Population & Geographical Distribution
The Lao are an ethnic group of Southeast Asia with a global population of about 23.4 million. The Lao are a lowland people who have dominated the mid Mekong Region for many centuries.
Thailand – 19 million
Since the 1970’s these Lao are referred to Isan. The Lao of Thailand are concentrated in the northeast of Thailand, also called the Isan region. There are also many migrant Isan Lao working in other parts of the country, such as Bangkok.
Laos – 3.5 million
The Lao make up about 50% of the population of Laos.
Vietnam – 15,000
About 172,000 Lao in the USA, 17,000 in France, with small populations in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina and Switzerland.
Cambodia – 55,000
Lao belongs to the Tai language family. While there are variations of regional dialect, all forms of Lao are mutually intelligible and are considered to be a single language. Lao in Laos has its own highly phonetic script. Isan Lao use the Thai script.
The majority of Lao people are rural and agrarian. Farming and related industry occupies most families. However, there is a strong shift toward urbanization and today Lao can be found in every walk of life.
Religion and Beliefs
The Lao are animist with a veneer of syncretistic, folk Buddhism. Daily life is ruled by spirits, luck, charms and karma. The belief system is the basis for community stability with conformity to the status quo being the greatest good.
The whole Bible is available in Lao. In 1932 the whole Bible was translated into Lao by a Swiss Brethren missionary. In 2000 the new translation of the Lao Bible was completed by a two Lao translators in North America. This version was published by The Bible Society and is now widely used both in Laos and North America.
History of Mission
In 1897, Presbyterian Daniel McGilvary rode his elephant from Thailand through the mountains of northern Laos. His goal was to reach the Lao but instead the response to the gospel was limited to Khmu tribesmen.
In 1902 missionaries of the Swiss Brethren became the first Christian workers to take up residence in Laos. They located in the south and soon there was a response among ethnic Lao. Some of the first missionaries died of cholera but more followed, and many churches were planted among the Lao of southern Laos.
In 1929, missionaries of the Christian and Missionary Alliance started residential work in northern Laos. There was a large response among the Hmong tribesmen, but little response among the ethnic Lao.
Work among the Isan Lao was initiated by the Siam Mission of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Northeast Thailand. Since the mid 1970’s many other churches and mission agencies have become active in the region and today there are numerous churches among the Isan Lao.
A biblical, indigenous church, multiplying among the Lao. A church that is a light and model to the nations around it.
To intercede in prayer for the Lao on location and from around the world. To coach Lao believers to be whole-hearted in their obedience to Christ