Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mission Visit to Thailand

In June/July, my wife Sue and I had the privilege of travelling to Thailand to visit missionary families associated with East Taieri Church.  One family are members of our church so this was a particular focus.  A long way to go for a pastoral visit, but it was fantastic!  The other two families are also top people and it was inspiring to spend time with them.  All three are doing great work in quite different settings.

Some reflections on our time.  There is a saying "to be Thai is to be Buddhist", and while there is real openness and response to the gospel among hill tribe people in northern Thailand, Thai Buddhists are much less open.  Significant resistance and opposition occurs.  We were aware of principalities and powers also.  Sue & I found ourselves praying a lot.

I am sure we can learn much from the challenge of sharing the gospel in this culture.  One Thai church leader I spoke with said that the issue of Karma and the culture of shame (rather than guilt), required a foundation of loving acts of service before the words of the gospel could be shared.  That has some echos of NZ (though we don't have a culture of shame).  The church in which he is an elder has a significant community development programme underway - even though their church has and average attendance of only around 30 people!

The respect for Buddhism was evident in the people who scored priority seating at the airport! (The first icon is a monk).  I heard on the radio today the way our market economy ranks people in order of importance according to their contribution to
GDP.  This would give more value to the most lowly paid job, than to any volunteer role, or what I would regard as crucial roles of raising children, or caring for aged parents.

Perhaps Thailand has more insight than NZ on some of these priorities.  Certainly older parents or grandparents are well respected.  One Thai couple told us how much they appreciated the sacrifice our missionary family was making in coming to Thailand and leaving their parents back in NZ!

Meeting procedure in Thailand can be very slow (even to this Presbyterian), but it has the advantage of being highly relational.  Again we could learn something here.  One little personal reminder this somewhat task oriented pastor needs occasionally is "people before task Martin".  I sometimes say that to myself.

The importance and also difficulty of language learning was obvious. 

The different culture of missionaries from the US was apparent.  They had more resources behind them, and a different approach to engaging Thai nationals.  As in any church ministry team, missionary teams must work hard at their working relationships.  The health of the team is key.

We were able to begin a relationship with a Thai church near Chiang Mai.  I am excited about the mutual learning and support that will come from this as our relationship grows.  At this stage we are simply praying for each other, but that first step is a good step.  It's importance cannot be overlooked.

Looking forward to visiting again!


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