A U.S.-based Christian evangelical organization says three of its American volunteers who were detained in Laos more than a week ago for proselytizing have been freed and deported.
The operations manager for Vision Beyond Borders, Eric Blievernicht, said in an e-mail that the three crossed into Thailand on Thursday night.
"Our prayers for their release and that they might be home for Easter are being answered," Blievernicht wrote. He gave no other details.
The missionaries, identified by the Casper, Wyoming-based group only as Wayne, Autumn and Joseph, were detained by Laotian police on April 8 while visiting villages in the northwestern province of Luang Namtha to distribute Gospel tracts and other Christian material.
The website of U.S.-government funded Radio Free Asia, citing an unidentified district policeman, reported Tuesday that the three were detained for handing out religious materials without receiving official permission.
Christians in Laos, especially those carrying out proselytizing work, face pressure from two quarters. The country's rigid old-style communist government is suspicious of outsiders and seeks to regulate all religions. The mostly Buddhist country's animist community, usually found in rural areas, also is often hostile.
The U.S. State Department's 2017 International Religious Freedom Report said about Laos that "Reports continued of authorities, especially in isolated villages, arresting, detaining, and exiling followers of minority religions, particularly Christians."
Vision Beyond Borders is one of a number of missionary groups that do semi-covert work in countries whose governments are often hostile to Christianity, and are best known for actions like smuggling Bibles into places such as China.
The group says it also helps support poor and orphaned children, provides safe houses for women who have escaped sex trafficking, and has sent refugee relief supplies to the Middle East.