Pastoral Perspectives

Musing Over the Recent Mission Trip

This year’s mission trip to Thailand was the leanest so far, in terms of the number of people who came on board. As usual, we went to two places to teach English – Phayao and Huai Kang, the latter being the place where our missionary Pannee is based. For the first leg of the trip in Phayao, I had at least a family who had gone on previous trips with me. They were familiar with how things worked and were, of course, a tremendous help. For the second leg in Huai Kang, however, that family couldn’t join us. And that left me with one youth on crutches (he had fallen down in Singapore but still wanted to go on the trip) and four ladies, all of whom were in Thailand for missions for the first time. For three of them, this was also their very first mission trip! Usually, a whole team of Thai sisters would accompany us as interpreters. But this time, only Ps Suttiporn was available, and we had to engage the locals as interpreters.

But God is always good. We offered to Him our five loaves and two fish, and saw Him multiply our resources; we had no lack. Although many of the team members were first-timers, I was greatly encouraged by their enthusiasm, initiative and resourcefulness in beefing up the lesson plans with their own materials which they had sourced for on their own accord and shared with the rest of the team. Some were more experienced than others in terms of teaching English, but all of them were willing to dive into it and came out with many encouraging things to share. One was very excited to see 10 students raise their hands after being asked if they wanted to become Christians and clarifying with them what that truly meant. There was also good coordination between the interpreters and us, including the interpreter who was more conversant in Mandarin. You can imagine the conversations in the classroom: English was spoken between the teachers and the students, then Mandarin between the teachers and the interpreter, and finally Thai between the interpreter and the students! But all went well to the praise and glory of God. At the end of the day, it is the Lord who works out his perfect power in our weaknesses. Even so, I would still like to have more people come on board because it is taxing to teach a class alone (aside from the interpreter). Two teachers per class is ideal, so please join us next year to reach out to the Thai students!

This was also the first time we visited so many households in both places. We jokingly said that we had to work OT when the visitation went beyond our dinner time on one of the days. I even attended a Buddhist wake of a church member. Yes, it was a Buddhist wake although the deceased was a baptised Christian. All his family members are Buddhists so they organised the wake as such even though they knew he was a Christian. But his eldest sister gave us the permission to pray beside his casket. The church members sat down on the floor in a small circle beside it while I briefly shared from John 3:16 as well as 1 Corinthians 5 where the apostle Paul said that to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord. Pannee then led us in prayer.

We visited both believers and non-believers, and the common theme that came up was persecution. The Christians there were being persecuted – their neighbours would criticise them for believing in Jesus. They would ostracise them to the extent that if the Christians were to pass on, they would not get any help from the villagers monetarily. They would also not be allowed to use the village’s facilities for cremation. For the poor, this was a very huge setback, and all these could be part of the reason why the family of the Christian brother who had passed on chose to organise a Buddhist funeral for him. We visited another family who has witnessed the wonderful testimonies of Christians around them, especially that of their eldest son who is an active member of the church that meets in Pannee’s house. His life took a very positive change since his conversion and his proud parents agreed that their son is filial. Even their neighbour, who happened to come by their home while we were there, had many good things to say about Christians. However, when we urged them to put their faith in Jesus, they declined and confessed honestly that they were afraid of their neighbours.

The believers we visited also shared about the struggles they faced because of the persecution, but their faith is strong. They said that they didn’t care; it didn’t bother them because they knew that Jesus is the true God and they had personally tasted His goodness in their lives. One of the members, who used to be the village chief’s assistant but fell out with him because of his conversion, even intentionally put up a very big cross on the external wall of his house and decorated it with Christmas lights so that in the night it stood out very prominently. Such is his boldness! Their testimonies are also very touching. One wife was reconciled with her husband after her conversion; parents could see the difference in their children’s lives after they became Christians; drunkards were able to give up their addictions so that even a non-Christian wife wanted her husband, who is a drunkard, to go to church; and for the Christian brother who had passed on, Pannee showed him so much care compared to his family members while he was alive that she should be able to hold her head up even though she was being criticised by his family members for her faith.

I see genuine faith at work in these Thai Christians. In spite of persecution, they stand their ground and continue to show love. They are full of the joy of the Lord and truly, the joy of the Lord is their strength. The phrase “godliness with contentment is great gain” describes them because they have found their fullest satisfaction in Christ. They should put those who preach the prosperity Gospel to shame. Why the stress on health and wealth when these brothers and sisters of ours in Thailand are neither wealthy nor healthy (many of them as they age are plagued with all kinds of health issues)? But just look at the radiance in their faces and their big heartedness (they reminded me of the Macedonian church who gave generously out of their poverty). Their transformed lives are a sure evidence of their faith and a powerful testimony of the authenticity of the Gospel they preach. May we be like them.

The year is coming to an end and for the past few years, I have had the privilege of wrapping up the year with a mission trip to Thailand. It has always been a blessing. You don’t know what surprises the Lord may spring at us but they are always pleasant ones. Even the seemingly unpleasant ones have their purposes and we can be confident that He is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think for the sake of His glory!

Rev Lee Kien Seng

December 16, 2018