World Council of Churches - Central Committee News Release
Contact: + 41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363

For immediate release: 18 February 2008 - pr-cc-08-07

Welcoming the Lao Evangelical Church

Mr. Khamphone Kounthapanya is president of the Lao Evangelical Church, one of two church bodies newly welcomed into full fellowship as members of the World Council of Churches at the 13-20 February Central Committee meeting. Kounthapanya shared some information about his church:

Tell us a bit about your country and church.

The Lao government recognizes four religious groups: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam (only in the capital city), and Bah'a'i. For Christians, we have three groups: the Catholic Church, and two Protestant - the Lao Evangelical Church and the Seventh Day Adventists, which is a small congregation. The Lao Evangelical Church (with about 100,000 members) is the second-largest religious group in the country after Buddhism.

We are very, very popular because of our witness throughout the country. We are doing a lot of social work (projects) on a small scale, such as safe water, agricultural training, schools, health, these kinds of things. This helps us to be in good relationship with the local community and the people. The church is growing.

The freedom you have now is fairly new, right?

Since 1975, with a new regime. For many years we were not able to do anything. But we are building a good relationship with the government. You help the government understand what you are doing.

Every year we organize a Christian meeting at the regional level and invite the local government to attend the meeting, all the local officials. Even the governor of the province joins us. It's very helpful, but the problem we are facing is funding the meetings.

Officially you have the freedom to preach the Gospel and share with anyone, anywhere. In reality, you have to be careful.

What style of worship would one find in your churches?

(Our worship is) very free and very lively because we have mostly young people. We don't use the organ. We use drum and guitar. It's very lively.

How did you begin to dialogue with the WCC?

We're a member of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA). I'm one of the four presidents of CCA. We've known the WCC for a long time now, even before the revolution in 1975. At that time, it was not yet (appropriate) to apply. We had thought about that a long time.

In 2003 we invited (former WCC general secretary) Konrad Raiser to come and see us for a few days. He came, and it helped us.

How are your relations with the other Christian groups in Laos?

We have no problems. We always come together. . . . If we fight, the government is going to close down all of us.

The challenge we're facing now is from outside. Denominations, such as from the United States, will send lots of money or take people out of the country for seminary. That's a problem we're facing. While it's not significant, we have more problems with Christians outside the country than non-Christians in our country.

You are the first WCC member church from Laos. Is that a good feeling?

Yes, but we have been working with CCA for a long time. Ecumenism is not new for us.

More information on the Lao Evangelical Church :

More information on the central committee meeting :

Additional information: Juan Michel,+41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363

The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, from the [Lutheran] Church of Norway. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.