Thai students receptive to Southwestern’s message of faith
Fourteen evangelists from Southwestern Seminary witnessed 13 professions of faith as they took Christ’s message to Thailand, July 4-23. They ministered in Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand, where they reached out to students at two of the city’s universities.
Two members of the group were students enrolled online in Southwestern while living in Thailand. “We learned a lot from these Thailand students,” says Dalton Hodges, office associate for Southwestern’s World Missions Center. “They were fluent in Thai and had lived in Chiang Mai for years.”
“For many of our students, it was sensory overload at first,” he says. “Then, after two weeks, they were just immersed in the culture.”
Each morning, Southwestern students attended a class taught by Keith Eitel, dean of the Fish School of Evangelism and Missions. Afternoons were then devoted to campus evangelism. The team partnered with local Sprout Church, stepping in to supplement their evangelism and helping to pave the way for them to preach on campus and provide follow-up guidance for those who made professions of faith.
A planned conversational English session for university freshmen fell through when the Thai students were called to attend an initiation ritual at the same time. “So we ventured out into the dining areas, and God led us to just the right set of folks,” says Eitel. “Five young men prayed to receive Christ and received bilingual New Testaments.”
Christianity was first introduced to Thailand by European missionaries and is now followed by 1 percent of the national population, which is predominantly Buddhist. Census data indicate that more than 90 percent of Thais follow Buddhism, and Chiang Mai has more than 300 Buddhist temples. Yet while citizens are steeped in Buddhist ritual, many are agnostic or atheist.
“Arriving in Chiang Mai and seeing firsthand the sheer inordinate multitude of Buddhist temples and other manmade objects of pagan worship proved to be alarming and very disheartening,” says Master of Divinity student Vincent Crosby. “Although each temple was distinctive and very ornately designed, it was extremely saddening to see practically an entire city of almost 2 million people, and largely a nation, so steeped in idol worship.
“As I sat quietly in Wat Phra Singh and read Isaiah 44:6-20 while observing the people, it was as though the inspired Scripture as proclaimed and recorded by Isaiah over 2,700 years ago was specifically addressing those whom I watched.”
Crosby says he personally witnessed seven people hear the Gospel and confess belief in Jesus Christ as the Southwesterners spent time with local university students. “However, there were others with whom I shared the Gospel who were not yet ready to confess faith in Jesus Christ,” he says, “but they seemed intrigued and desirous of knowing more.”
In one instance, Crosby was moved to share the Gospel with three people he befriended who were owners of two local custom tailor stores, he says. All of them shared that they were of Nepalese heritage and considered themselves Buddhist-Hindi. On another occasion, Crosby had the opportunity to share the Gospel, answer questions regarding Scripture, and pray for a couple from Britain, who said they were atheists. Crosby said it was amazing to observe how the Holy Spirit was working in the lives of each of these individuals as well as others with whom he shared the Gospel.
“The most significant gleaning that I gained from participating in this missionary trip was being reminded that all people everywhere are loved by God and regarded as valuable in His sight,” Crosby says. “… I was further reminded that God does not desire for any person to perish, but for all to come to the knowledge of truth, to repent and believe in Lord Jesus Christ.”
M.Div. student Chris Barrick says the trip “ignited a passion and fire in me to get out there and really spread the Gospel, because there are people seeking to fill something missing in their lives.” This was Barrick’s first mission trip, and he says the most memorable part of the experience was sitting in the Buddhist temples and praying for the lost people coming in to worship idols. “Seeing the lostness in the people coming into the temples just truly opened my eyes,” he says.
The Thai people are receptive and eager to hear Christ’s message, Hodges says. “The Thai people believe in a god. They believe that good works are rewarded, and they have karma-building rituals. The Thai people are so devoted to service that it is common for them to spend their birthdays supporting ministries, serving in a soup kitchen, or participating in some type of public service. They want to be a good person so they can progress in karma.” The task of Christian evangelists is to teach that faith, not good works, is the path to salvation.
“It was so fulfilling for me to observe our students,” Hodges says. “For many, it was their first experience sharing the Gospel outside the United States. It was great having a front-row seat to see that happen.”