FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – A group of 16 Southwesterners traveled to Chiang Mai, Thailand, this July, and saw the God-breathed words of John 4:36 tangibly displayed as they rejoiced over the salvation of 12 people. Many of that dozen professed Christ as Savior after hearing repeated Gospel presentations from other faithful sowers. This summer, however, Southwestern students and faculty had the joy of reaping the whitened harvest.
Assistant Professor of Evangelism Matt Queen said he could clearly see that others had been faithful in their witness for Christ, preparing the way for the salvations the group saw during their 18-day stint in Thailand.
“You could see the evangelistic process,” Queen said. “Someone had told them about Jesus. Somebody else had given them a Bible. A roommate that they had was showing them YouTube videos or was a Christian and trying to tell them about Jesus. So, you saw that process where people were being faithful to share the Gospel. They had not seen this person come to faith in Christ, but yet they were being faithful, and it just happened that in the will of the Holy Spirit, we were there to reap the seed. But, like Jesus says in John chapter 4, the sower and the reaper rejoice together.
“[This trip] just reinforced to me … that although you may not see someone come to faith in Christ when you share the Gospel, just remember, evangelism takes place after that, and someone else may reap what you sow.”
Queen said prayer played an incredible role in the harvest gathered for Christ. One afternoon while Queen and Keith Eitel, dean of the school of evangelism and missions, sat at a table on a university campus with their translator, Sarah, they had the opportunity to share the Gospel with a young woman named Miw. All around them, cross-dressing male students modeled clothes. Yet, in the midst of the thick spiritual darkness, from two tables away, Dean of the School of Church and Family Ministry Waylan Owens prayed for the group and the young woman with whom they spoke.
“I began to share the Gospel through the translator to Miw,” Queen said. “She understood. She had a friend who had been telling her about Christianity because she went to a Christian school of all things, although she was a Buddhist. Sarah, the translator, shared her story—her journey from Buddhism to Christ—and I did what I always try to tell students; I just said, ‘Has what we've told you made sense? And if that does make sense, would you like to receive Jesus?’ I didn’t expect her to say, ‘Yes,’ but she did! Then Dr. Eitel, through the translator, rehearsed the Gospel with her, made sure she understood what kind of commitment she was making, and right then and there she prayed to receive Christ, right in the midst of her peers and students and everything else.”
Owens said opportunities to share with people like Miw abound in Thailand, where less than one percent of the nation’s inhabitants claim Christ as their Savior.
“Everywhere you turn, you find someone who needs Christ,” Owens said.
And this year, everywhere they turned, the professors saw students going above and beyond in their efforts to share the Gospel. Queen said that while this has been true of individuals on past trips, it was the first time he had personally seen an entire group pursue unscheduled and self-directed evangelism opportunities with such fervor.
“These students were in the night markets doing street preaching, singing, giving out tracts and sharing the Gospel on their own time,” Queen said. “They were going to Monk Chats and engaging monks with the Gospel on their own time. I have just never seen a group of students who were so committed to evangelism.”
Owens said he saw much of the same, watching as students took public transportation to meet people with whom they had set up meetings by email, visiting Buddhist temples after hours, and even going to a jail.
“They did not just sit around and wait for the professors to tell them what to do next,” Owens said. “When they had choices, they almost always chose to go out and share Christ.”
Owens, a father of four, had the unique experience during the trip of sharing the Gospel with Grace, one of his daughters. Having already taken each of Grace’s two older brothers on foreign mission trips, Owens sees an incredible blessing in joining with his children in evangelism, and he encourages every parent, and particularly fathers, to do the same.
“It is a tremendous joy,” Owens said. “It is really indescribable, in terms of how wonderful it is to do that. My general philosophy is to encourage my children toward independence on these trips—not to hang with me or to depend on me, but to be a part of the group and to listen to the Lord and follow the Lord in their own way.”
During the trip, in fact, Eitel had the opportunity to follow-up with Wandee and Noi Pudsom, travel agents with whom students and faculty from both Southwestern and Southeastern seminaries continuously shared the Gospel for 14 years before they received Christ as Savior in 2012. This year, Eitel had the chance to encourage the couple in their growing relationship with Christ, helping them to continue weeding out the old ways of life in exchange for the life shaped entirely by Christ.
Eitel said the trip to Thailand serves as annual encouragement to those faculty members who lead students to the other side of the world to share the Gospel—many of whom do so for the first time.
“It's kind of what we exist for here, I think—to watch up-and-coming pastors, leaders and new missionaries catch a vision for what can be done and for what God is doing,” Eitel said.
“If we'll just simply have yielded hearts for obeying the Great Commission, that always energizes any of us who are trying to lead these trips.”