by Nevin Nitschke

In the cool morning air in northern Thailand, a young woman looks at green rice fields across a flowing stream, all still partly in the shadow of the forested mountains. The lush vegetation that seems intent on blanketing her Lua community village is filled with the sounds of life. So much so, that it is almost possible to hear the growth in the plants that were once home to tigers and elephants.

Khun Daw reflects on her past and the fear her family felt from the tight hold spirit doctors had on their lives. These fears were enhanced by the closeness of life in a small community, being enclosed by nature and surviving as ‘foreigners’ whose forebears came from nearby Laos less than a hundred years ago. She remembers when each day was ruled by what the spirit doctor allowed and demanded.

As Khun Daw rides her motorbike through the valley, she recalls when she first found hope – the moment that led to her freedom from fear. Even at 13 years old she knew her family was falling apart. Her father escaped the harsh reality of his life through heavy drinking, which led to constant fighting between her parents at that time.

Khun Daw’s head and stomach often ached with pain, needing regular hospital visits. The control of daily life by the village spirit doctor felt like a vice.

As she turns her bike off the main road and begins the climb up a dirt track, she remembers the moment she asked for help, not from her mother or the spirit doctor, but from an evangelist who visited their home. ‘Who is Jesus and what is the Bible?’, she had asked.

On her climb up the mountain road, she passes a marked field. It is marked to show that the spirit doctor had once forbidden crops to be planted there. It is another reminder of the fear that once controlled them. At the top of the rutted track, she stops next to a simple building that has become the heart of this community. Only three local families now don’t have a relationship with Jesus, but even they will attend the church service she is about to lead.

As Khun Daw begins to lead the worship service, she does so as part of a team of 11 evangelists. All of them know what it is to be freed from fear. Each one serves with a desire to share with their communities that there is only one God and that he gave his life for them. Fear is fading and God’s love has produced joy, trust and hope.

Nevin Nitschke is an LCA International Mission Program Officer.

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