Ba Na, Laos - The village of Ba Na is small and simple. The residents are poor and rely heavily on their annual rice crop to feed and sustain them through another year. The people of Ba Na often struggle with finding adequate drinking water and basic health care. Most of the residents have no education and live in simple, small grass and wooden huts. The infant mortality rate is high, and the average life expectancy for men is only 39 years.
It was statistics like this that caught the attention of one church, Parkview Heights Christian Assembly in Dallas, Texas. Three years this church of 18,000 members sent a small medical missions team to Laos. When they returned they recounted tales and showed pictures of the sad state of life for the Laotian people. Debbie Armstrong was one of the members of that team.
"I was deeply affected by that trip more than any other thing in my life" said Armstrong. "These people didn't even have toilet paper. In some of the villages we went to they didn't have ice for their drinks and it was over 100 degrees outside. There was no air conditioning, no sodas or even electric fans. The conditions were miserable."
For a year the church prayed about how they could further help the people of Laos until finally
they believed it was time to go.
"As a church we caught this vision" stated pastor Rick McElhannon. "We had a number of people who were willing to go, and even a pastor ready to make the commitment. So we began a fund raising campaign to send the people and start up a church."
Over the course 18 months the church raised almost $47 million dollars toward starting up a new work in Laos. The village of Ba Na was picked because many of the residents remember the extremely poor conditions there.
"Ba Na was horrific" said Merrideth Barber, who also participated in the missions trip. "I didn't know people could live in such a terrible place."
After the fund raising campaign ended, the church immediately set about securing all of the necessary paperwork and visas to begin building Parkview Heights Christian Assembly of Ba Na. Nine months later a dream was a reality.
"The structure is amazing" noted McElhannon. "It stands in the midst of a rice field and rises out of the ground like a beacon for all to see."
The church structure includes a sanctuary that can seat 1800, complete with 40 Sunday School rooms, a youth center, 55 bathrooms and church offices with wireless internet access. There is also a fellowship hall and kitchen.
"Our first Sunday was a tremendous success" said the church's pastor, Rev. Patrick Clemens. "I think the entire village of Ba Na showed up for our first service this past Sunday. The praise band did an excellent job. I'm a little concerned that the people didn't pay attention that well during the sermon, but all things come in good time. They all attended the dinner on the grounds afterwards and seemed to really enjoy themselves."
TBNN was able to catch up with some of the residents of Ba Na and interview them with the help of our own correspondent Brother Slawson who is fluent in Laotian.
"There is not a soul in Ba Na who can refrain from this place" commented Khamkong Xok, an elder in the village. "The waters are pure, and on days when the sun is very hot, inside of this place there are refreshing winds, cool and pure. I will go to this place. These people speak in a strange tongue, but I will go to this place and drink and not be thirsty. And I will go and not be hungry."
"We saw them make this place for a long time" said a man simply known as Phant. "We all wondered for so long what they are doing. Then four days ago we all hear a sound, like a bell from this place. We all began to walk toward this noise and we see that the doors are open to this very big house. When we go inside the people are all smiling at us, and the house is like nothing we have ever seen before. Everything shines like the sun. These people make strange music and a man stands and talks for a long time. We do not understand him. But like Khamkong, I too will go to this place, for if I go I may live longer."
"We are excited about the future of our church" said Clemens. "We really feel like we're reaching these people. As long as we get our weekly airdrops of supplies like Coke, Hershey bars and other necessities, and as long as the generators keep the AC running, we'll be alright. This is what missions is all about."