Pastoral Perspectives

The Land Of Smiles

      Yes, I am referring to Thailand where some YZers & YAMmers went for a 6-day mission trip and were thoroughly won over by the generous hospitality of the local people. Protestant missionaries arrived in Bangkok as early as 1826 yet till today, we are told that Protestant Christians make up only 0.4% of the country’s population. Many Thais are supposedly staunched Buddhists but they are wary of all kinds of evil spirits and tend to be superstitious. This makes them live under a heavy yoke of fear.

              Our first place of ministry was at Dunmon Church situated in a place called Buriram, a 6-hour drive north east of Bangkok but because the driver lost his way, the journey extended to 9 hours and we reached our destination almost close to midnight. The people at the church were patiently waiting to serve us dinner. Though it had just rained and the floor was muddy and wet, the warm welcome we received more than compensated for all those inconveniences we faced. For the next few days, Dunmon Church became our home. We slept in the sanctuary, ate their local delicacies, bathed with cold water scooped from a big container, squatted over toilet bowls, contended with insects of all sorts, and for some of the young people, life was really out of the ordinary. I am proud to say that they took it all in their own stride and were able to overcome some of the phobias they initially had.

               This was the church’s inaugural English Camp and before we arrived, the ministry workers had already gone into the local schools to give out flyers, inviting the children to attend. We had a total of 96 students on the first day and on the following day, 92 turned up. We thank God that the children came back the following day which was a Sunday because we were told that usually the Sunday group is much smaller compared to the Saturday crowd (the children gather every Saturday for activities) because most of the students’ parents are not believers and I suppose they don’t want their children to attend Sunday school.

               I have been greatly encouraged by the faithful service of the pastors of Dunmon Church (a rather elderly couple) as they shared with us how hard the work was for the first 3 years where they laboured without seeing any fruits. I was encouraged by the testimony of a Korean missionary intern whose life was turned around by the Lord and at the age of 24, he told me that he was prepared to serve the Lord in Thailand for life! I was also very much encouraged by the ease with which our mission team members interacted with the children. We speak very little of their language; it was the love and warmth that the YZers/YAMmers demonstrated that went a long way in helping them make those connections. Besides teaching the children English and playing with them, the Gospel was also shared through creative means.

               Sunday worship service was beautiful. Many children were there and around 30 plus adults gathered together. The mission team presented a song, a dance and a mime together with the giving of testimonies. The Word was preached and three people accepted the Lord into their lives that morning – one was a hostile neighbour who lived next to the church; another was a sister of a church member; the third was a children’s worker who wasn’t a believer. We praise God for his mercy and grace upon their lives. The service was easily more than 2 hours with 3 testimonies given before the sermon and another 3 after the sermon. The impressive thing was that the people weren’t conscious about time and they were in no rush to leave.

               The English Camp ended on Sunday afternoon and immediately after that, we started to fall ill one after another like dominoes – vomiting and some even came down with fever. Food poisoning would likely be the logical reason but the local people including the children were well. You may say that the locals have strong stomachs but even the Thai sisters on our mission team who usually would not have any problem eating Thai street food also fell ill. Three out of four of the group leaders fell ill, one of whom had high fever at the start of the trip but became better when we reached Buriram – praise God! We thank God for sister April (Eld Dr Chung Horn’s wife) who was our first aider and was in constant communication with Eld Chung Horn, seeking his advice as to how best the sick could be treated. We prayed and prayed; we gathered the sick in the center and prayed for them. We didn’t want them to be discouraged. We believe it was spiritual warfare that we were experiencing because we had just completed one ministry and we were about to go to another place, a place where there are no known Christians.

               During one of the morning devotions, I shared with the team from 2 Cor 12.9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul prayed for his thorn of flesh to be removed but Jesus spoke these words to him. I wanted to encourage the team not to be disheartened even if they were not healed but to persevere in their respective roles, trusting God to give them the grace and strength to do so. Of course in my heart I made a prayer to God to bring healing to those who were sick, everyone of them, so that they could experience His power at work in their lives in real and refreshing ways.

                The travel to Petburi, which is situated 2 hours south west of Bangkok, took 10 hours but it was a wonderful time of rest for all of us, especially for those who were not well. One of them actually vomited and slept and vomited and slept …By the following day, we thank God for the timely healing and we were all well enough to continue ministry which included the teaching of English in a Buddhist Primary and a Buddhist Secondary school. Good rapport was built with the principals and staff and the impression I got was that they were very much willing to have us back again. But the highlight would be the village outreach in the evening. Buk is a member of our Thai congregation and her mother who became a Christian while she lived with Buk for a while in Singapore lived in that village. When she returned home, because there was no other Christian in the village, she went back to her previous religion but prior to our coming, Ps Mayuree’s husband visited her and she had recommitted her life to God. Pray for her as it is difficult to be a lone Christian. Buk was creative in taking the opportunity to celebrate her mother’s 78th birthday and we were there to perform for the invited guests, which comprised of Buk’s siblings, relatives as well as neighbours. We presented the same package of special items and the Gospel was preached and testimonies shared. Ps Mayuree said that usually people would stay during the performance but when it came to the preaching, they would slowly leave. For that evening, most of the people stayed throughout the whole presentation, meaning that many would have heard the Good News for the first time! We didn’t ask for a response as we were told that it would take time for them to think about what they had heard. Missionaries will continue to visit Buk’s mother to encourage her and I believe they would continue to seize opportunities to share the Gospel in that village. This is the first time that I preach the Gospel to a people who have not heard it before. The usual scenario is for us to preach the Gospel to people who have already had some inkling of the Christian faith. We praise God that Buk’s mother has given her a piece of land in Petburi for her to build a church!

               Jin Ju, who is a Korean missionary to Thailand, was our team leader right from the start. She made the initial contacts with both the church and the schools for us to visit; she planned the traveling schedule and the budget; she looked into all the details right down to the buying of gifts; she trained us in the speaking of some simple Thai greetings and introduced us to the Thai culture. Earlier, Jin Ju had to return to Korea for rest because physically she was very sick when she was in Thailand, to the point where she could not function normally as a person. When she recovered, Ps Mayuree asked her to come to Singapore to serve with the Thai congregation and to take the opportunity to build up her confidence again. Little did we know that we have been used by God to encourage Jin Ju as she saw her plans and efforts come to fruition through the ministry of the mission team! Through this mission trip, she is much assured that God still has work for her to do in His mission field.

                If I were to summarise the whole mission experience with a word, it has to be the word ‘INTENSE’! Within 6 days, we did ministry, experienced spiritual warfare, saw our prayers being answered, were encouraged by the missionaries and pastors’ stories, and made new friends with the locals and even amongst ourselves. What a wonderful trip that we have taken to the land of smiles!

Pastor Kien Seng

July 10, 2011