As we approach the Easter season, I am reminded of all that has happened this past year as well as the newness that is ahead. Due to visa complications in Laos, I am living in the United States for a few months before continuing my work as a Global Mission Intern in northern Thailand. Time in the United States has given me an opportunity to reflect on my time in Laos. I am currently in Fresno, California, as an intern with FIRM, Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Services. FIRM serves the needs of local refugees and immigrants; many are from Laos [11,000] and Hmong [32,000] in Fresno. FIRM provides a wide variety of services for all populations from preschoolers to senior citizens. FIRM offers a preschool, mental health support, health and housing assistance, community gardening, citizenship and legal documents assistance, parenting classes and neighborhood outreach and organizing. For twenty years, FIRM has provided hope for refugees/ immigrants and their families in the central valley of California. For more information, please visit http://www.firminc.org
Having lived in Laos for fourteen months and now given the opportunity to learn from Lao people in the United States, I have been able to compare and contrast the lives of Lao people in both countries. One common theme among all Lao people is water. Water is critical to existence. Used for cooking, cleaning, and bathing, water covers nearly 70% of the earth’s surface and composes 65% of every human being. In some places there is too much and flooding occurs, whereas in other areas not enough water is present or it is too contaminated to use. For many people the presence of water comes as second nature in their lives, but for others, water is more appreciated.
In Laos the water is undrinkable. Bottled water is used, which is imported from Thailand. Many Lao people, usually in rural villages, still do not have access to clean bottled water and are more prone to illnesses. Water is often limited for cooking, cleaning, and bathing. At one of the homes I lived, we showered and washed clothes with a bucket, but at times we were without water for a few hours or more. The same is common within many Lao homes. Living in Laos also allowed me to experience monsoon season (from May to November), often another source of water issues.
The Lao Evangelical Church and Lao Church in the United States (University Presbyterian Church) is, however, bringing hope to this situation. Since 2000, the churches have been working in partnership, primarily to install water systems (such as in Xieng Khoung province, in eastern Laos). The water systems are important to Lao villages not only by improving their health and well- being, but also by increasing the opportunities available to local villages.
Lao people, however, are always happy and upbeat regardless of the water situation. Eager to learn, play, and work, they are filled with hope, laughter, and happiness. While they are very grateful to receive clean water systems, Lao people respond to the lack of clean water with little worry.
For Lao Christians, the joy, peace, and love within themselves comes not from the fact they may or may not have a good clean water supply, but from a different type of water, the living water of Christ. They have the living water of Jesus Christ in their hearts and lives. Their lives can be represented by John 4:14, “Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks the water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Lao Christians have strong faith and are very dedicated to the life of the church. Whether participating in choir, assisting with youth ministries, cooking meals after worships, or coordinating Bible studies, Lao Christians do things with all their heart. The love of Christ is the source of their decisions and actions on a daily basis; with him in their lives anything is possible! Often spending many hours at church each week in worship, their fellow Christian brothers and sisters are like family to one another. Lao Christians' lives are an expression of their faith. As an intern with the Lao Evangelical Church I have taught English at Providence Kindergarten & Primary School (school of the Lao Evangelical Church). Learning, teaching, and growing alongside my students and fellow teachers, have allowed me to see just how much Christ’s love and presence in their lives shapes what they do. Most of the teachers at Providence are Christian. As Christians, it is important to educate, love, and mentor Lao children as they grow and learn about themselves, their culture, and world. While not all the students are Christian, the living water of Christ is present in how the teachers dedicate and share their lives with their students. The living water of Christ sustains Lao Christians in ways that actual water could never do.
During the Easter and spring season, we are reminded of newness and hope. In this same way, the living water of Christ and creation of water systems around Laos, provide bright, promising, and hopeful lives for many people.
Thank you always for your love and support!
Nicole Betteridge teaches English with the Lao Evangelical Church and volunteers with the Dankoi Children Development Center.