Laotian Church Born of Prayer

The year was 1997. Major Dan Sjogren was the corps officer (pastor) of the historic and flourishing Rockford, Ill., Temple Corps, a Salvation Army church. One day he was approached by a group of immigrant Laotians who wanted to be a part of the Army.

Only one man, Khampa, spoke English; and that, at best, was broken. The leader of the group, he had attended some Army meetings in Minneapolis.

Dan said he would discuss the proposal with local leaders. A few days later, he and retired Major Walt Winters met again with the Laotians. Dan explained the doctrines and the structure of the Army (which they gladly accepted), then asked Major Winters to pray that God’s will would be done.

The next day the Laotian leader asked Dan, “Where did Major Winters learn to speak Laotian?”

Dan chuckled. “He doesn’t speak Laotian.”

“But yesterday, when he prayed,” Khampa insisted, “he prayed in Laotian. I heard it, and all the other men in the group understood every word.”

That was only the first of many “miracles.”

The new soldiers joined the Temple Corps, where translation equipment allowed them to hear in their own language. But within four years their numbers had increased to the point that they needed their own building. When a local church building went on the market, the Laotian Salvationists organized a prayer walk at the site. They circled the building, praying on each side that God would make it available
to them.

But it was the wrong structure! The building they really wanted was a block away. Not unexpectedly, Dan received a call from the pastor of the “wrong” church, wanting to know “what all the people in Salvation Army uniform were doing marching around our church?” Dan explained the error. But several weeks later, the pastor called to say that a problem in the church was resolved soon after the prayer walk.

Eventually the corps, now named Rockford Tabernacle, was able to purchase the “right” church, which they used for several more years.

Later, due to some rearranging of Army programs, a Salvation Army–owned building became available, and the church occupies it today.

Impressed with mission

During the formative years, there was a need for a bilingual person to translate soldier (membership) preparation classes into Laotian. In answer to the prayers of Dan and the lay leader, Corps Sergeant–Major Norma Baker, God provided a young pastor from a local congregation to translate. The pastor and his wife were impressed with the mission and ministry of the Army, and they decided to become Salvationists.

“This is just what we were looking for,” they said. Today Captains Ting and Vong Luangkhamdeng are themselves pastors of a corps in Minneapolis.

As attendance increased and new programs were added, the Laotian Salvationists felt the need for a commissioned officer to lead them, but no Laotian–speaking officers were available.

So, of course, they prayed.

Just about that time it became known that a Laotian–speaking officer couple in the Southern Territory might be available for transfer to the Midwest.

Then–Colonel Philip Swyers, second in command of the Army in the central U.S., wrote to his counterpart in the South asking that the couple be transferred to Rockford.

Answering his own letter

But before an answer was received, Swyers was appointed to be second in command in the South. One of his first duties was to respond affirmatively to his own letter!

In June of 2003, Majors Bounlouane and Chamathong Keobounhom (known locally as Majors Bruce and Betty) were transferred to the Rockford Tabernacle Corps, where the Lord has blessed them and their growing, praying congregation. Today there are 65 senior soldiers (members) and 45 junior soldiers on the roll, and attendance at Sunday meetings averages in excess of 120.

One ministry of the Rockford Tabernacle soldiers is sponsoring immigrants from war–torn countries of Asia. The soldiers provide shelter and meals until the newcomers get established, and many of the immigrants choose to attend Army meetings. The corps also provides breakfast five days a week to schoolchildren from underserved families. And after school each day, the corps building is open for computer classes, ESL classes, and Bible studies.

Needless to say, prayer continues to be a major focus of the Rockford Tabernacle.

by Robert E. Thomson


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