Persecution Friday – Bounchan: Imprisoned for Christ

August 17, 2012 at 6:30 am | Posted in VOM Fridays | Leave a comment
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Khmu Christian Bounchan Kanthavong spent 13 years and eight months in prison in Laos for his faith. He was released earlier this year. Before he came to faith in Christ, Bounchan was an assistant district governor for the communists.

In 1965, Bounchan had been a soldier in Laos. He eventually became the assistant of an important official. He first encountered Christians when he was sent to study politics in Tha Gnong in 1975. At the time, he didn’t pay much attention, but later as assistant district governor, he visited villages where there were Christians. He was intrigued by their worship, but these Christians were afraid of him because of his government position.

Once, while staying with a family in a village, he heard a Christian radio program supported by VOM. He asked questions, but no one gave him details. As a member of the government, Bounchan had permission to cross in and out of Thailand to conduct business. There, in 1997, he sought out the man he had heard speaking on the radio.

The Christians there were afraid of him, and he was just as afraid they would report him to the Lao government. But the man he sought was willing to meet with him. This man took him to a private room and explained Christ to him. The soldier was baptized that night and began to share the gospel wherever he went.

The authorities warned him over and over to stop preaching. He was let go from his job. He was arrested June 8, 1999, and sentenced to 15 years in prison. On Feb. 2, 2012, he was released, two years early. VOM supported him and his family while he was in prison, and provided medical care after his release.

Bounchan: I went back to my home church and talked about Jesus. Many people would come; they wanted to become Christians. Soon, the whole village would come. I didn’t know how to lead them to Christ, so I went to meet with a Christian leader. I said, “Now that I’ve shared the Gospel, many people want to become Christians. Please come and lead them to Christ. I don’t know how to lead them.” But he was scared and said, “I can’t go there. You shouldn’t even do this. You could end up in prison.” I responded saying, “Oh, I worked with the government. I worked with the law. I know the law, and they can’t put me in prison for more than two and a half years because I haven’t done anything wrong.”

On June 8, 1999, at 10 p.m., four of the church elders in my village were arrested by the police. They arrested me just 30 minutes later, and then they separated us into five small rooms.

I wrote a message on a small paper for the other prisoners telling them to say that they didn’t know anything. I said, “Give me all the blame. I will pay for this, and you thencan go back to preach the gospel and lead the church.” The next day, they were put in stocks and interrogated twice. The elders took my advice and denied everything. Two of them were in prison for six months before they were released. The other two were sentenced to eight years in prison, but they both died three years before their sentence was up. I was the last one left in the prison.

In prison, I was always careful. I didn’t eat the food that the prison or police gave me. I didn’t drink the water they offered, afraid that it was poisoned. I didn’t take any of their food. I had to be careful because I knew that my life was valuable for God and for his ministry.

Many times, the police came to interrogate me, saying smoothly, “Have a glass of water. You have a sore throat, and you are thirsty. You even sound thirsty. Here, have a cup of water.” I would say, “No, thank you very much. I am not thirsty.” Many times, they would offer me food and drink, but I didn’t take it. I also told my friends not to take it, but they disobeyed.

Twenty days after I was arrested, they investigated me for five days before saying, “You don’t tell the truth. We know that you are trying to do bad things to the country.”

And then they put me in stocks. Stocks are a piece of wood, and it’s very big—quite big. The stocks spread my legs apart, and they also put handcuffs on me. They were afraid that I would escape. They put me in handcuffs, and even put smaller ones on my thumbs. Then they put me in a black room without food for seven days.

One of the guards there secretly came to my room at 9 p.m. and give me a little food. I survived because of that food — that little amount of food from that man.

VOM: Did they give you anything to drink during those seven days?

Bounchan: Nothing. That room was very dirty, and I got leprosy. Yes, like in the Bible. I couldn’t scratch my body because of the handcuffs, but my wife sent me some chili peppers because they wouldn’t give me any medicine. I didn’t have anything except a little rice to eat and the chili peppers my wife gave me. I prayed to the Lord, ground the chili and used the chili to reduce the itchiness. I did that until all the chili was gone, and my skin seemed much better.

When the chili was gone, the leprosy seemed healed. But a week later, a pain started in my eyes like something had bitten me. My wife came and asked for permission to take me to the hospital to treat my eyes, but the police said, “He is the enemy of our country. Don’t treat him. Let him be blind, and let him die here. We won’t allow you to go to the hospital.”

They interrogated me 16 times, asking me, “Why did you go to many villages and tell them about the name of Jesus?” I answered, “No, I didn’t preach the name of Jesus. You’re the law. You give us the channel for us to do this because we have the right to believe anything. I preached God.” They were mad because I said that the law gave me the right to tell about Jesus.

Tell my wife, ‘Would you please help me? Bring me a Bible. I cannot live without the Bible. I have to read the Bible.’

VOM: Before you were arrested, when you were going to the villages, you said you were telling people about being a Christian, but you didn’t know how to lead them. What message were you telling them?

Bounchan: I proclaimed to them that becoming a Christian will release you, and God will clean your life. I said, “Become a Christian, and you will know that you have to repent. You will be free from seven habits. You might be released from your snake, tiger, peacock and pig heart.”

[Bounchan used a gospel presentation that uses pictures of animals that characterize how our actions and hearts are evil.]

VOM: So when you told the guard that you didn’t preach Jesus, you didn’t preach him by name.

Bounchan: When I proclaimed the Gospel, I told people to come to the Lord and repent. I only knew the first step. I didn’t deeply know the name of Jesus.

VOM: Why do you think that so many people responded?

Bounchan: They were mostly people who live in the countryside — people who smoke, drink and worship a false spirit. So I told them that if they became God’s children, they would be released. That is a big change for them because every year they have to sacrifice a pig, cow or buffalo to the spirit. When I tell them God can help release them, it is a big help — not just spiritually and physically, but financially as well.

In prison, I was locked in the room alone for more than one year, and during that time, I was never given a Bible. My family thought it was strange when I asked them to send me a Bible. I even asked the guard who brought me food if he would send my wife a message. I said, “Tell my wife, ‘Would you please help me? Bring me a Bible. I cannot live without the Bible. I have to read the Bible.’”

After about a year and half, they took me outside. Not outside the prison, but out of the dark room. Immediately, I was put to hard work carrying firewood twice a day. They forced me to carry firewood as big as a man’s thigh. Many times I was so tired, but the police would put a gun to my back and say, “Call to the Lord to come and help you. Shout to the Lord to give you strength.”

VOM: So what did you say when they taunted you?

Bounchan: I didn’t say anything. One time, the guards asked me if I was tired, and I told them I was. The guard asked, “What do you eat with rice?” I said, “Nothing. My wife only sent me rice and some vegetables.” The guard said, “Jesus’ money is flying around the world and around here. You should ask for him to drop some for you so you can buy a good meal.”

For ten years, they forced me to cut trees for slashing and burning the rice field. I would do that for the police, who guarded the prisoners. I would mostly slash and burn their personal land, but sometimes I slashed other men’s properties. The police still got the money. Twice a day, they forced me to go to the forest and find firewood.

In 2007, they trusted me and didn’t guard me. They let me go alone to get the firewood. In July or August, they gave me two or three hours to get the firewood because the steam was flooding. I knew the routine, and on the first day I collected enough firewood for two days. On the second day, I swam through the flooded stream, ran to my house, took five Bibles and ran back. I hid the Bibles then carried the firewood back to the camp.

One day while I was carrying firewood, I had my bag with my Bible in it. The police said, “Hey, let me check your back.” They found my Bible and took me to the office. They called me upstairs where there were many police. They asked me to tell them about the book and forced me to read it out loud. After I read for a while, I stopped and said, “Oh, I cannot finish all in one day, but if you want to know more, I will tell you.” I was sharing the Gospel with them when a colonel entered the room. “What are you doing?” he asked. One of the policemen said, “We are learning about Jesus. Here is Jesus’ book.” The colonel said, “That awful book? Who brought it here? Throw it away!”

And then I said, “Sir, it’s a good book. Please come and see if you don’t believe.” A few days later, they took me to the colonel’s office. The colonel said, “Now, tell me about your book.” When other police came into the office and saw that he was interested in what I was saying, they listened. Soon, even more police came in to listen to me. I proclaimed Jesus, and they told me, “You believe in a good thing.” They began to treat me politely, but one week later, they were all removed. A new group of police was brought in.

When they took my first Bible, I never got it back. But I had a Bible buried in the room where I slept. A part of the floor was broken, so I would dig the soil out and bury my Bible there. I would put the broken concrete back and lay my sleeping mat on it. I read this Bible every day. I also listened to a Christian program on a small radio. I even heard my name mentioned, and it encouraged me. But one day the policemen came and checked all around my room and under the mat. They found the hole under my bed, took the Bible and radio and fined me. I didn’t have any money, so I cut bamboo from the forest, wove a chicken cage and sold it to pay the fine.

VOM: How did you get the Bible and the radio inside the prison?

Bounchan: My wife and children left the radio at someone’s house near the prison. The guards trusted me, so when I took the basket to go get vegetables, they let me. I got a big, leafy plant — I don’t know the name in English. I then used that plant to wrap a Bible or radio inside, and I would put another vegetable on top.

I proclaimed Jesus, and they told me, “You believe in a good thing.” They began to treat me politely, but one week later, they were all removed. A new group of police was brought in.

VOM: How long did you have the radio before they found it?

Bounchan: They took five radios from me. I had some for as long as five or six months, but others broke quickly.

VOM: How about the Bibles? How many Bibles?

Bounchan: They took five Bibles, but I have owned six Bibles in the prison. They finally didn’t care about the sixth one. I could read it openly; they didn’t mind.

VOM: When you are listening to the radio, would you have to do it quietly?

Bounchan: I would listen to it under my mosquito net with headphones, and I would also put a blanket over me. When I listened to different Christian programs, my heart was refreshed.

But when the new group of guards came, they found my Bible and burned it. Not all of it burned, and there were some parts left. I was mad, so I took it and read it openly, even though there were only small portions left. I didn’t care about their feelings. I became angry and prayed, “Oh Lord, please punish them and let them know that you are the highest.”

[In the years following Bounchan’s prayer, the chief of police died from a liver virus, and four other guards were imprisoned for stealing and drug dealing.]

Bounchan: During my last year in prison, the guards drank heavily after killing a cow. A captain forgot his gun at my bed, and I saw it and was scared. What should I do? If I take the gun to the office, they might accuse me of something I didn’t do. I decided to show the gun to one of the guards, saying, “Sir, I found this gun. Someone came into my hut and forgot about it.” The guard said, “Look at the number. Oh, this is Captain Pornchai’s gun.” A message was sent to the captain to come see me, but he said, “Bounchan wants to meet me?” He was angry. “Why does this prisoner dare to call me? Why does he need to meet me?” But the guard urged him on. He was very mad when he came to me. “What do you want from me?” he demanded. I said, “Is this your gun?” And then, his attitude changed. “Oh thank you. Thank you. Good. Thank you. Thank you very much,” the captain said while kneeling on the floor. “Oh thank you that you didn’t take this gun to the colonel. You have saved my life. You saved my job. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” He shook my hands. He asked me what I wanted to eat. He asked me what he could do for me.

VOM: The captain, he really got down on his knees?

Bounchan: Yes, he deserved to lose his job because he lost his gun.

In January of this year, a chief of the prison said to me, “Your family is so strong in their faith that Christianity has spread everywhere. That is why you remain here. We will not let you out because your family still spreads the Gospel. If you want to be released, go back home, drink and play and join the party like us — that is the best thing for a man in this world —don’t live like you have. Stop believing in your faith or you will remain poor. Many believers who grow poorer and poorer end up not believing at all.”

But I knew that I only had a short amount of time left in prison. I said to him, “If you stop worshiping the cement idol, if you stop worshiping the gold or bronze idol, then I will stop worshipping my God. You won’t stop. Why do you force me to stop?”

In 2010, I was forced to clean the police toilet at the camp. I had to carry water very far. I used two baskets to carry the water put into the toilet. I did this every day for eight months.

One day around that time, I fell because I am old and was carrying very heavy baskets of water. There was a pain in my back, and I tried to stand up but fell down into the stream. The police mocked me saying, “Hey, why don’t you call on your God to give you strength?”

VOM: So when the solider and police mocked you about your faith, why did you just kept quiet?

Bounchan: I was afraid that they would do something violent. I have seen the guards shoot at other prisoners that try to say something in response. They don’t shoot you, but instead scare you. They shoot at you and make you pay five dollars for each bullet.

On Sept. 3, 2010, the police told me that they received a letter from America and Canada, but I was never allowed to see it. Still, they put me in a small room without food for 10 days because of that letter. I had 10 days without food or water, but I stayed in that room for one month and 15 days.

VOM: So one time, when your name was said on the Voice of America radio program, it encouraged you a lot. Then this time it caused you some serious problems.

Bounchan: I sent a message to my wife to find out where the letter was. She tried, but she couldn’t find anything. But they said that they had the letter, and they put me in the small room for a month and fifteen days. I also had to pay a 200,000 kip [approximately $25] fine when I was released.

Before I was released from prison, the high official in charge of the prison said to me, “If you are released, stop your belief. Don’t believe at all. Do not get anything, and don’t go anywhere. Don’t communicate with other Christians, or you will get nothing.” I was released within three months after that.

VOM: You don’t seem like angry or bitter about being in the prison. Were you angry about having to be there?

Bounchan: I don’t feel regret, but on the other hand, I give thanks to the Lord. Even in prison, I knew that God was with me, and I knew what he had done for me on the cross. It is greater than what I have been through in prison.

VOM: What was the time that you felt the lowest or when was it the most difficult? What was the worse time for you?

Bounchan: The worst time was from 1999 to 2001 — about three or four years — because in that time, I didn’t have a Bible. I was also just a new believer, but I still had peace in my heart. When I got a Bible or radio, I would read and listen to grow my faith every day.

VOM: So during that time when you didn’t have anything at all. Why did you stay faithful to God?

Bounchan: I remember something I heard on the radio. The speaker said that our Lord is the God who created the world, the universe. When I remembered his words, I would think about the earth, the stars and the moon, and I saw the glory of God. How great God is! If no one can create them, how can they exist? When I look at them, I see that they are real. It comforts me and supports me and caused me to depend on my faith during that time.

VOM: Can you tell me a little bit what the prison looked like? Describe the dark room.

Bounchan: It was built with big stones and with cement, but the door is metal with a little hole like a window. At 11:30 a.m., a guard would open the window and drop in the food. Then later at 3 p.m., the door was opened and more food dropped in. Other than that, I didn’t know what time of day it was. Thank God that the door was made of metal. There was a small hole from rust. I would stand up and put my nose on the hole and breathe fresh air.

VOM: If someone tells your story to Christians around the world, is there anything that you want to say to the people who prayed for you?

Bounchan: I was in jail. I know how hard the life is, but I want to encourage believers in America to be strong in their faith. I know many Americans have not accepted Jesus Christ yet, but you have the freedom to proclaim Jesus and share the Gospel. Go evangelize in the name of Jesus because you can. You have the right to read the Bible, to pray and go to church. Please, do that.

Please pray for my country Laos, that God will change the country to be the land of the Lord. Pray that everyone accepts Jesus Christ because I know that nothing is worthy in this life except becoming a Christian and following Jesus Christ.

Thank you to my brothers and sisters in America, Canada and many other countries for your faithful prayer. I know that I am still alive today because of your faithful prayer. I am now sharing my testimony because of your powerful prayer.

Please pray for my life from now on. When I am alive, I want my life to glorify our Lord’s kingdom. I want to share the Gospel and do good things to glorify him. Pray for me. Pray for my family to minister, and pray that God will provide what we need.

Bounchan’s daughter Sangdara remembers her father’s abusive behavior toward substances and toward her mother. But when he met Jesus, that all changed. Even with her father in prison, the family’s Christian ministry grew.

Sangdara: Since the day my father came back and told my mother about the Lord, we saw a big change in his life. When my mother became mad, he never responded to her anymore. When my mother would calm down, he would repeat, “What do you think about the Lord that I told you about a few days ago?” My mother would curse him again, but my father always stayed quiet. I saw a big change, but I didn’t understand why my dad was so different or why he let my mom talk to him like that. Why didn’t he beat her like he had before? Why didn’t he respond to her? Later, my mother began to wonder the same thing. Since he became a Christian, he never left the house with other girls. He stopped drinking. He stopped borrowing money from others.

We had a spirit altar in our house, but one day, he broke the altar. He tore it down and threw it out. We were all amazed. No one could say a word. A few weeks later, he asked my mother again, “What do you think about the Lord I told you about? Should we believe in this God?”

My mother got mad at him. She took a metal jug and hit his head. Still, he never hurt her. Then later, two men came to my house, opened their Bible and shared the Gospel with my mother. She learned about God, and a week later, she surrendered her life to Christ.

When my father was put in prison, I saw my mother become very hungry and thirsty for the Word of God. Honestly, she never put the Bible down. At nighttime, daytime, at home — she never left the Bible. I didn’t know anything at that time, but I saw that my father also loved reading that book.

VOM: When was the next time you saw your father?

Sangdara: After almost two months, the police allowed me to meet with my father. My father told me, “Be strong in the Lord, love him, serve him and don’t worry about me. If they let me die here, I am willing to die for God’s name.”

I was wondering which God my father meant. Who is God? But my father’s encouragement resounded in my head: be strong, be loving and serve God. It disturbed me every day. I went to my mother, and she gave me a Bible saying, “God is in here. Read it.” After I became a believer, I wanted to study the Bible. I wanted to serve God. There were only three believers in our area: my mother, one of my older brothers and I. We would sit at a small table every Sunday, read the Bible and pray. And then another family joined us, and another family. Month by month, year by year, many people would attend our house church. Soon, 36 house churches were operating in the area we live.

It was very hard when my father was first arrested. People would look down on us and hate us. At my school, the teacher would tell the other students, “Here is our country’s enemy’s daughter.” I didn’t have any friends. No one talked to me at school, and everybody looked down at me.

During that time is when I experienced how God changes us. Before, if someone said bad things or cursed me, I would panic or be unhappy. Even when the teacher shamed me to the other students and when I had no friends, I was warm inside. I had a peace like someone was standing with me and comforting me.

It was very hard when my father was first arrested. People would look down on us and hate us. At my school, the teacher would tell the other students, “Here is our country’s enemy’s daughter.” I didn’t have any friends. No one talked to me at school, and everybody looked down at me.

VOM: So how do you feel today with your father out of prison after 14 years? What do you think now?

Sangdara: I am so thankful that my father was released. Through the hard time he had in prison, he was a good model of ministry for us who live outside. Because of his patience, we can endure many problems. He never complained, even when he got sick. He still sent us messages encouraging us to be strong. When he was released, that was a big joy for my family.

VOM: It is amazing what God has done in your family. It’s an amazing story of God’s love and faithfulness.

Sangdara: Because my father was put in jail, we experienced the goodness, love and mercy of the Lord. Many people cried with us, prayed for us and supported us. If we didn’t have God, prayer and support, we would have been in trouble. Because of God’s grace and because of your love and faithful prayer, we never slept with empty stomachs even though we are poor. God provided us with daily meals, and we always had enough to eat.

Thank you very much for your faithful help and support. Because of you, we can stand firm in our faith and serve God like we are doing today. What you have done to us, we do to others. We will give your love to others and make it alive to them.

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