we are asked to leave.
Then Pon, our translator from last week, showed up so we were able to ask him some questions.
He confirmed that we need to leave. Basically, that it would cause trouble for the church and its members if we stayed.
The last thing that we want to do is cause trouble for our Christian brothers and sisters.
So, we prepared to leave. They asked if we needed a tuk tuk. I think that they were trying to make us feel better since we had to leave. It was a beautiful day so we walked and chalked it up to an interesting experience.
I read that during Easter 2019, three Christians from the USA were arrested in Laos for proselytizing so maybe security during Easter and Christmas are heightened by this Buddhist-dominated communist country?
So bottom line to Christians-Don’t take attendance for granted!!!