14 years of evangelism brings travel guides to Christ
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Missing a bus generally inspires feelings of frustration, but during Southwestern’s summer mission trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand, missing the bus offered Keith Eitel, dean of the Fish School of Evangelism and Missions, and his wife Glenda, the chance to lead their tour guides to Christ. The Eitels have been faithfully sharing the Gospel with the tour guides for 14 years as they led student mission teams to the city.
“It generally was a polite, ‘No,’” Eitel said, describing Buddhist travel guides Wandee and Noi Pudsom’s continuous response to the Gospel since 1998.
Yet, after Eitel and his wife were unable to make their transportation connection one day during the trip, the Pudsoms offered to drive them to a local Christian bookstore they needed to visit.
“It seemed interesting to me that when we went to the bookstore, not only did the bookstore manager know them, but they bought Christian storybooks for their grandchildren,” Eitel said.
When the two couples sat down to have coffee and tea together, however, the conversation turned to Eitel’s testimony and the Gospel. Though he and Glenda had shared with the Pudsoms year after year, each time their response was a polite, ‘No.’ This time, though, first Noi and then Wandee, said they wanted to make Christ the Lord of their lives.
“That was the highlight of the whole trip for my wife and me,” Eitel said. “Over the years, we are seeing persistent seed-sowing is yielding fruit.”
A total of 15 people, including 11 college and seminary students, went on this year’s trip to Chiang Mai, where they had the chance to share the Gospel with both Buddhists and Muslims as well as encourage the growing number of Christians living in the city. Though 94 percent of Thailand’s population claims Buddhism as its religion, much of the team’s work involved the relatively small, but orthodox, community of Muslims.
Art Savage, associate director of the World Missions Center, said the Lord provided another divine appointment for the team in dealing with the Islamic people, giving them unprecedented access to several mosques in the city in a way that only God could have orchestrated. In one of the mosques they visited, the Imam allowed Southwesterners to speak with the students in their madrasah, a school run by the mosque, for 15 minutes while students passed in the halls from class to class. The next day though, one of the classes was canceled, giving a few Southwestern women two and a half hours to share the story of salvation from creation to Christ, with female students inside the madrasah.
“It really was a divine appointment because I was kicked out of that mosque in 2010,” Savage said. “I just happened to raise a question with a gentleman that would be something like an elder, that even Mohammad wasn’t sure that he was going to enter paradise. And he said, ‘That’s teaching that we've never heard.’ He got so angry with me. He said, ‘Those are very dangerous words you have spoken. You need to leave and not come back.’ And so it was that same mosque that in 2010 I was kicked out of just for making a simple statement like that, to where this year we were able to go in there [and share the Gospel].”
Savage said the team’s experience in ministering to the Buddhist community was similar to years past. The people listen politely and even graciously accept tracts as precious gifts but still maintain that many paths lead to heaven and therefore do not see the need to accept salvation in Christ alone. Yet, Savage says, he has begun to see that some Buddhists may not have as much faith in Buddha as they say.
“I’ve had many Buddhists tell me that they don’t think they’ll ever reach Nirvana—that there’s something missing in Buddhism,” Savage said.
Cameron Moore, a Master of Arts in Missiology student, said the Thai people were open to listen to what the group had to say. He noticed that even if they did not agree, they still listened with no hostility—a different scene from what Americans often see when trying to share Christian beliefs on their own soil.
“I think it goes back to the ease of which people in Asian countries are willing to talk about faith,” Moore said. “It’s not taboo. In America, there are certain things we do not talk about in the family: politics and religion. But they are willing to talk and discuss with ease, without being offended by different faiths.”
During the trip, Southwestern partnered with a mission team from Truett-McConnell College and distributed Bibles in English and Thai, served at an orphanage, and encouraged their Christian translators to continue in ministry even once the teams returned to America.
Southwestern will send another team of students to Chiang Mai July 3-21, 2013. Interested students can sign up by contacting the World Missions Center at firstname.lastname@example.org