6:55 AM Sunday
Back in Bangkok
Wednesday-Friday we traveled to a resort near the mountains in the rain forest east of Bangkok to help train 250 Christian workers from Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam for the LIFE (Learning Intensive Free English) camp being held at the same location next month. These 250 counselors will be joined by over 400 others (nearly all of them unsaved) for the four-day camp to learn how to speak English. Here are a few things I picked up . . .
1) Learning English is huge in Thailand–as it is in most Asian countries. More and more English is the “world language” that people must know in order to succeed in today’s “flat world.” Everyone you go in Thailand, you see signs advertising English classes.
2) When the Christians distribute tracts, they include an invitation to come to English classes.
3) Every local church offers free English classes. Many offer the classes on Sunday morning. These free English classes may be the single most effective tool for reaching the lost.
4) Since Thailand is 93% Buddhist, 5% Muslim, 1% Christian, and 1% “other,” Christianity as a movement has barely taken root in the land. Christians not so much persecuted as overlooked by the surrounding culture. Most churches are quite small. A church of 200-300 would be large.
5) When people sign up for the L.I.F.E. camp, they know it is run by Christians, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Because the camp is held at the same resort where we met this week, and because the classes are free (with a nominal fee for room and board), hundreds of people attend. Last year well over 100 people accepted Christ during the L.I.F.E. camp. Those new converts are discipled and then joined with other Christians to form new churches.
6) Lourdes Holmes told us several times that they start early (the camp workers get up at 5 AM) during L.I.F.E camp and go hard all day long–varying between large group times, small group sessions, and individual tutoring. They are serious about teaching English and also about sharing Christ.
7) This week we spent time singing simple nursery rhymes, such “The Alphabet Song,” “It’s a Small World After All,” “Old MacDonald,” and my personal favorite, “I Want to Be Your Friend a Little Bit More.” I found out during “Old MacDonald” that in Thailand, the pigs say “Ood, Ood” and not “Oink, Oink,” and dogs say “Bok Bok,” not “Wuff, Wuff.” When the Americans got up to sing “Old MacDonald,” everyone roared with laughter over the line “With an oink oink here, and an oink oink there,” because they said “oink” is what sick pigs say in Thailand.
8) I spoke five times at the conference–once on purity and four times on personal evangelism. After one session Charlie Holmes met with the workers who came from the Ahka tribe in northern Thailand. After explaining the gospel to them, six accepted Christ. Ostensibly they had all come to the conference as Christians, but he sensed they didn’t understand the gospel. Several said they still worshiped evil spirits. “Now I will go home and destroy my idols,” one woman said.
9) During the testimony time on Friday, many people testified to a new burden to pray for their loved ones to come to Christ. One man said, “While you spoke, I felt like my bones were falling out of my arms.” That is a Thai idiom that means he was listening so intently he couldn’t think of anything else.
10) Many of the workers who came to the conference traveled for 10-13 hours to get to the resort. It is the most Christian fellowship they will have all year long. Many of them have now gone back to remote villages where they live in modest homes or simple huts so for them, the conference was a combination vacation, family reunion, and a time for personal renewal.
11) Over dinner last night I heard about one young woman whose mother came to the conference. After the last session the mother and a friend walked around the resort talking and praying together. “At last I know I’m going to heaven,” the mother said. She mentioned the session where I spoke about the heart of gospel and made an illustration of man on one side, God on the other, and a great gap in between. “Now I see that there is nothing I can do to go to heaven. God has done it for me.” And so she experienced the joy of knowing–truly knowing–that she is a child of God, her sins are forgiven, and she is going to heaven. Because she comes from a religious background that emphasizes good works, this understanding of salvation by grace gave her profound new freedom.
12) It was humbling for us to be with these servants of the Lord whose Christian lives are much more challenging than our own. There is such joy and boldness among the believers we met. And they sacrifice so much for their faith. In Laos and Vietnam believers face open persecution for their faith. One woman who came to Christ from a Muslim background spoke with tears of her burden to see her family members come to Christ.
They asked us to come back and lead a conference for Thai pastors from around the country, which we hope to do either next year or in 2009, God willing.
Thanks again to everyone who prayed for us. Marlene and I have stayed in good health and have enjoyed our first visit to Thailand. This morning (Sunday) I am speaking at a local church. Tomorrow we will rest and then very early on Tuesday, we make the 25-hour trip back to Tupelo.