For our only Sunday in Laos, we attended the small LDS branch in Vientiane. Possibly one of the best Sundays I have ever had. I didn't understand much, but the spirit touched my heart more strongly than it has in a long time.
As Laos is communist, missionaries are not allowed to proselytize. In fact, the only missionaries there are two senior couples who can only provide much needed service; however, they don't speak the language, so their communication is severely limited.
I don't know specifics, but I do know that the church is still very new in Laos. The people of the branch have learned so much, but they still have so much more to learn - they are firm in their testimonies of the gospel and they are required to heavily practice their faith that, no matter what the answers to all of their many questions are, those answers will be true. I sadly admit that I'm not sure I would have such faith. I pray that someday soon, these people can have their questions answered by full-time, Laotian-speaking missionaries, who can take their small branch by the hand and help them achieve their full potential...which is great indeed.
During Sacrament meeting, I could visibly see the love that the people of this branch have for my mom. I loved seeing their smiles widen as she got up to speak! I then watched them scoot to the edge of their seats and lean forward when my dad stood up to speak. They hung on every word - starved for the knowledge and teachings that he shared with them. My dad spoke in Thai, not in their native tongue of Laotian; but the two languages are similar, much like Spanish and Portuguese. I found it touching to see the concentration in their faces as they put forth the extra effort to understand all he was saying. Even the children of the branch were quiet in reverence, sensing the importance of the meeting from the examples of their parents.
Relief Society was after sacrament meeting, and I watched the 10 sisters open up their Doctrine and Covenants to read. There was no lesson manual, there was no teacher, just sisters sitting together, reading the word of God. They would read a little, discuss a little, question a little... One sister spoke very broken English, and every once in a while, she would translate a question from the group to my mother. "If you haven't gone to the temple, can you still live with God?" A heartfelt, concerning question from these sisters who don't have much of a chance of raising the needed money to get to the nearest temple in Hong Kong. Not even the branch president has been to the temple. They asked my mom to give the closing prayer and afterwards each sister stood up front and, with the help of the sister who spoke broken English, bore her testimony to us. What a touching experience. One sister said to my mother, "You are like an angel sent from God to teach us." Another sister expressed her joy that Heavenly Father had chosen her to be baptized. No sister, save one, had been a member of the church for more than 10 years... but again, their faith was amazingly strong. My emotions got the best of me, and I sat with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face that, though large for me, seemed to pale in comparison to theirs.
I really do believe that God is no respecter of persons. These women added a new layer to my testimony that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are with us, and that they guide us and love us...all of us. Such humble circumstances in Laos - such joyful people.
After church the young women and relief society sisters crammed together in the kitchen to prepare lunch for the branch, while the kids played outside.
When lunch was prepared, the children came in to help 'set the table'...i.e. put plates of food down on colorful mats that had been spread out on the chapel floor.
We ate, talked, and laughed while the food was passed around and around until everyone had had enough. Then, these two cute little girls came out carrying an empty tub and cleared all the dishes by throwing them, one by one, into their tub. I thought this was so cute...especially since that little girl in the pink dress held onto those four cookies the whole time!
Random pictures of the day-