Three Americans volunteering with a Casper-based Christian evangelical organization are expected to return to the United States in roughly two days after being detained and deported from Laos for distributing Gospel tracts and other Christian material.
“They’re staying in northern Thailand right now for the night,” Eric Blievernicht, the operations manager for Vision Beyond Borders, said Thursday. “We’re estimating (they’ll return to the United States) in two days, but we don’t have a detailed itinerary yet.”
The missionaries, identified by the group only as Wayne, Autumn and Joseph, were detained by Laotian police on April 8 while distributing religious material without official permission in the northwestern province of Luang Namtha.
Blievernicht said the organization cannot provide further information about the volunteers’ identities until they receive their permission. But he said it appears they were well-treated by Laotian authorities during their detentions.
“They were allowed to stay in a guest house and had some freedom to move around town during the detention,” he said. “They had their passports taken and they were told they couldn’t leave town, but otherwise they were left more or less to their own devices.”
According to its website, Vision Beyond Borders, formerly known as Asian Vision, started in Casper in 1994. Its members have carried more than 1 million Bibles and 15,000 hand-wind tape players containing the Gospel into closed countries.
Volunteers are well-aware of the risks, Blievernicht said.
“What they do, it may be the only chance that people have to hear the gospel and to receive God’s word,” he said. “We’ve seen the radical transformation that has on people’s lives, so that makes it all worthwhile.”
In addition to proselytizing, the organization’s website states that it set up safe houses for sex trafficking victims in India and Nepal and provides humanitarian aid to refugees from Burma, Syria and Iraq.
Christians carrying out proselytizing work in Laos face pressure from two quarters. The country’s rigid old-style communist government is suspicious of outsiders and seeks to regulate all religions. The mostly Buddhist country’s animist community, usually found in rural areas, is also often hostile.
The U.S. State Department’s 2017 International Religious Freedom Report states that in Laos “reports continued of authorities, especially in isolated villages, arresting, detaining, and exiling followers of minority religions, particularly Christians.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.