Education meets missions in Thailand
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – This summer, Joshua Brown, a bachelor’s student in the College at Southwestern, traveled to Southeast Asia, where his learning was put to the test.
Brown sat in a gazebo near one of the temples at a Buddhist university in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He and another student met in the area to disciple three monks who had recently become Christians. “It was causing a big stir,” Brown said. “All the monks could see us.”
These monks, dressed in their typical orange garb, formed a line along the gazebo where Brown sat. For six hours he responded to the questions that, one by one, they asked him: How can you know that God exists? After all, you can’t see Him. What is Christian morality and how does it differ from Buddhist morality? How can people rid themselves of sin?
“I was exhausted by the end of it,” Brown said, “but I was amazed.”
Through such experiences, Brown realized the significance of the bachelor’s program in the College at Southwestern, which emphasizes the history of Western philosophy, apologetics and biblical studies. At the college, students learn about the Christian worldview and read the works of such influential Western thinkers as Plato, Aristotle and Darwin, but they also study world religions and read the key writings of Buddhism and Islam.
Brown traveled to Chiang Mai with 13 other students from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the College at Southwestern, along with 12 students from Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga. The team spent the month of June in Chiang Mai, learning about Buddhism and Islam and interacting with the Buddhists and Muslims who populate this diverse city. As the team worked in Chiang Mai, seven people professed faith in Christ, including a transgendered man, three Buddhist monks and one student from Southwestern.
Brown first realized the value of his training during “Monk Chat,” a program sponsored by the Buddhist University to help students improve their English. Early in conversation, he and the monks realized that they all were working on bachelor’s degrees in the humanities, with emphases in philosophy. The monks asked Brown to explain the difference between western and eastern philosophies.
“That’s the perfect bridge,” Brown said. “It allowed me to share the Gospel with them, to explain the entire Christian worldview.
“A lot of people don’t see the use of what we’re studying at the college,” Brown said, “but they couldn’t be more wrong. I would say that you’ll have a better pastor, a better missionary, a better teacher out of our college program than any standard Bible college out there.” He explained that the program trains students “how to think, how to critique other people’s thinking and writing,” and it helps them relate the streams of thought that fill the world to the Christian worldview.
Brown’s interest in philosophy and apologetics began while he was enrolled in a philosophy course at Texas Community College. The class was taught at the time by a pastor and Ph.D. student at Southwestern Seminary.
“God started to open my eyes to see that there is a real need for pastors like we had back in the first century,” Brown said. “These guys were apologists. They knew Greek philosophy. They understood how to argue, but they also knew the Scriptures. They understood the Christian worldview.
In the United States, he added, “We’re moving away from the Christian underpinnings, and we need pastors that are willing to understand the culture … so that they can communicate the Christian worldview.”
Through a friendship with Craig Mitchell, assistant professor of ethics at Southwestern, Brown learned about a college program that was developing at the seminary, and he soon enrolled at Southwestern. Currently, he takes classes during the day and works each night at the Union Gospel Mission in downtown Fort Worth in order to support his wife and two young children.
Justin Barrow, one of Brown’s fellow students in the College at Southwestern, also learned the value of his education during his time in Chiang Mai. During the “Monk Chat,” some monks asked Barrow to explain how Protestantism and Catholicism differ and why they split. According to Barrow, the monks were confused about Christianity’s message because they didn’t understand its history.
“Through the basics of the college,” he said, “we really get the foundation our faith.”
According to Barrow, the Buddhists of Chiang Mai were willing to listen to and believe the Gospel because the mission team displayed Christ-like love. “It is about building relationships with them,” he said. One monk, for example, told him that no one had spoken to him as an equal before.
Since relationships are so important, Barrow explained, it may take time to see the fruit of evangelism in Chiang Mai. “There were so many that we planted the seeds in,” he said. “It’s just a slow process because they’re born into this religion. It is not something that’s going to change overnight, and I’m sure that these monks that came to Christ probably had someone come before us who planted a seed (in them). We just came along and were able to harvest it.
“I want to go again,” Barrow said, excited to see what the harvest may be like next year. He confessed that, at first, he only attended the trip to Chiang Mai because the College at Southwestern requires all bachelors’ students to participate in one mission trip during their education. Overwhelmed by the crowded city and the new smells of Chiang Mai during the first day of the trip, he was ready to return to the United States. But his attitude quickly changed.
“When you see the faces of these people, your heart goes out to them. Now that I have gone once, I think every Christian should try to do some kind of mission trip.” Evangelism, missions and making disciples are just a “part of being a Christian.”