I lived in that small room for a long time and had nothing to do inside but pray and pray and pray that everyone would believe and accept Jesus
Buddhist-background believers in Southeast Asia risk imprisonment in very difficult circumstances. Dok* from Laos was imprisoned for 13 years. Recently, an Open Doors team visited him to hear how he was doing. Prison didn’t break him. In fact, it made him a more efficient evangelist. Five years have passed, and Dok looks back; his stories are as vivid as if he was imprisoned yesterday. What was it like to be in jail? What kept him going? And half a decade after prison, is the danger truly gone?
A Look Back
It was June 1999. In a small, dark and chilly cell, a man in his 50s lay on the floor in a fetal position. He was trembling, but he didn’t know if it was from the cold or the pain that pervaded his body.
Dok*, now 74, is the first Christian convert in his province. He is also the first person to be imprisoned for a decade and three years for preaching the gospel, especially to the Khmu tribe in his province.
Dok was once in the Lao military with the rank of a major. Though he was supposed to defend the lowly, he was abusive in his power. He lifted his hands to his wife and children, and he was a drunkard. “My children used to hide near the toilet every time I was angry because I used a knife to scare them,” he shared.
But later in his life, Christ found him and he accepted Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior.
From then on, everything became different for Dok. His way of words, his manners, his deeds… all of it changed. Following what the Bible says, Dok proclaimed the goodness of the Lord, evangelizing to the people in his province. Many people came to him – some to confirm that he really had changed, but many, Dok believed, were convicted by the Holy Spirit.
Each day that Dok would share the gospel, more and more people would come and approach him. His words spread to the whole province, the authorities heard and he was given a warning. He asked the people not to come near him anymore in great numbers or at least minimize their number of visits to him. Yet people were unstoppable.
Until that one fateful morning of June when two policemen came to their house. Little did he know that it would be his last time to see his wife and family for many months…
Life in Prison
“I lived in the dark room for five months and 15 days,” Dok reminisced.
Unlike other prisoners, Dok was slumped into a single room in the jail. It was bare and cramped. He felt hopeless. “My hands and feet were handcuffed. Where I slept I also went to the bathroom. There was no restroom. They only gave me a plastic bag to use as my toilet. The room was very, very dark. I couldn’t see anything,” he recalled with hazy eyes and strong hand gestures.
Dok also remembers that he ran errands for the police handcuffed. He performed “heavy work” while in prison (i.e. cleaning the police toilet both in the morning and evening, carrying heavy rocks from the river (quarrying), fetching water and firewood for the police’s family at night time).
The cold weather, the dark room, his exhausted and exposed body, his age and a fist of sticky rice a day for his meal did not help. A few weeks of being inside that jail made him nauseous.
Despite the agony, it did not stop Dok from clinging to God. It did not stop him from praying, not just for himself but for the people who were with him in the jail.
“I lived in that small room for a long time and had nothing to do inside but pray and pray and pray that everyone would believe and accept Jesus. I prayed that the Lao people will also believe as well as the prisoners who were with me, I prayed for them every day that I was in that cell.”
But Dok’s days were not meant to be always gloomy and tormenting. His prayers were heard, and he was rewarded. He knew that brighter days were ahead of him and the Lord was with him.
“One time, I slept through my pain and I had a dream. In my dream, there appeared three people who looked like angels and wore very white clothes. They prayed hard for me. When I woke up, I felt much better. The pain was gone.”
A few days after his headache was gone, he was released from that small cell and was transferred into a bigger cell where there were more than 70 prisoners. In that cell, there was another Christian from another province in Laos and two Christians from Hanoi, Vietnam. The Christian from another province became his pal; together they prayed for each single cellmate they had. They prayed that the sick would be healed and that the rest will be able to receive salvation in Christ.
Days after that, his new friend was released from prison, and when the chief of police saw that Dok behaved and did not do anything naughty in his cell, he was assigned to taking care of every person in the jail including the police officers.
Days, months, years, and seasons passed. Dok continued to share the gospel with the prisoners. He was eventually freed from prison. What was supposed to be 15 years in prison was cut short into 13 which Dok is thankful to the Lord for.
“Unofficially, I became the leader of 600 prisoners in that jail. On the day I was released from jail, the police called me and asked me to assign to each of the prisoners his/her assignment. And after I gave the assignment, the police asked me about Jesus which I shared to them as well,” said Dok.
Still on the Run
A few months after Dok was released from prison in 2012, his story got so famous that it landed on Youtube. A few days after it was uploaded, authorities came and confronted Dok about it and warned him that if he won’t be able to take it from those sites, he will be sent to prison again.
“That forced me to be away from my family. It forced me to move from one place to another. I had to escape and hide from the police. I cannot serve God in our province because I had to escape,” Dok shared. “My family stayed in our village to continue the ministry while I was escaping and hiding. It was my wife who keeps on following up the 62 churches and always encourages them to be strong in their faith.”
Dok was released from prison early 2012, but it was only earlier this year that he was able to live with his family without hiding.
“This year, 2017, I am not in hiding anymore. I can already live with my family. I am very happy and very thankful to the Lord.”
With the relationship Open Doors has established with Dok, he and his family willingly allowed OD to interview them with an agreement that OD shall conceal their actual names, address and physical features (photos and videos) and that the interview shall be done in another province several miles from their house.
Though Dok is now able to live with his family and now worships with fellow Christians in the open, it is never an assurance that the government will take its eyes off of those they call “traitors” of Laos.
A pastor and an OD partner shared with an OD staff: “They (government) are always there. They know you and they know what you are doing.”
A City on the Hill
Despite what had happened to him and the ongoing risk of serving the Lord in a country where Christianity is loathed and considered a religion of the West, it did not hide the glory of the city on the hill. Instead, Dok became a trademark and a light to the world.
“God lives in me. God is above everything in my life. God is good and He is above everything. I still believe in God because I know that God died for my sins, and even if I am a sinner He has accepted me and forgiven all of my sins. I have pure joy in the Lord.”
Like what Jesus says in Matthew 5:14, one of Dok’s favorite Bible verses, Dok is a light of the world. He is a city on the hill that can’t be hidden. In his battle, Dok was not alone and his brightness reached far beyond what he could see.
He did not know that there were other people concerned and praying for him besides his family. He was only a new believer when he was imprisoned. It was only when he got out that he learned about the many Christians who remembered him. “We don’t have any words to say except thank you,” said Jik*, Dok’s wife. “When my husband was in prison, you prayed for us and helped us. You remembered us.”