Dok, in Laos, was imprisoned for his Christian faith. His wife didn't know where he was. But his testimony of God's faithfulness is extraordinay.
You might think that thirteen years in prison would break you, wouldn’t it? But amazingly, it didn’t break Dok*, a Christian in Communist Buddhist Laos. In fact, the reverse. He says it made him more ‘efficient as an evangelist’.
Today, he is the pastor of over 60 churches in Oum province which, like the rest of the country, is currently under lockdown. But isolation is nothing new for believers here, where Christianity is treated as a hostile Western threat. Christians have to be extremely careful to stay on the good side of the authorities; believers from Buddhist backgrounds are considered to have betrayed their community; and house churches are considered ‘illegal gatherings’, so have to operate in secret.
Now 74, Dok ministers with his wife, Jik, to 3,000 believers in 62 churches. He says, “In Laos, there are two seasons: sunny and rainy. Robust trees thrive in both seasons. Our church is the same as a robust tree. It thrives in the sun and it thrives in the rain, and more importantly, it gives shade to others – whether it be from the heat or from the downpour.”
Dok was imprisoned for his faith for 13 years
Dok has become robust, himself, through persecution. He was the first to become a Christian believer in his region, in the late 1990s, and the first to be imprisoned for over a decade for preaching the gospel. Formerly a major in the Lao Communist military, instead of defending people, he was their aggressor. He drank too much and used his power to abuse others, including his family. Dok says: “My children used to hide near the toilet every time I was angry because I used a knife to scare them.”
But when he became a Christian, his life changed completely: his way of words, manners, deeds – everything. Many people visited him to hear his transformation story, giving him an opportunity to share the good news with them. So many people, in fact, that he was given a warning by the authorities. Dok asked people not to come, but they were unstoppable. Then, on 8 June 1999, when his children were at school, police came for him in his home and took him away. His wife, Jik, had no idea where he’d gone, or when she’d ever see him again.
After his arrest, Dok (then in his 50s) was put in solitary confinement. The room was small, bare, cramped and smelly. “My hands and feet were handcuffed. Where I slept, I also went to the bathroom. There was no restroom. They only gave me a plastic bag to use as my toilet. The room was very, very dark. I couldn’t see anything. They didn’t let me wear anything but my underwear,” he recalls.
This went on for five and a half months. The police worked him hard during this time, cleaning their toilet morning and evening, fetching water and firewood – as well as carrying heavy rocks from the river. The cold weather, the dark room, his exhausted and exposed body, his age, and a fist of sticky rice a day for his meal did not help. He would lie on the floor in a foetal position, shivering. “Eventually, it caused pain all over my body. It gave me headache and backache and, from time to time, making me chilly. When I was having constant headaches, I had nothing but a small red chilli and I divided it into small pieces as my medicine to alleviate the thumping pain in my head. For six or eight days, I ate the divided pieces to mend my throbbing head. But when the chilli ran out, the pain from my head ran down into my eyes. And until now, my left eye cannot see.
“I lived in that small room for a long time and had nothing to do inside but pray and pray and pray that everyone would believe and accept Jesus. I prayed that the Lao people will also believe as well as the prisoners who were with me, I prayed for them every day that I was in that cell.”
Thankfully, the days of torment came to an end; Dok’s prayers were heard. “One time, I slept through my pain and I had a dream. In my dream, there appeared three people who looked like angels and wore very white clothes. They prayed hard for me. When I woke up, I felt much better. The pain was gone.” A few days later, he was released from his cell and transferred to a bigger cell where there were more than 70 prisoners.
Meanwhile, Jik had no idea whether her husband was dead or alive but, after months of waiting for news, some prisoners who’d been freed, brought her a handwritten letter, signed by Dok. She at once went to him and from then on, every day for more than a decade, brought him vegetables, meat, and baskets of sticky rice.
“From the basket of sticky rice my wife sent to me every day, she wrote encouraging words and slipped in torn pages of the Bible. Some of the words written on the small pieces of paper were simply: ‘Believe in Jesus’. Upon reading those words, I became so happy. The police even thought that I had gone crazy!” says Dok.
In his larger cell, Dok met three other Christians, one of which became his great companion in prayer. They prayed for every cellmate, every day, as well as for healing for the sick and salvation for all. In his new environment, Dok’s good behaviour was noted by the chief of police, who gradually assigned him the care of everyone in the jail – in total 600 prisoners – and even including the police officers.
After 13 years (two years less than his intended sentence), Dok was released from prison but it wasn’t until 2017 that he was able to live with his family without hiding. His story, making him famous on YouTube, proved a double-edged sword. “That forced me to be away from my family. It forced me to move from one place to another. I had to escape and hide from the police. I cannot serve God in our province because I had to escape,” Dok shares. “My family stayed in our village to continue the ministry while I was escaping and hiding.”
Until his release, when Open Doors first visited him, Dok did not realise that people were concerned and praying for him, besides his family. With the benefit of supporters’ gifts, Open Doors was able to extend financial help to Dok’s family from time to time, including for an eye operation.
"We don't have any words to say except thank you," says Jik. "When my husband was in prison, you prayed for us and helped us. You remembered us."
Despite all that he has been through, Dok says: “God is good and He is above everything in my life. I still believe in God because I know that God died for my sins, and even if I am a sinner, He has accepted me and forgiven all of my sins. I have pure joy in the Lord.”
Laos is number 20 on the Open Doors World Watch List, listing the countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution.
Dok asks for prayer for Christians in Laos: “I hope that one day, God will open the doors for us to do ministries as openly as possible without being hindered or arrested. Pray that we will have more leaders whom we can partner with to do ministry together. The Christians in Laos are growing in number but there are few workers. Most of our leaders and pastors do not have jobs. They need to take care of the church and their families as well. Please pray for them that they may have sufficient provisions for their families. We already lost some of our leaders because they leave the church and go to far places to get a job and make money for their families. Their families do not come back to the church any more. Pray for our outreaches and our visitation ministries - for God's financial provisions as we go and reach out to those house churches in villages. Reaching out to them and giving them encouragement is very important.”
*Name changed for security reasons