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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Thailand: New Day, New Generation

By Jeffrey Dove
Sept. 5, 2010

In the familiarity of small-town life in the Western world, churches vie for the attention of Christians. But catch a flight halfway around the world to Thailand — the heart of Asia — and the scene is altogether different.

A nation of 68 million people, Thailand is overwhelmingly Buddhist. A familiar expression states: To be Thai is to be Buddhist. Buddhism in Thailand is a unique mixture of traditional religion, Theravada Buddhism and Brahmanism — a potent array of false faith when sharing the gospel. A sizeable Muslim population also lives in the southernmost provinces and in the larger cities. Combined, these factors have made Thailand a spiritually resistant field for many years. Recent statistics indicate that after nearly 200 years of Christian ministry among ethnic Thai, only about 1 in 300 has any connection with a Protestant church.

Committed followers of Christ in Thailand might struggle to find brothers and sisters of like faith. But at the end of their search, they will be rewarded. Though small, the Thai Christian movement is growing vigorously, giving evidence that this traditionally resistant people is reachable for the Master.

A national vision
This new era of growth is clearly tied to the work of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostals have actively ministered in Thailand for 60-plus years. Finnish Pentecostals came in 1947, followed by the Scandinavian Pentecostal Mission and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. The first U.S. AG missionaries to Thailand were appointed in 1968, and the following year Dr. Wirachai Kowae founded the Thailand Assemblies of God.

Currently the Thai Fellowship includes about 5,000 to 7,000 believers who attend some 150 churches. Believers are engaged in a variety of ministries that extend from Bangkok’s metropolitan sprawl to some of the nation’s most remote villages. While the church may be small compared with other national fellowships, an aggressive push to plant churches promises greater growth in the near future. The national church has targeted all 76 provinces in the nation for a church planting. With nearly half of these provinces lacking a single Christian congregation, just one church plant represents a major evangelistic advance.

The Thailand Assemblies of God Bible Institute in Bangkok has recently taken on new life thanks to a strategic partnership between the national Fellowship and AG World Missions. As funds become available, the campus will undergo major remodeling and construction of a new dormitory and classroom facility. Students and faculty are already moving forward, using whatever resources are available. Just a year ago, only eight students were preparing for ministry. That number has tripled this year, with 40 students expected to begin studies soon. The rise of a church planting movement depends upon called, trained, mentored and Spirit-empowered leaders, and a growing number of believers are making themselves available for the work.

A local focus
Future graduating classes of pastors and church leaders can find inspiration in today’s pioneers of the Thailand Assemblies of God. Pastor Suphot Phanon and his wife, Dtukay, have led the Chiang Rai Children’s Home in northern Thailand for almost 20 years. At the home, more than 140 girls and boys are given an opportunity to escape the clutches of poverty and the growing recruitment of tribal children into the sex trade.

Children at the home receive consistent, loving care. They are fed, clothed and placed in good local schools. After graduation they can enroll in local colleges or the Chiang Rai Vocational Centre to train for a job and a normal life. Well over 95 percent of children who come to the home go on to productive adulthood and avoid the degradation so many others face. Almost every child demonstrates a personal and growing relationship with Jesus Christ, and many of them choose to study for the ministry at local AG study centers or through Global University materials online.

Pastors and missionaries have played a vital role in starting and maintaining the home. Currently, Asia’s Little Ones, an AG World Missions ministry, coordinates these efforts by keeping the program moving forward and making sure the children have what they need. Over the years these faithful supporters have saved hundreds of young lives from almost certain “red light ruin.”

An individual commitment
Prior to his current ministry, Pastor Suphot served in Thailand’s military and held a secular job. Seeing firsthand the harder edges of Thai life, he has taken every opportunity to connect his countrymen with the Savior. Before starting the children’s home in Chiang Rai, he was a pastor and leader of a slum ministry in Bangkok, and oversaw television and radio evangelism efforts under Good News Ministries of Thailand.

Besides his work at the children’s home, Pastor Suphot leads Abundant Life Community Centre in downtown Chiang Rai City and serves as the Northern District superintendent for the Thailand Assemblies of God. He oversees about 20 churches and has a fervent desire to see more congregations planted. He has established a local radio station, is developing a citywide newspaper and operates a prayer mountain retreat center where local leaders from Thailand and other neighboring countries come to learn and be inspired. A prominent member of the community, Pastor Suphot has built relationships with the provincial governor, the mayor, leaders of universities and the local prison, and even prominent Buddhist monks.

Pastor Suphot and Dtukay have seen the fruit of their ministry shape their own family. Suree Pim, a young woman from the Yao tribal group in the mountains of northern Thailand, came to the Chiang Rai home as a child. Many from her village were recruited for the sex trade in southern Thailand, but Pim grew to be a vibrant, intelligent student who heard and accepted the gospel. After graduating from the children’s home, she married a young seminary student — Pastor Suphot and Dtukay’s oldest son.

As Suree works at the children’s home, her love, care and deep affection for the younger girls is evident. She willingly tells others that she was “snatched from the flames” and avoided a life of degradation only because of the providential intervention of believers. Now she is working to  see her life’s testimony multiplied many times over.

Partners for tomorrow’s harvest
Rampant drug use, prostitution and deeply engrained religious traditions keep millions of Thais from turning to Christ. But God-ordained opportunities are steadily breaking through spiritual strongholds and cultural barriers. Meeting these opportunities effectively calls for dedicated, committed believers who will partner with the national church and the Thailand missions team to bring in the harvest.

At least four ministries can make good use of short-term workers and teams interested in English conversation outreaches. The Assemblies of God enjoys favor with the Thai government, so full-time career missionaries are welcome as well. Opportunity abounds, but the cost is great. Learning the language usually requires a two-year commitment and an additional year of cultural and ministry adjustment just to teach and minister capably.

A growing Bible school, an array of street ministries, dozens of church planting partnerships, international church development  — all point the way to a growing and thriving church in Thailand and the critical need for workers. Partners who respond to the call can be sure of one thing — we can use them!

JEFFREY DOVE is Area Director for Peninsular Asia.

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