Introduction / History
Laos is a small country located in southeastern Asia, just south of China. It is entirely within the tropics and occupies a rugged strip of the Indochinese peninsula. The Tai Lue inhabit many villages of northwestern Laos in the Nam U Valley, and along the Tha and Beng Rivers. Their tonal language belongs to the southwestern group of Tai languages.
The Tai Lue are part of the Tai people cluster which is pronounced as Dai in China, where over 700,00 Lue people live in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture (known in Thailand as Sipsongpanna, "Twelve Thousand Rice Fields") in southernmost Yunnan province. China is the original homeland of the Tai Lue people, but many have migrated south due to pressure from the Chinese. During World War II, when the establishment of a communist regime ended the Tai Lue kingdom, they fled to Burma and Northern Thailand. The Tai Lue made their homes along the Mekong River, and found themselves in the landlocked country of Laos, completely dependent on others to survive. After years of invasions, a series of land wars, and possession by the French, Laos has finally entered into good relations with all of its neighbors.
What are their lives like?
The Tai Lue have preserved much of their traditional way of life as it was before their expansion into Indochina. Most are farmers living in river valleys where they grow wet rice for both consumption and sale. They still use wooden equipment drawn by buffalo. They are also good fishermen and clever silver smiths. Some men fabricate the famous Tai Lue swords, and the women's specialties include weaving and embroidery.
Some traditional dress for men includes blue coats, dark blue bell trousers with bands of red, yellow, or white; and large white turbans. The women traditionally wear light blue embroidered jackets that are adorned with small pieces of silver and red or scarlet skirts and turbans.
When a Tai Lue a couple is married, their living arrangements are decided according to which household most needs the services of the couple. Households are tight knit have generally have a large network of extended family in their village. Grandmothers often take care of their grandbabies and young children while older children go to school or to the Buddhist temple and parents work in the fields.
Tai Lue villages are located either on raised ground surrounded by rice fields, or on high ground on either side of a road or pathway. Their houses are often the characteristic Thai "pile" dwellings, with floors made of split bamboo and straw thatched roofs. Each village has a headman who is paid by the Lao government and organizes village meetings and makes infrastructure decisions. In the past each village had a shaman who the people visited when they were sick, but now more and more people go to the clinic or hospital when they are sick.
What are their beliefs?
The Tai Lue people practice Theravada Buddhism mixed with animism. Each village has a temple with novice and head monks and every family is expected to visit the temple for Buddhist festivals and give to the temple in order to gain merit for their next lives. The Tai Lue put great emphasis on reincarnation, believing that if they live a good life they will be reborn into a higher social order. If they are wicked, however, they could be reborn as degraded animals. Each village also has a "heart" where the village spirit resides and is given offerings. They also believe that non-human objects have spirits, and that people have multiple souls.
What are their needs?
The Tai Lue have been tremendously affected by the fighting and bloodshed of the past. They need healing and new spiritual hope.
Copies of the New Testament are from a 1933 translation in which many can no longer read. The Tai Lue have both a old and new script of their language but generally only the boys who go to temples as monk novices learn to read and write the script. Children generally attend Lao primary school. Typically when boys turn 12 years old or finish 5th grade they enter the Buddhist temple as monk novices for three years. After that they go to middleschool and continue their education.
Because the Tai Lue communicate orally with their language, an oral approach of sharing the Gospel is important. Currently, a chronological set of 40 Bible stories has been recorded in the Tai Lue language as well as a Creation to Christ story. Another resource being distributed is 21 stories put to the Tai Lue traditional style of singing called "kap". Further discipleship, persecution, and church life story sets recorded in Tai Lue will be needed.
The Tai Lue face great social pressure to continue their Buddhist and animist practices. Those who choose to follow Christ may be forced out of their village or face other kinds of persecution. Today, there are only a small number of Tai Lue believers in Laos, leaving over 160,000 people with no witness of Jesus Christ.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Tai Lue so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray that God will call out more prayer teams to break up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Pray that the Gospel will spread rapidly throughout the Tai Lue people and Christ will be glorified.
* Pray for the Holy Spirit to empower the Tai Lue believers to seek first God's kingdom and righteousness, discipling others who disciple others among their people and beyond.
* It only takes a couple of Tai Lue believers to catch God's vision for their people and become the beginnings of a movement. Pray for a Tai Lue church that is on fire for Christ to rapidly reproduce throughout the Tai Lue people of Laos and beyond!