Mission team journal
Thailand & Southeast Asia 2013 | reflections & prayers
def. the state of being strikingly different from something else, typically something in juxtaposition: the
action of calling attention to notable differences
It’s taken a few days to recover from the time & climate change. Thailand’s ‘cool season’ makes Vancouver’s summer seem downright chilly - and traveling back-in-time on a plane for the better part of day tends to leave one somewhat less than physically revitalized. But my heart is full of joy & renewal upon experiencing the Spirit of God at work on the other side of the world.
Some brief reflections on our time in Thailand.
It is a nation marked with contrasts & complacency. Competing worldviews collide and yet somehow survive in a ‘laissez-faire’ environment. ‘Jai-yin-yin-naah’ was one Thai expression - ‘let your heart by easy’, ‘don’t worry be happy-hearted’, ‘It’s all good’.
Some observations on contrast:
Over 95% of the population would self-identity as Buddhist, a religion with a pronounced emphasis on morality and the outer life. Yet in Thailand rampant sexual sin parades around openly. Young rural girls are willingly sold to work in the cities - serving the distorted desires of sex-tourists and Thai men alike. Thai adolescent boys’ first-sexual experience often comes through a prostitute - paid for by their fathers. Mothers so angered by the failure of their men (fathers, husbands) sometimes raise sons to be daughters. ‘Lady-boys’ as they’re called in Thailand - who grow up with a distorted view of identity, beauty & worth. Streets are lined with bars - yet only a few blocks away sits a prominent Buddhist temple with a gold-covered Buddha overlooking it all. Here their population follows the pattern of religion - reciting scripture, singing songs, paying dues, following rites & rituals, and removing sandals. For this is holy ground. Indeed.
There are economic contrasts. Wildly affluent pockets of every city are growing - fueled by Chinese capital & western influences. If you didn’t know better, you could confuse the mall in Chiang Mai for Oakridge Mall in Vancouver. Every high-end jeweler & consumer-product dealer was represented. Beamer’s & Benz’s lined the streets. While the vast majority of the population in these cities live in open poverty. There is a growing upper class and a growing lower class. Not sure who’s left in the middle.
There are political contrasts. Each day, usually twice, the King’s anthem is played over loudspeakers in every village & township. A reminder that Thailand is proudly still a Kingdom with a living king. Never-colonized by the west, Thailand proudly reveres their history & royal family. Opposition to this king is not tolerated. And yet amidst this apparent honouring is a profound dishonouring of humanity in general. Any nation that tolerates sexual & economic slavery to this degree misunderstands the essence of honour & integrity.
There are contrasts in the church. Not unlike North America, Thai urban centres are increasingly resistant to the Gospel, while poorer neighbourhoods, often with the most persecution, are the most receptive. We spent much of our time on the Mekong River across from Laos, where we heard of great revivals in villages where pastors routinely face imprisonment & persecution. Whole villages coming to Jesus, being baptized, and birthing churches. Yet on the Thai side of the river, church planting remains hard, slow plowing. It seemed an odd relationship: where freedom & abundance existed, church planting lagged - yet where there was persecution & poverty, church planting flourished.
OBVERVATIONS OF BEAUTY & INSPIRATION...
These people know how to pray.
Whether it was HIV-orphans in Chon Buri, or Khmu pastors from the north, these people know how to pray. Prayer meetings are exactly that. Prayer. Not 50 minutes of talk and 10 minutes of prayer. Just prayer. Usually concurrently. Wild & beautiful.
The powerful work of the Holy Spirit is evident everywhere.
Almost every testimony included some supernatural manifestation - a physical healing - a vision - a call - some spiritual power that opened their hearts to the gospel of Jesus. The Spirit of God is evident in these people, from their prayers to their praises. They are a people filled with & equipped by the wonderful Holy Spirit.
A new generation is being transformed by the Gospel.
After a couple years of language study, one of the missionary families realized the need for an HIV-orphanage near Bangkok. 10 years on and with incredible resources through MBmissions, the Abundant Life Home serves dozens of orphans who would otherwise have been discarded. These young men & women are being trained & equipped in music, education & the gospel - and are poised to become next-gen leaders in their cities & churches. Thanks to the effectiveness of medication, they should live fairly normal lives - possibly even having children of their own. Praise God for these children, the house mom’s, and the ALH family.
SOME CHALLENGES & PRAYERS FOR THE WAY FORWARD...
The Bride of Christ lacks in solid, gospel-fluent & Spirit-filled men to lead. There are some, but few. And most are from tribal backgrounds (Karen, Khmu, Hmong, etc) as opposed to the predominant culture, Thai’s. I’m praying for God-fearing men to be raised up, called & equipped by Jesus to lead a revival in this nation. Praying for solid dude missionaries - humble & strong - to help equip the next generation of church leaders, fathers & husbands - to reverse this tragic trend.
The soil conditions are hard-packed clay, or filled with rocks & thorns. Either the seed of the Gospel is snatched up before taking root, or doesn’t take deep root because of the rocks & thorns.
Hundreds of years of missionary work have resulted in a few well-established churches & para-church ministries, yet the vast majority of Thai’s have politely refused the claims of Christianity. Less than 1% Christian nationwide, with slightly higher pockets in rural communities. Not much better, or worse, than we experience in urban Canada. We need a refocus on the urban core to start sharing the Gospel upstream.
I was given a picture during my journaling & devotions. A pick-axe. Something to break through the hard ground allowing seeds to be planted, roots to grow & Living Water to flow. Gentle, pick-axe wielding men & women are needed to proclaim & live a robust Gospel to this nation - in ways it can hear & understand.
So I’ve begun praying for these leaders. For God to save, send & equip leaders willing to boldly & humbly proclaim Jesus as Lord and allegiance to no other. To lift up the King of Kings in a land ruled by a lesser king. To lift up the Lord of Lords in a land that looks up to a dead, golden Buddha. To proclaim the Prince of Peace in a land ravaged by war & rumours of war in neighbouring states.
In Thailand, as in my city, what’s needed most is simply Jesus. So pray with us that He will continue His work in the hearts of Thai’s - calling them to repentance & belief. Bringing them from darkness to light. Opening their hearts to the glory of God in the face of Jesus. Confident that one day, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess, that Jesus is Lord. The work has clearly begun. A crew of solid & inspired missionaries is embedded already - pouring out their lives for the glory of God, the equipping of the saints, and the salvation of the nations. More is needed. More will come. Only in Christ.
To the praise of His glorious grace, Kristian & Susie Martens