Students summer mission in Thailand

For the second year in a row, teams from two Southern Baptist seminaries converged to study missions and share the gospel on the streets of Chiang Mai, Thailand, July 11-30.

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary joined forces to offer students an opportunity to gain 6 hours of course credit while learning first-hand how to speak with Buddhists and Muslims about the gospel. Four on-the-field International Mission Board personnel, 16 Southwestern students and 16 Southeastern students enrolled in the program.

“There was an instant connection between the two schools,” Art Savage, associate director of the World Missions Center at Southwestern Seminary, said. “We did not stay separated, but generally partnered together in most everything from witnessing teams, studying, some evening meals, worship, and going to the night market for shopping and ice cream.”

Bringing the two seminaries together during this trip was an “excellent idea,” Savage added. The program, he explained, might connect students who will someday work together in the region on a long-term basis.

Ed Pruitt, associate director of the Center for Great Commission Studies at Southeastern Seminary, agreed that participants from the two seminaries “enjoyed being part of a bigger team.”

The trip, he said, provided students with an opportunity to share the gospel with hundreds of Thai nationals, and to develop a “much deeper and fuller” understanding of the Thai culture.

Students attended classes each morning during their stay in Chiang Mai, a factor that enhanced their understanding of Thai culture. The seminaries offered six hours of credit for these courses, following two tracks: The first track involved study in Buddhism and Islam for three credit hours and an Evangelism Practicum for three credit hours. The second track involved the study of gospel contextualization and chronological Bible storying, each for three credit hours.

Each morning, students also took time to discuss 21 essential questions concerning Buddhism and Islam with one another, Savage said. Each afternoon, they followed up on the information they learned in morning discussions and lectures by conversing with people on the streets of Chiang Mai about cultural and religious issues. This often opened doors for sharing the gospel.

In fact, Southwesterners passed out Thai New Testaments and over 600 tracts during the two weeks they were in Chiang Mai. The participants from Southeastern Seminary matched these numbers. Savage noted that two people responded with acceptance of the gospel message due to their work. Four others had already come to Christ before Southwesterners were on the field due to a music mission trip sponsored earlier by Southeastern, he added.

Savage also said that the seminaries employed three Thai Christian translators, who were essential to the success of the trip. In the process of assisting the seminary students, these translators also had the opportunity to improve their own ministry skills. With the help of one translator, Southwestern students Victoria Tendall* and Rebekah Jennings* led a 73-year-old Buddhist grandmother to Christ.

“That was quite a joy,” Keith Eitel, professor of missions at Southwestern Seminary, said. “Many in her family were believers and had been praying for her… (Our students) had the opportunity to go back and visit with her, and her family was all rejoicing about it.”

According to Savage, this woman admitted that she “had 73 years of Buddhist life experience to consider as she listened to the gospel and realized that nothing in her 73 years promised her anything like what God’s Word and Son have to give.” She will have a great influence on other Buddhists in Chiang Mai due to her age, he added: “We don’t ever know where the ripples stop.”

Tendall, a student in the College at Southwestern, said the woman’s father had been a Buddhist monk, but her mother and some of her other family members were Christians. She had connections to a nearby church and a Christian teacher, and she was eager to learn more once she became a Christian, Tendall added.

Tendall said that her experiences in Chiang Mai reminded her that, although God does not need her efforts on the mission field, he wants them.

“I don’t know if I am necessarily called to missions permanently,” Tendall said. “I definitely would love to do more. But even if we all don’t plan on being missionaries for our life career, it is just something that we need to do. And it is just so evident when you go out of the country and you see people that are so hungry to talk to you and to hear.”

Southwestern and Southeastern seminaries will return to Chiang Mai next summer from July 9 - 28. Southwestern is also offering students an opportunity to serve in India while earning six credit hours, Dec. 27, 2007 - Jan. 14, 2008. For more information on opportunities to serve, check the Web page for Southwestern’s World Mission Center at http://www.swbts.edu/wmc.

*Names changed

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