Over several years God has been at work among the 150,000 Sunny people of Laos, beginning with one man, who has gone on to share the gospel with many others, a disciple making disciples.
A New Man
Meet Tongsin. A man you may never meet this side of heaven, but a man you should definitely know. A man who lives very far away among a cluster of So villages surrounded by beautiful mountains in Laos.
Several years ago, Tongsin lost his three-year-old daughter. We might call it disease, but the Sunny people call it spirits. That is all Tongsin and his family before him has ever known – the worship of spirits and ancestors. Not only did the spirits take away his daughter, but they began to torment his mind, to the point where he was no longer in control of his mind or body. For a time he lived liked a demonized madman in the surrounding jungle near the cemetery. Come nightfall he would sneak into the village and steal food.
It became so dire that the villagers, for everyone’s safety, built a cage out of wood and bamboo to restrain him. Spirit doctors tried their best mantras and enchantments, but no one could help Tongsin. Nothing worked until a friend from a nearby village decided to “beg to Jesus” for him. His friend did not know much about Jesus (in fact he doesn’t even follow Jesus anymore), yet the prayer worked!
Tongsin was now in his right mind and began telling the villagers what had happened to him. Thinking he was still crazy, they caged him for a second time and for good measure they also bound his hands and his feet. At this, Tongsin prayed to Jesus and the bonds on his hands immediately fell off. No one could deny any longer that he was a changed man.
Now Tongsin wanted to learn so much more about this Jesus. Not long after he sought a very old Christian leader in a nearby town. Tongsin was instructed to rid himself of every idol, charm, trinket and belief that had to do with the demons and the old way of life and to trust, follow and pray to Jesus with his whole heart. Since that day, Tongsin has been free from all afflictions and the sound of praise can be heard from his little thatched house every Sunday morning. He and his entire household believe.
In the last two years, Tongsin and his family have led more than 35-40 Sunny people to the Lord. His faith is so contagious that many are coming to him for prayer, healing, and freedom.
Hope for the Sonny
“I have been waiting for you to come!” Tongsin said. “There are many families coming to me for help … How should I lead them? What kind of prayer should they pray to accept Jesus?”
It was September 2011 when the Christian workers sat on the floor of the thatched bamboo house, surrounded by Tongsin’s family and almost 10 Sunny believers—the first church among this people group of Southeast Asia. Tongsin, the group’s leader, had faithfully shared his zeal for Christ with fellow villagers since his conversion. In 2008 families began coming to Christ through his witness and meeting together for worship shortly after.
The young believers looked at the Christian workers with anticipation. They were finally getting the chance to ask questions they had had since their conversions.
The team had moved into the provincial capital about the same time these Sunny believers had found Christ. The team planned and strategically prayed for this unengaged people group, not yet knowing about the work God had started in this house church.
Before knowing Christ, Tongsin had been an unlikely candidate for a pioneering church planter. Fellow villagers once knew him as the dangerous man tormented by spirits who lived in the jungle. They had built a cage to contain him. One day, a friend from a nearby village told Tongsin about Jesus. Tongsin begged to Jesus for healing, was released from the spirits and praised God. His passion for Christ, of whom he knew little, spread to those around him. Whole families came to Christ when they came to Tongsin for prayer and healing.
Tongsin received basic instructions about following Jesus from an elderly believer in a nearby district. The man urged him to rid his home of idols and all remnants of spirit worship. Tongsin listened and urged other believers to do the same.
The Sunny people, numbering about 180,000, practice animism with elements of Buddhism. They revere the spirits of their ancestors, the forest, sky and fields, striving to obtain blessings from them.
The Sunny people find it difficult to choose Christ. They do not want to disrupt societal harmony—one of the biggest values among their culture.
Still, God is calling Sunny people to himself, and his church is growing.
In the beginning of 2013, prayer journeys began covering some of the 436 Sunny villages in the country where they primarily reside.
On a recent prayer journey, God revealed just how ready the harvest is.
A sick man, Keo, and his family spotted the prayer team walking along the dusty road through their village. They sought the team’s help. Keo had been sick for some time. The team prayed for him and explained the story of the God they petitioned. Six Sunny family members listened intently, then repented of their sins and came to Christ.
God is not just preparing the Sunny people for his kingdom. He is reaching out to the minority peoples around them, who are also unreached and without gospel access.
During the 2011 meeting, team member Mark stood with Tongsin on the bank of the river and pointed to a village on the other side. “Do you know of any believers among the Khatong people?” he asked.
“Not yet,” Tongsin replied. “But someone must tell them.”
Mark encouraged Tongsin: “One day God will use you and the Sunny people to reach all the ethnic groups around here.”
As Tongsin sat with the Christian workers during their first meeting in 2011, he shared his vision for the future—and his plea. “There are not enough workers. There are still lots of people who want to believe, there is just no one to lead them. They are tired of worshiping demons. So many, so many are ready to believe.”
The Christian workers visited Keo (the sick man) and his family last week. Keo’s family had gone away praising God, but had they remained faithful?
“We asked the spirits for healing,” Keo confessed.
A team member explained the importance of repentance and baptism.
“I don’t want to follow the spirits anymore,” Keo said. “If I die, I want to die with Jesus.” How many more want to “die with Jesus,” but simply need training and accountability to grow in the Lord?
Even with the great need for workers, God is doing an amazing work among the Sunny people. Tongsin and his family have led more than 15 families to Christ since his transformation. The first Sunny church now numbers 35-40 believers. Trainings now teach new Sunny believers how to plant churches, and methods for sharing oral Bible stories with this non-literate people group are being developed.
Disciples Making Disciples
Since that time, three years have passed, but God continues to do a mighty work through Tongsin and other So Christians in Laos. Recently, several So evangelists trained by Tongsin led a group of people from a different ethnic group to faith in Jesus. Soon after, the Christians who helped disciple Tongsin visited the group comprised of 13 believers.
The new believers had gathered their friends and family to meet in their thatched homes. The Christians who were visiting listened as group members shared their testimonies. They also found out the group is part of an ethnic group called, “Slaves of the Yellow Leaves.”
The Yellow Leaf people number less than 500 worldwide and are the least reached of the unreached. This group once lived in shelters made of banana leaves. When the leaves wither and turn yellow, they abandon their homes and move to a new location in the forest. They shared how one Yellow Leaf family was extremely sick and So Christians were the ones who told them about Jesus.
The Christian visitors taught the group of Yellow Leaf believers how to share the Creation to Christ Story and how to follow Jesus in baptism. That same night, seven more people came to faith in Jesus and were baptized.
Will you pray for Mekong Minorities?
Praise God for the work he has done in and through Tongsin, and that the So churches are reaching out to other ethnic groups.
Pray for the 20 Yellow Leaf believers to be prepared for the persecution that is to come.