“God Bless You”
Greetings from Vientiane, Laos & Pha Jao Eoy Phone! Pha Jao Eoy Phone, meaning “God bless you”, is a commonly used and important phrase of blessings within the Lao Evangelical Church, which is mentioned when one greets or parts from another person
Greetings from Vientiane, Laos & Pha Jao Eoy Phone! Pha Jao Eoy Phone, meaning “God bless you”, is a commonly used and important phrase of blessings within the Lao Evangelical Church, which is mentioned when one greets or parts from another person. Blessed comes from the Greek word “Makarios”, meaning extreme happiness; living in a state of bliss; being fulfilled. Christians throughout Laos see blessed as just that, happiness and goodness, found through living a life that pleases their God. While blessings (i.e. happiness, good health, good travels, or good luck) are used often within the Lao Evangelical Church, they are not reserved solely for Christians. Only approximately 2 % of the Lao population is Christian, but non-Christians also share similar forms of happiness and fulfillment. Although Lao people have faced challenges over the years, the humanity of Lao people is continually radiant and joyful.
For those who may not be aware, during the Vietnam War [1955-1975] hundreds of cluster bombs were air-dropped or land- launched throughout Laos. Many of these bombs have yet to be found or demolished. People dig for bombs because the metal is valuable, but in the process individuals frequently get very hurt. Numerous scholarly books and articles have been written detailing the effects of the Vietnam War and I encourage you to seek out more information. Here, however, I wish to share the new beginnings, happiness, joy, and goodness that have been found among victims, often children, of land-mines, but also those with disabilities from natural causes or other accidents. Many of these individuals are now amputees, or have movement-impairments, are deaf, mute, or visually impaired. The National Rehabilitation Center of Laos as well as the Lao Women’s Development Center, both located in Vientiane, provides individuals with skills to learn Braille and sign language, gain more mobility skills, access to wheelchairs or prosthetics, as well as training in social and vocational skills, such as growing and harvesting mushrooms and sewing clothes. These centers both empower children and adults alike and allow them to gain back their independence. People receiving treatment, services, and skill building at the National Rehabilitation Center and the Lao Women’s Development Center move beyond their disabilities with brightness and cheerfulness. I spend time each week with the amputees, mute, blind, and deaf children at the National Rehabilitation Center doing crafts, drawing pictures, teaching them English, reading stories, and playing games. Each time I see them, their faces are glowing with bright smiles as they eagerly await their turn to tell others about themselves, their week, or simply show another individual how to play a particular game.
In addition to the children at the National Rehabilitation Center, other school age children in Laos share similar excitement and happiness. Teaching English at both Dankoi Primary School and Providence Primary School, [primary school of the Lao Evangelical Church], has opened my eyes to life through the world of Lao children. Coming to school each day, the children are filled with interminable energy, curiosity, and smiles to learn about the world around them. Getting them to sit down in their desks for more than five minutes can some days be challenging. They have grown close to their school friends as well as their teachers whom they treat with great respect and love. The children can often be seen escorting a teacher, visitor, or mentor off to play a game with them, or teach them how to do Lao weavings, a Lao dance, or simply sing a song together. The children’s faces beam with excitement when visitors come to either of the two schools. Many echoing giggles can be heard while playing marbles with their classmates, when blowing bubbles pop in their face, when they spray fake snow throughout the ‘summer’ air, or when someone accidentally spills a drink on his or her shirt.
Members of the Lao Evangelical Church as well as others share happiness and indescribable joy. Whether it is the pleasure they get from the ability to share their faith testimonies with other congregates or praise God each week through music or Scripture readings. They are truly filled with gladness to publicly share their faith and learn about the life of Jesus. Lao feel blessed with opportunities to travel to nearby Thailand to receive treatments and operations for serious illnesses. They find beauty and goodness in planting vegetable gardens, helping with the construction of roads or new buildings, sharing hope and joy through the promise of giving birth and raising new generations of children, or simply eating meals with their families and close friends. Many people living in Vientiane also still have family members living in the countryside, so any correspondence or visits brings them gladness.
Indeed, the Lao have found true happiness.
In this Lenten Season I urge you to find the small joyful moments in the life around you, just as Easter brings a renewal of hope, happiness, eternal life and blessings to many Christians in Laos as well as other corners of the globe.
Thank you for your continued love, support, and prayers for the people of Laos.
Pha Jao Eoy Phone!
Nicole Betteridge teaches English with the Lao Evangelical Church and volunteers with the Dankoi Children Development Center.