Today I asked the students in my world missions class if their home churches send out missionaries. They looked at each other, then looked at me and said, “Uh, no.” Granted, my class was only 13 students but from what I have observed in Thai churches, sending out cross-cultural missionaries is on nobody’s priority list.
Thankfully, there are some Thai missionaries. Unfortunately, I can count all of them on one hand. Why is this? Why is it that a country that has received thousands of missionaries over the years hardly sends out any of its own?
During break time, one of my older students (who leads a church planting team in another province on the weekends) posited a few reasons why there are so few Thai missionaries. “Thai people are afraid,” he said. “They are afraid that something might happen to them. They might be killed or something bad might happen to them ‘out there.’” Hearing that, I wondered to myself, ‘Have we told too many stories of missionaries of yesteryear dying on the field, and not enough about the magnificence of the Christ that motivated them to pack their belongings in a coffins?’
The other reason that he gave was that Thai people don’t like hardship. Thai want their lives to be easy and comfortable. We see evidence of this in the common Thai saying, “Do it the easy way” (เอาง่ายๆ). “Parents don’t want their kids to have a hard life” he explained further. At this point, I thought, “That’s not too different from popular American values.” Who likes hardship? Nobody. Who likes convenience? Everybody. I could be wrong, but I wonder if the Buddhist emphasis on escaping suffering is also having an influence on the popular values of Thai Christians in this area? Unlike Christianity, Buddhism teaches that there is nothing good about suffering. There is nothing to be redeemed. In Buddhism, there is no greater good to be accomplished by suffering, other than the knowledge that you won’t have to suffer as much later because you paid for this bit of karma now. Until Thai Christians (and Christians everywhere) embrace God’s good purposes for suffering, and see the biblical premium upon delayed satisfaction, then the fear of hardship will continue to keep believers from offering themselves for cross-cultural service.
Beyond these reasons, I think that another reason for the lack of missions vision in Thai churches is the failure of foreign missionaries in Thailand to instill that vision. The outworking of the these missionaries commitment to the “world” is to come to Thailand. Their burden is for the Thai people, and their life investment is here in Thailand. Before signing up for long-term service, their missions vision might have been broader, but at some point it focused in on Thailand. It seems ironic that many missionaries are not missions-minded. However, if I am honest, I myself am probably guilty of this as well. I need to be more pro-active in praying for other nations, other people groups, and other ministries. Teaching a course on missions this past term has pushed me more in that direction, but I still have further to go.
On a very practical level, here are a couple things that can be done to promote a great vision for missions in Thai churches (or any church for that matter):
- Missionaries / pastors / teachers need to speak of the excellencies of Christ and the resounding joy of clinging to Him, especially in the midst of trial and suffering. Is Christ worth living and dying for? Let us exalt the Christ, and not exalt the blessings of a comfortable life. Do we think so little of being united to Christ and walking in His way that the blessings and comforts of this world are deemed better and more lasting than being found in him? There is, after all, an eternal weight of glory coming up, after we are through with these few years on earth.
- Furthermore, we need to bring prayer requests for other nations and peoples into the pulpits and prayer meetings of our people. And we need to be specific in our prayers, not just “Lord, bless the people in Africa” but open up Operation World, pick out a few key points and pray pointedly. Or just open up the international section of any news website or newspaper and pray for a current story. Or take the specific requests from missionary prayer letter from some other part of the world and pray for those.