REDDING, Calif.— In his role as Laos program officer for the Institute for Global Engagement, Simpson University professor Stephen Bailey is helping organize an “unprecedented” conference on Religion and the Rule of Law in the capital of Laos in late March.
More than 100 government officials, as well as leaders from the four official religions of Laos, will gather to discuss human rights, models for protecting religious freedom, and the governance of religious affairs. International scholars and key Lao officials will present papers, and there will be opportunities for open dialogue on the governance of religion and religious freedom.
“This will be the most high-profile event on religion in the nation’s history and is the fruit of years of the IGE’s engagement and relational diplomacy,” said institute CEO John Boyd.
Dr. Bailey, who joined Simpson’s Theology and Ministry faculty in 2011, has been involved with IGE in Laos since 2002. He visits the country two to four times a year to help build a sustainable environment for religious freedom in partnership with the Lao government and Lao religious leaders. He works with two Christian staff members in Laos.
The March 26-27 conference is the culmination of a two-year project to train rural government officials in human rights and the religious beliefs and practices of Laos’ recognized religious organizations (Buddhism, Catholic Church, Lao Evangelical Church, Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Baha’i, and Islam). The IGE Laos team has conducted 13 seminars during that time with more than 700 delegates around the country.
“These seminars are slowly changing the attitude of government officials positively, and we are seeing an increase in religious freedom and new partnerships with religious communities throughout Laos,” Dr. Bailey said.
The national conference will be hosted by Laos’ Ministry of Home Affairs’ Department of Ethnic and Religious Minorities and funded by the U.S. State Department.
“This is a big step forward in Laos’ journey toward religious freedom,” Dr. Bailey said.
Dr. Bailey and his family lived in Laos for 17 years, where he did ministry and community development work. During that time, he met Robert Seiple, then-U.S. Ambassador of Religious Freedom. After the Baileys returned to the States, Seiple invited him to work with the Institute for Global Engagement in Laos.
Seiple and his wife founded IGE in 2000. The institute “advances the view that religious freedom—properly implemented—is integral to a flourishing society, and a stable state,” its website states.
Dr. Bailey and his team—Mr. Lee Hua Thao and Ms. Manichanh Keohavong—conduct peace-building workshops through Dr. Bailey’s non-governmental organization SANTI, a Lao word for “peace.” SANTI is funded by Samaritan’s Purse Canada. Each year the peace-building team, in partnership with the IGE, seeks to conduct six weeklong workshops in the Lao countryside for government and religious leaders.
In addition to his work with IGE in Laos, Dr. Bailey is also working with World Concern International to train their local staff in Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar in transformational development. Staff members include Christians and Buddhists.
“This is basically training in Christian community development and witness,” he said. “I talk about how peace is the foundation for all community development, and we work in small groups to understand our own religious teachings on peace and community.”
The workshops include training in understanding the roots of conflict and instruction in the basics of Christian faith and Buddhist philosophy.
“We do some interfaith sharing and learn about each other,” Dr. Bailey said. “These workshops have produced some of the most exciting teaching opportunities I have ever had.”
As a recipient of a Dale Faculty Research Grant from Simpson University, Dr. Bailey also has been researching Christianity in Buddhist Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand). He has presented some of his findings at two conferences in Thailand during the past year.
Dr. Bailey plans to return to each country in the next year and a half to ask follow-up questions and host interfaith dialogues, which, he said, “are creating some of the most meaningful conversations about faith and God with Buddhists that I have had in more than 35 years of work in Southeast Asia.
“I am thankful to God and to Simpson for these opportunities to try to be an ambassador of peace in Buddhist Southeast Asia,” he said.
About Dr. Bailey
Dr. Bailey and his family lived in Thailand and Laos for 17 years and were involved in community development and Christian ministry programs. He earned his Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary (2002). He served as Associate Director of the International Fellowship of Alliance Professionals from 2006 to 2009.
From 2001 to 2011 he was Associate Professor of Intercultural Studies and Director of the Alliance Graduate School of Intercultural Studies at Alliance Theological Seminary. Since 2011 Dr. Bailey has been Professor of Intercultural Studies at Simpson University where he teaches in the area of Cross-Cultural Studies and Transformational Community Development.
Photos courtesy Stephen Bailey
Top: Simpson University professor Stephen Bailey, left, with Institute for Global Engagement Laos team staff members Lee Hua Thao, center, and Manichanh Keohavong.
Simpson University, founded in 1921, moved to Redding almost 30 years ago and will celebrate its centennial in 2021. In addition to offering 25 majors in its traditional undergraduate program, the university has graduated almost 4,000 North State adults from its ASPIRE degree-completion program, and more than 2,500 from its School of Education. It has a highly ranked School of Nursing, a seminary, and master’s programs in counseling psychology and organizational leadership.
Simpson is launching new athletics programs in track and field, swimming and diving, and men’s volleyball, as well as a bass fishing team. The university is also working to better serve transfer students from community colleges through its commitment to Associate Degree for Transfer agreements.