Saving Thailand: Christian Leader Sees Opportunity Amid National Crisis
BANGKOK, Thailand – “Every day they say more water is coming but we are not fearful,” said the Rev. Thongchai Pradabchananurat.
It’s the worst flood to hit Thailand in 50 years, rendering a still-climbing 533 death count and more than 800,000 people affected. Pradabchananurat stands with a remnant of Christian Thais in the Bangkok and surrounding regions who wouldn’t think of fleeing in this crisis or any other.
Pradabchananurat is the president of the Thailand Protestant Churches Coordinating Committee, an influential position that serves as a liaison between Christian organizations in Thailand and the Thai government.
In a book-lined office tucked away at the Baptist Student Union in the heart of Bangkok, Pradabchananurat writes feverishly with one hand while the other hand carefully descends an open Bible line by line. He’s writing a devotional book specific to the flood he hopes will minister to the people of Thailand. When his church delivers food to stranded residents in the weeks to come, Pradabchananurat’s book will be included in the survival rations – along with rice, oil, and water.
“Many people are sitting in their homes and they cannot get out for maybe a month or more,” Pradabchananurat said with an expectant lilt. “While they sit and think, we want to give them God’s hope to think about. We want them to know that their homes are under the flood but that Jesus Christ is over the flood.”
A joyful ease inhabits this David-like pastor as he recounts Thailand’s Goliath-like challenges: The 2005 Phuket Tsunami, political unrest, prostitution, AIDS, and the painful statistic that only 0.5 percent of a country of 65 million is considered Christian. Pradabchananurat is not deterred that 95 percent of Thailand is steeped in the Theravada Buddhist sect and the remainder are Muslim or other multi-god fusions of faith. He isn’t discouraged that elaborate, miniature temples pepper the front yards of homes and businesses every square block.
In fact, Pradabchananurat appears more encouraged than ever as he describes a God-sized vision Thai Christian leaders have to dramatically change the spiritual landscape of Thailand by 2020.
According to Pradabchananurat, a coalition of four major Protestant groups in Thailand, representing almost 80 percent of the over 4,100 Protestant churches and other Christian ministries, has formulated The Thai National Plan to reach their country with the gospel. The plan is on its way to hitting several milestones as it reaches its 1 percent goal of Christians in Thailand by 2020. The plan is a mixture of prayer, evangelism, leadership training, and aggressive church planting in Thailand’s 80,000 villages.
Currently, provincial coordinators assist local pastors and their churches by providing tools, teams, training, technology, talents, and treasure (the six Ts). This system of accountability at the national, provincial, and district/sub-district levels is proving to be a key factor in the growth of the movement.
“I believe we will see 1 percent of the Thai population become Christian by 2020,” said Pradabchananurat. “Yes, we are the minority faith in Thailand but we don’t grow weary because we see the fruit of what God is doing here every day. The Christian churches are growing and we are finally working together to bring a stronger evangelism to our country. We’re excited because every day we are seeing real change in the hearts of many Thai people.”
Thai National Plan Highlights
• Increase prayer and evangelism
• Amplify disciple making and church planting efforts; plant churches in all of Thailand’s 80,000 villages
• Establish unity among Thai protestant churches
• Data base outreach to mobilize existing Christians in Thailand
• Boost leadership development and accountability
• Increase development of compassion ministries (social transformation)
Missionaries Bound to Thai People
Peter and Patricia DeWit have been missionaries in Thailand for 20 years. They’ve walked through one crisis after another with the Thai people and the recent flood has failed to chip away at their devotion.
“We’ve never left and we aren’t going to start now,” said Peter DeWit. “God called us to serve the Thai people and that’s what we are here to do. This flood is an opportunity to love and serve even more.”
DeWit is part of the Full Gospel Assemblies of Thailand, an organization that has sent missionaries to Thailand for 50 years. His family worships each week with an small group of other local Christians – comprised of Thais, Americans, and other nationalities – at Newsong Church, a make-shift sanctuary set up on the ground floor of a coffeehouse in downtown Bangkok. The topic of the sermon this Sunday is, of course, the flood. Most everyone here has pitched in relief efforts where they can either bagging food, collecting donations, or rigging trucks for water excursions to deliver relief. They’ve also faithfully taken up monetary donations to help the Thai people rebuild.
DeWit describes his no-matter-what mentality as “the spirit of the missionary” and it’s shared by Bangkok missionaries Brett and Beth Clark who arrived here just 18 months ago from Tennessee.
“If the flood comes and we get stranded, we will deal with it,” said Beth Clark, pointing out her stockpile of dry goods and drinking water. “A lot of Thai people have fled out of fear. They are consumed with talking about the flood and there’s a real sense of doom everywhere you go. Addressing that kind of fear is exactly why we believe God called us to this part of the world.”
Adds Brett Clark, “we’ve been intentional about not accumulating a bunch of ‘stuff’ so whatever ‘stuff’ we lose in a flood isn’t a big deal. It’s more about helping where we can and sticking to what God sent us here to do – which is to serve and love Thailand.”
During the fifth week of flooding the waters are still rising. Bangkok remains relatively unaffected save for stockpiles of sandbags – everywhere. Reports predicting the high tide that threaten to pour into the city’s financial center come often but have yet to materialize. For the people in the rural areas north of Bangkok the picture is dim as they live amid 2-5 foot waters that may not recede for weeks. They rely on the kindness of strangers (today, Christian churches) to bring food and supplies via boats. Many are homebound and some have lost everything, including family members. Businesses, schools, and temples peek up from a blanket of water that now is a trafficked by heavy transport vehicles and small boats that carry weary locals of every age who are out looking for supplies.
“A lot of people think that the heart of a missionary is a heart that loves people more than the world thinks is necessary and risks more than people think is worthy,” said DeWit. “But really what we do every day is the heart of God that exists in every believer – not just the missionary. And that’s what compels us to stay.”