The past two Sunday, we have visited a small country church in the next province over from where we are living and going to language school. We drove with Ulrich, a fellow OMF missionary, and his family we found ourselves bumping and jostling over severe potholes as we made our way further away from the city and into the countryside. Brillant green rice paddies lined either side of the roadway and small wooden houses on stilts and little mom and pop shops were visible every so often. We pulled the truck into the dirt yard in front of a concrete store-front type building where two side of the building opened up completely like garage doors. A handful of blue plastic chairs were lined up in about four or five short rows and we were greeted by a few of the believers who had already gathered.
Like many churches in Thailand, both urban and rural, the church was very small, with only about ten people or so in attendance, not counting Ulrich, his family, and the three of us. All of these dear saints are fairly recent believers, the one who has been the Christian the longest has only been a Christian for maybe five years or so. Some of the other have only believed a few months. Interestingly enough though, the youngest adult member of the congregation is about forty! In God's providence, He has chosen to call to himself a handful of elderly women who make up about half of this congregation of ten or so. The miracle of salvation is so obvious in the lives of these women since there is very little human reason why someone who has been a Buddhist for over sixty years would decide to make such a drastic break with a society at large which equates national and ethnic identity with Buddhist. The Thai say, "To be Thai is to be Buddhist."
Until this past year sometime, Ulrich told us, the church had its own pastor. However, this pastor has now left to pursue further education in Bangkok. Unfortunately, the church is still very young spiritually and there are not yet any elders in place who could take up the reins of leadership and teaching. On my first Sunday to visit (Sun stayed behind because Joshua was not feeling well), we had just sung a song about Christ being alive and Ulrich asked the congregation (who were sitting in a circle of chairs since there were so few of us) whether they believed that Christ has risen and what they thought about that. It soon became apparent that there was some serious confusion among a number of people about the resurrection. Only at length did someone say, "Oh yes, Christ rose from the dead" and most seemed to be confused about whether believers would be resurrected. After Ulrich took them to 1 Thessalonians, they seemed to remember that believers would be ressurected at the last day. Seeking a bit of application, and wanting to test how much they really understood, Ulrich further inquired about whether there would be a resurrection for Buddhists too. At Buddhist funerals, there is an oft repeated proverb that says something to the effect of "Going away, don't come back - sleep, doesn't awake - lies down, doesn't arise". "Is this true?" asked Ulrich. "Yes, it is true" replied one elderly saint. "Really?" he replied, "We just read that believers will rise from the dead like Christ rose from the dead." Seemingly without missing a beat, our dear auntie shot back, "It is true for Buddhists, but not for Christians. Christians rise from the dead but not Buddhists." After the worship service was over that morning, I expressed to Ulrich my distress over the lack of understanding that this flock had concerning the nature of the resurrection. He too was concerned but explained that this is not the first time that he has been over this point with them. He has explained it many times, but apparently it just takes time for some things to sink in.
It was a true pleasure to visit this little flock of brothers and sisters in Christ in the Thai countryside. They were very welcoming and pleasant but I do worry for these believers, and others throughout Thailand like them, who are still confused about the basic things of the faith, like the resurrection of the the righteous and the wicked. Confusion and misunderstanding on basic points can have serious consequences for one's faith and practice. Pray for sufficient numbers of competent elders and pastors for the young believers in small churches throughout Thailand. Missionaries and Thai pastors/church planters do what they can but there is still a great need to solid Biblical teaching and preaching, especially in these small (sometimes quite poor) congregations that often can't afford to support a full-time pastor.