Sunday night we travelled to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand where we would be stationed for the rest of our trip. This is a beautiful part of Thailand because it is in the mountains. However, that also means that people are much more spread out than in the towns and cities in the rest of the country. It is estimated that there are about 55 “hill tribes” in northern Thailand and surrounding areas and most of them speak their own language.
We got up very early on Monday and drove about three hours up into northeastern Thailand in a place referred to as “the golden triangle” because the borders of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos meet there. We arrived at Zion Baptist Church (which was an appropriate name as we were on top of a mountain) to do some training with hill tribe pastors from the surrounding area. Theological training is very important here because there are influences from Mormons, Jehovah’s witnesses, and other cults as well as the false prosperity gospel. I was teaching an introduction to apologetics while the other team members were teaching on particular false doctrines. At times, we had English being translated into Thai which was then being translated into Akha which is a language many of the hill tribes speak.
The most meaningful part of the day, however, came after we had finished teaching and had the opportunity to hear from these pastors about their needs and struggles. A couple of pastors were trying to start churches in other countries and were being opposed by governments there, one pastor was blind and was working to plant a church in a closed area, many needed more people and resources, some reported needing translations of theological materials into other languages and more copies. Some had been jailed for preaching their faith and most were striving against teachers preaching false doctrines that were stealing some of the new believers away.
I was greatly humbled by the faith of these men and the challenges that they face in light of the often trivial things I am concerned about with the American church. The task of reaching people so spread out over mountainous countryside with many different languages seems enormously difficult. I told them that I felt like I was seeing the New Testament alive in front of me and encouraged them that just as the Spirit worked miracles in those days, God would work miracles through them even now.
Then we prayed. Oh – did we pray. This was my first experience with the Thai tradition of everyone praying out loud all at once. What sounds chaotic to our ears is as clear as day to God and there is something so powerful about Christians lifting their voices and crying out to God altogether. It seemed to me something similar to what the Bible records in Acts 4:31: “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” Here’s a brief audio clip of some of that prayer.
Please continue to pray for these pastors and that God’s Word goes out among the hill tribes!