guest post by Larry Dinkins
Before I came to Thailand I had been trained in a number of evangelistic approaches such as 4 Laws, EE, Romans Road, etc. I added to my repertoire methods that missionaries had devised, most of them tract or poster based. Most of them were rather "canned" and what I noticed was the Thai immediately equated my presentation with selling a religious "product" and invariably responded with, "All religions are the same, they teach you to be a good person" (I've heard that phrase a thousand times). As my language improved I was able to be more sensitive in my evangelistic efforts but I still came across as a salesman or lawyer as I sought through apologetics to find a hole in their Buddhist philosophy or reasoning process.
After being exposed to the power of story and the fact that Thai are at their core oral learners, I have started using a different approach. Most conversations we have as we go through life are in natural situations like waiting at a bus station, traveling in a taxi, interacting with a merchant over a purchase, getting a hair cut, etc. Often these divine appointments are only 5 or 10 minutes long. In the past, my default was to make small talk, look for a chance to insert a "bridge building" connection to the gospel, throw in an apologetic argument and end the conversation by handing them a tract. My hope was that they would read the tract and since it contained the Word of God, I was assured it would not return void. I still hand out a tracts if the situation warrants, but more often I'm seeking to tell the Thai a short Bible story that somehow fits with where they are in life. This last weekend in Bangkok I was encouraged by four such encounters:
- While buying a roti on the street, I noticed a distinct accent and asked the ethnicity of the seller. He indicated that he was a Muslim from Burma and asked me if I had heard of Aung San Suu Kyi. Just that morning I had read an article about her and the tensions in Burma between the Buddhist majority and Burmese Muslims. As that topic waned I asked him if he was familiar with the "Nabi" (prophets) in the Koran. I then asked him if he would like to hear a story about Nabi Abraham. He listened with genuine interest as I related the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. That led us to talk about Ishmael and some differences in the accounts between the Koran and the Bible. I told him I would try to return and tell him another Nabi story tomorrow. I don't know how much he processed from the story, but I'm seeing a distinct difference in the way people respond when you start out with a story that fits in with their world view.
- At breakfast I began to chat with the Thai cook who was washing dishes. She indicated that she had worked at this Christian guest house for three years, so I surmised that she was a believer. It turned out that she was a Buddhist, but had taken a huge cut in pay from her previous job because she liked working at this guest house. As she finished the dishes, I told her the story of Mary and Martha from Luke 10 and asked a couple of questions about the story. Once again she seemed genuinely interested and appreciated the story.
- There was a cloud burst as I entered a taxi for an important appointment and we ended up in a typical Bangkok traffic jam. The taxi driver was trying his best to get me to my appointment as he weaved and swerved through thick traffic. I told him, "I have a story about a man who had similar trouble getting through a crowd, a crowd of people, not cars. Would you like to hear it?" I then related the story of Zacheus. As we departed I handed him a tract written especially for taxi drivers.
- A few minutes ago I took a taxi to the airport for my flight to Chiang Mai. On the seat I noticed a book with a prominent monk on the cover. This famous monk "Luang Pu Thuat" used to be an abbot at a temple in South Thailand. The taxi driver told me that the Thai know this monk as the "monk who steps into ocean water and makes it fresh water" (หลวงปู่ทวดเหยียบนำ้ทะเลจืด). As he described his favorite monk, I began to mentally scan my data base of Bible stories for one that might be of interest. I came up with the Wedding in Cana and turning of water to wine. I told him, "I have a story from the Bible in which Jesus turns fresh water into wine. Would you like to hear it?" I then related the entire story from John 2. My stress was on how this wasn't simply superstition, but a historic story in which Jesus showed his power as God and his disciples first believed in Him. What ensued was a pleasant conversation about Jesus, nature of sin and salvation.
The reason I was in Bangkok was to give a story seminar to prospective missionaries from mainland China and to preach in a Bangkok church using a story model. So with the evangelistic opportunities, this weekend proved to be truly "story filled".
I find that much of my life in Thailand is seeking such divine appointments where the gospel through narrative can be inserted into the conversation in a winsome and natural way. Sometimes this leads to a deeper level of connection and communication, but most often it serves as a step in that persons journey towards Christ.