Recently our media team visited Kalasin and met two Thai believers who have benefited first hand from Tranzsend’s work there. We hope the things they talk about will inspire you to continue to support the work we share in as New Zealand Baptist Churches.
It’s a hot day inside the small church building and the happy noise of village children playing soccer outside floods through the open window. I’m sitting with Puni, a Thai Christian. Puni was thirteen years old when something quite unthinkable happened within her family – her mother became a Christian.
It happened so simply. A Christian in their local community invited Puni’s mother to church. She went along, liked it and kept going. Two years later, Puni also became a Christian. Some of her siblings made this faith-decision also – she is still praying for her father.
Puni is now twenty-five years old and pastors this local village church in the Isan region of Thailand. “I grew up in the north of Thailand, near the Laos border,” she explains. “I was doing pastoral studies and heard they were looking for someone to take over the church work here. Next thing, they asked me to come and serve. I came for three months. Three years later, I’ve graduated from my studies and I’m still here.”
Puni’s church is small; about fifteen adults and the same number of children attend each Sunday. Eager and enthusiastic about her faith and work, I ask how Christians are treated by others who live in her local area. Puni answers as she always does – first pausing to think and put together the right words, then responding in rapid-fire, rudimentary English. “It is like in many places. There are some very genuine followers who stand up boldly for their beliefs and some who claim to be Christians but are quite weak in their faith. It’s not easy to be a Christian in Thailand. Many people believe we have rejected our own religion and adopted a foreign one. People see a difference though. People see that our quality of life is better. That encourages them to become Christians as well. My mum used to be very much into drinking and gambling. This caused problems in our family but these have now ceased. We all did better in our studies and my siblings and I have all graduated from university.”
Being a Christian in a nation like Thailand is not easy. As Puni mentioned, to adopt a religion other than Buddhism can be seen as a rejection of not just the Buddhist faith, but of Thai culture. I ask Puni if she has experienced such challenges as a follower of Jesus. “I guess the answer is yes and no,” she responds. “Initially people challenged us and asked, ‘what are you doing?’ They couldn’t quite understand why we would follow a foreign God. Then they began to see the positive changes in our lives and accepted us. The reality is,” she explains, “even though people say they are Buddhist, most people here don’t believe anything.”
As you read this, Puni continues to pastor her church. She continues to pray for her father and for her church and the people it reaches out to. She also speaks fondly of, and shows great appreciation for, the presence and work of Tranzsend workers, Peter and Lynley.
While I’m chatting to Puni, Mr Malai enters and sits down with us. His demeanour is serious and he appears quite stern – I’m about to discover how misleading first impressions can be. Warm and friendly, he begins to share his life and faith. “I’m an old man now, sixty-eight. I have two daughters, one son and two granddaughters. Like many people in this area, I’m a rice farmer. I also have some pigs, which I sell for bacon. There are about one hundred and forty-seven households, that’s about four hundred people in this village and only a handful of Christians.”
I mentioned to Mr Malai that I’d heard there were many social issues in the village. I asked if they were a symptom of the poverty of the people here (the average income here is about 2,000 baht per month ($NZ81.50)). Mr Malai responds quite candidly. “In this country there are problems with alcohol and drug addiction, gambling, and teenage pregnancy, and the reason is simple. Sin is why people behave like this. It’s not because people are poor that causes these problems. Christians are poor too but they don’t have these same problems. The problem is they don’t know Jesus.”
To his credit, Mr Malai is not ignoring these deeper issues. While Puni listens, I ask Mr Malai what hopes he has for the people in his village and how the church here is serving these people.“Before I am one hundred, I want everyone to believe in God and have an abundant life because they believe in Jesus. I want people to become real, genuine believers. As a church, we conduct funerals and marriages. We have held English classes here for all the children in the community. We are also teaching people how to bake as a way for them to earn extra money. We have built a good relationship with the village leader, although we have to visit him. He never comes here.”
Like Puni, Mr Malai is enthusiastic about the input of New Zealand Baptists. With a smile on his face he says, “Peter and Lynley come here and so the neighbouring communities get envious. They say, ‘we need help too.’ It’s true. We all need more help. We would like more workers from New Zealand, particularly children’s and youth workers. The school needs help too; people to come and teach.”
Read more about the work of Tranzsend at tranzsend.org.nz.
*Names have been changed.
Photo Credit: Leah-Anne Thompson/shutterstock.com