Landlocked Laos is one of the world's few remaining Communist states, and is a poor, ethnically diverse, stoutly Buddhist nation and a harsh place for followers of Christ.Read More
So where do Lao people like to eat? There are hundreds of eateries in the city: food stalls on the road side, others indoors with plastic chairs, and often the food is cooked in front of the building.
“Our cafe is a cozy place with great coffee and a good selection of books for great prices but it isn’t a food stall,” Steven explained. While the glass doors keep the air-conditioned environment pleasant, they also create a barrier: “Some Lao people even think of our basic shop as high society!” he said.
“As a business we are compelled to be profitable while our vision is to reach young adults and students,” OM Laos Leader Derek* shared. “These are two goals that are difficult to align.”
Marketing towards more affluent segments of society would help the business take off faster, but the ministry would suffer. Since arriving Steven has been part of an effort to lower the threshold for the desired audience. Tables, chairs and a small cooking area are now placed in front of the building. The team prepares dishes like fried rice, stir-fried basil and even Sweet & Sour, Steven’s favorite, on a stove by the roadside. During cold season, air conditioning is not needed and the front doors are open. The team is already seeing results with an increasing number of locals coming to eat at the cafe.
Not every visit turns into a conversation, but the team doesn’t hide their faith: there are Bible verses on the walls and books on faith for sale. Steven once had a customer ask for a book on reflection. “We actually found him a second hand book about ‘reflections from the Bible’, which he bought!”
The best opportunities to really connect with people are during events hosted by the cafe. Every week young adults come to English club and every month youth come to sing songs during Open Mic Nights. Recently, the team started a baking workshop and game nights, hoping to spend more relaxed time with locals while enjoying cookies or board games.
“Lao people are very competitive when playing games. They love to play games!” Steven shared, smiling.
Pray that encounters in the cafe increasingly lead to deeper conversations and encounters with God.
Steven Sloan* came to Laos in late 2016 together with his wife to serve in the cafe and other ministries. Before coming to Laos, he studied Biology and Science in Europe.
Published: Wednesday, 01 February 2017
Credit: OM International