As a young missionary, I (Karl) like talking to veteran missionaries to get their perspective on things. At our recent OMF Thailand annual conference, our guest speaker Larry Dinkins spoke on cross cultural evangelism and overcoming barriers in communicating the Gospel to Buddhists. Larry & his wife Paula came to Thailand as new missionaries in 1981 where they did church planting and theological education until 2002 when they needed to go back to the U.S. for Paula to receive treatment for cancer in her bone marrow. The treatment for Paula’s cancer has been successful and she is in remission. As a result Larry and Paula have been acting as mobilizers and recruiters for OMF in Southern California as well as the Midwest. They are involved in Thai churches in the U.S. and have made numerous trips back to Thailand as well.
(UPDATE, Feb 2012: Since this article was written in 2009, Paula has gone to be with the Lord, and Larry has subsequently returned to Thailand to continue to minister among the Thai people).
After listening to Larry speak at the conference, and later in a recorded lecture, I became curious and sent him an email, asking, “If you could go back to your first term on the mission field, knowing then what you know now, what would you do differently? How would you go about planting a church in Central Thailand if you had to do it all over again?” Larry was kind enough to email me back and here’s a bit of what he had to say:
If I Had It To Do All Over Again – Dr. Larry Dinkins
Soon we will celebrate 30 years of ministry to Thai people with OMF. I was asked what I might have done differently if I knew what I knew today and as I reflected, I came up with the following items. Looking back, all of our mission experience has been by God’s grace and it has been a tremendous privilege to serve Him. God has been faithful and gracious to our family for three decades and even though I may mention a few areas where I could have been more circumspect, overall my regrets are few.
1. An AOG missionary to Thailand sent a personal letter to all the other missionaries in Thailand back in the 1980s challenging us all to pray for one hour per day for the needs of Thailand. I wish I would have taken that challenge more seriously and adhered to it better. I was challenged ten years ago to fast for at least one day each week, a habit which I have followed since that challenge but now wish it would have come twenty years earlier.
2. I wouldn’t have waited until 45 years old to attend a prayer counseling seminar in order to work on some long standing personal issues. Attending such a seminar would have meant that I could have started “inner healing” with Thai people much earlier than I did.
3. I would have studied and grounded myself better in a balanced biblical view of demonology. Many Christian Thai leaders tend to slip into a animistic mode and try to manipulate the spirit world rather than taking Christ’s authority over the evil one. I would have studied the armor of God more and fastened it on more tightly on a daily basis.
4. I would have recognized that the Thai are predominantly oral learners and would have internalized key story sets that address the Therevada Buddhist world view. My preaching, discipleship, evangelism and counseling would have been driven by the telling and trading of stories (not the western analytical and print driven method that continues to be used almost exclusively in Thai contexts).
5. I would have listened and studied more to understand the world view of the Thai, making more of an effort to communicate to them in “their religious language” rather than in the typical missionary “Christianeze”.
6. For my own physical shalom I would have exercised three times per week and made sure to protect a weekly Sabbath rest (day off) as well as a date night with my wife.
7. I would have figured out a way to purchase a house on the homeside early in my career and thus set up a solid base for my family in subsequent years. I would also make sure I deputized less and rested more during Home Assignment.
8. I would have sought to redeem as much of Thai culture as possible in church life (including the use of sticky rice and roselle juice for communion, functional substitutes for Buddhist celebrations such as loy kratong, weddings, funerals, bowls instead of bags for offerings, Thai creedal statements, music, drama, etc.) I would have memorized more Thai proverbs and Buddhist sayings and stories which act as bridges for the gospel.
9. I would have reduced the huge number of distractions that diluted my focus such as email and internet use, too many visits from relatives and friends, attendance of way too many conferences, workshops and training seminars, etc.
A story of new missionary life as Larry recount his family's first four years as missionaries in Central Thailand. This is not a superhero story of a missionary saint but rather a realistic look at the joys and trials of trying to settle into a foreign language and culture in order to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.