I recently had time to sit down with Dr. Manoch Chaengmuk, director of Bangkok Bible Seminary to talk about his life and ministry. We talked about how he came to faith, family opposition, the current state of the seminary and the church in Thailand, and prayer requests. It was a fascinating interview all around and I wish I had more time to chat with him.
I interviewed him in Thai and I have included below an MP3 of the interview for those who understand Thai. For those who do not, I have written up an abridged transcript of the interview in English. I didn’t include everything in the English transcript, but about 90% of our conversation is there. I hope that you find this interview with Dr. Manoch as interesting as I did.
Abridged English Transcript
Interview with Dr. Manoch Chaengmuk (มาโนช แจ้งมุข), Director of Bangkok Bible Seminary
March 7, 2013
KD: Thank you, Dr. Manoch, for your time to share with us about your life and ministry, and about the vision of BBS. Could I start by asking how you came to faith?
MC: Thank you for the question and for the opportunity to tell about how I came to faith. I came from a non-Christian family in Phitsanulok province. I came from a religious family. We believe in karma and my family put me in the care of the Buddhist temple for my education so that I would grow up to be good. I went back and forth between home and the temple, and I became very familiar with Buddhism. If there was sickness or problems at home, my family would have me become a novice monk for a time. I did this many times. When there were social problems, protests, etc., I fled to the temple and become a novice monk for a time. I thought maybe in a former life, I had many problems and bad karma in my family, so perhaps that was the cause for my present problems.
But when I was 16 years old, I became sick and went to a Christian hospital and there I heard the Gospel and read the Bible. I read the whole thing from Genesis to Revelation. I didn’t read because I wanted to believe but just to know, and to compare it to Buddhism. I had memorized many Buddhist chants and want to see how they compared with Christianity. I had to memorize them to chant them in the temple. But when I read the Bible, I found that Jesus was the answer. The staff at the hospital challenged me. They said, “The Lord Buddha was a good man but the Lord Jesus is the Lord.” That forced me to understand that the Buddha was good, and taught well, but Jesus was the Lord. There is the Bible verse, John 14:6 that says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” I compared that with the Buddha’s teaching that if we want to escape suffering, we need to search for the way. But Jesus said, “I am the way.” So, it made me think that maybe the Bible was true. So I prayed to see if it was true, to see if I have peace in my heart. I read the Bible many times and I started to see answers to my prayers. Initially, I didn’t have a lot of confidence, but in 1974, during the Christmas celebration at the hospital, I found the truth about Christmas. What is Christmas about? Why did Jesus come? And I decided to pray to receive Christ.
But in my family, we always had a big merit making time, but as a Christian I couldn’t do that any more. I couldn’t worship idols. I decided not to do that and told my family. But my family went and told the monk at the temple. “Manoch has changed his religion”, they said, “he believes in Jesus, and he won’t be making merit, or coming to be a monk like he used to.” And the monk was very angry, and wanted to know why I went and believe the foreigners’ religion. I explained that Jesus is not the God of the foreigners but of all people. Besides that, if you go back in the past, Buddhism was also a foreign religion that was brought in from Sri Lanka and propagated until it became the religion of Thai people. That’s no different from the missionaries of today coming and telling the message of Jesus. The missionaries came later than Buddhism. Thai people weren’t interested at first, but now that many missionaries have come from England, America, Singapore, Korea, etc., Thai people have become interested. So, I tried to explain this to the monk.
My family was not happy at all and kicked me out of the house. They didn't want me because I would tell others about Jesus and make problems. My mother was interested in Jesus at first, but when my father and the monk opposed me, she stopped showing interest. But she was still secretly interested, and went to church some. My father would be asked by the monk, “So what is your son doing now?” and he’d say, “Oh, he’s off doing his thing. But I have warned him.” My father wasn’t so happy with me, and he was, maybe drunk one day, and said, “If you are going to do this Jesus thing, go live at the church. Don’t live in this house. I won’t pay for your tuition at the teacher’s college. If you believe in Jesus, let him pay for your school.” I thought about this and said, “God wants me to stay at home. I want to do everything I can to repay what you have given me. I am grateful and want to help my family. And I need to study to get a job so I can do that.”
Let’s me summarize more briefly. At first, people at home were not interested and didn’t want to hear about Jesus. The village head, when he stopped at my house, he want to talk with me about Jesus, but not to believe, but to attack my belief so I would stop. I had some amulets and Buddha images but I had gotten rid of them already. Then there was a time my father was sick in the hospital. He was given to drinking and gambling, and I went to visit him now in the hospital, encouraged him to pray that Jesus would help him. He had wasted lots of money in gambling, but now that he was in the hospital, he couldn’t go anyplace. He was something like paralyzed. But when he was in the hospital, I was at home with my siblings and we took the spirit house, the idols, and everything, and threw it in the water, and took other things to the church and said to the pastor, “Do something with this. We don’t need it anymore. We only want God in our house, not these idols.” And when my father got out of the hospital and came home, he was shocked. The house was clean. Everything was gone, and he became very angry.
My uncle who was the village head went to report this to the police, that we were destroying religion, but afterwards he became interested in Christ and became a Christian, and my sister became a Christian too. And later, my uncle’s daughter became a Christian and is now married to a pastor. My grandmother, who didn’t like this at all and wanted me to be a monk, we had a Christmas celebration at home. And she raised her hand to become a Christian. Today, my whole family has become Christians. Twenty-two people. My mother, father, aunts, and uncles. We had a family retreat together and we now have twenty-two people in our family who all believe in Christ. My uncle, who prayed to receive Christ, but didn’t want to show himself too much because he was in the countryside, and didn’t want rumors against him, well, there’s still some good there, that there is now not as much opposition as there was in the past. So that’s is the story of how I came to faith.
One thing I would like to do is to thank the missionaries. The missionaries from OMF and the Christian hospital were my starting point in coming to faith. Since I came to faith at 17 or 18 years old, I have worked together with missionaries many times in Central Thailand. I was a youth leader for the central region for many years. I was impressed with the missionaries’ lives, that they left their jobs as doctors, nurses, etc. in their own country to come here and serve God. Why did they do that? What did they work so hard for? Because of the love of Jesus. And I wanted to serve God like that too, so I decided to come study at Bangkok Bible College. BBS used to be called Bangkok Bible College and Seminary, but now it is Bangkok Bible Seminary.
After I graduated, I did youth work and visitation in Central Thailand. I served in many places in Central Thailand: Lopburi, Singburi, Nakon Sawan, Ang Thong, Suphanburi, Baan Mor.
KD: So when you were studying, you went up to Central Thailand on the weekends and were at school during the week?
MC: Yes, and during the summer holidays. I went back up to Central Thailand, and to the Manoram hospital to take evangelism teams out. But when I graduated, I went to Nakon Sawan to do church planting work with Dr. Bob Trelogan, in Phayuha Kiri. And there was Peter Anand [sp?] too, another missionary.
After that I got married. I was going to stay in Nakon Sawan but there wasn’t a budget for a married full-time worker. I still helped with youth work, but I moved to Bangkok to take a pastoral position. At that time, Dr. Henry Breidenthal asked me to come help with admin and other tasks, such as Dean of Students, and then field ministry at Bangkok Bible College. Eventually that became a full-time position and I left the pastorate.
So now I’ve been at BBS for 34 years, and full-time faculty for 27 years. And I’ve been the director for 13 years, developing the school. We have a vision for the school. We have about 700 students today. We have 150-200 students who are registered on campus, including undergraduate, graduate, and special programs, such as MCA, Masters of Christian Administration. So, that’s about 200 students on campus, and we also have online and extension students, which is another 500 students. We also have students in England, Switzerland, Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, and America. Some study online, some by post.
KD: These are students who are serving at Thai churches internationally?
MC: Yes, in America there are about 15 Thai churches. Some of the students are leaders, leading Thai churches. In Korea, we have students who are Thai workers, working in Korea. We have a missionary and BBS alums in Korea who help with that, using the curriculum from BBS. And some of them come back and pastor in Thailand. Or we also have students among the Thai workers in Taiwan. Some come back and study an M.Div here.
Our vision is that wherever there are Thai Christians, there are Thai Biblical studies there. Some of our students are lay leaders, and we want them to know theology, Bible, church history, preaching. The Thai church doesn’t have enough full time ministers, so we need lay pastors. Every year we have a total of about 80-100 graduates. That includes students from every program. Every year there are more and more graduates, but it is not enough. There are about 4000 Thai churches in Thailand, but only 2000 full-time pastors.
KD: And those Thai churches that don’t have a full-time pastor, do they want a full-time pastor or are they happy to have lay leaders do the work?
MC: Both. Sometimes the churches without pastors need to rely on missionaries. And they need to rely on lay leaders. But once they grow and have the ability to call a full time pastor, they want that. But there are only 2000 pastors currently, so we need both. We need to train both those who will be full-time and those who will be lay leaders. Sometime lay leaders can stop working and come study, but that doesn't happen a lot. We have evening classes and extension programs that attract a lot of students because they don’t need to leave their work. They can study at home, and then just test, and come for a seminar. So the number of students who are lay people is big. But we need to further develop this area. The number of churches is increasing.
There is the Thailand Vision 2015 that 1 million people believe in Christ by 2015. That’s our hope. Today, right now we have about 330,000 Christians, not including kids, and not including Catholics. These are the numbers from Dwight Martin. If you include kids, we have maybe 500,000. If you include Catholics, the number is about 1 million.
We hope that if people are committed to God, and share the Gospel, we can reach a million Christians in Thailand. If so, we’ll have a lot more churches, maybe a thousand more churches. And those churches will need part-time and full-time pastors. And BBS is happy to help train them. We will need lay leaders and full-time workers.
KD: What do you think are the biggest obstacles or challenges facing the Thai church today?
MC: I think that today, there are three or four things that are big challenges. The economy is one. The economy is changing. We don’t know what the future will be. Sometimes there are floods or droughts, or lack of food. Or people can’t find work, or income is small. Costs keep rising, and people become discouraged. So when we evangelize, we hold out hope, something for them to hang on to, to believe in.
The second thing is religion. Thai people are starting to feel that religion is something irrelevant to them. They hardly go to the temple, and they don’t give offerings like they used to. Many people feel like Christianity is something easier than Buddhism for contemporary life. You can be a Christian anywhere, you can pray to God, worship him anywhere, meet together in a home for a cell group. You don’t have to go to a temple far away.
The third thing we see now is globalization. We can know God through the internet or television and there is cultural exchange going on. Thailand is entering the Asian Economic Community (AEC) and Singaporeans, Lao, Vietnamese will be coming into Thailand. That is a new opportunity for Thailand. Will we evangelize them? And we need to improve English, and also Chinese. Teaching Chinese used to not be favored but that has changed. There are lots of opportunities for English teaching. To speak frankly, even the Mormons are taking advantage of this, as they are volunteers as it is. They are going into public schools and teaching English. If English speakers from abroad want to come teaching English and serving God, the door is wide open. Visas are not a problem. This is an opportunity.
KD: How much do you think the prosperity gospel is coming into Thai churches? How much influence is it having, and how can we meet this challenge?
MC: Prosperity theology is having an influence on Thai churches. We see that Thai people have a foundation in Buddhism, and have a Hinduism type belief too. As far as prosperity, some monks do occult rituals and magic for this purpose.
When Thai people have faith, or when they pray for things to make them rich, to make them prosperous, or when Thai people bless each other, it is blessings for wealth and prosperity. So when you have people come and preach that Jesus will make you rich, and support it with the verse that says Jesus became poor so that we would be rich, or when some people claim that they were born poor and under the oppression of Satan and occult magic, but now Jesus has freed them from that and made them rich, that resonates with Thai people. Or some pastors who have a foundation, have a heart that wants to be rich as it is, and then they run into this theology, they embrace it right away. We see many pastors, including some I know, their background is poor, and they have had a difficult life, and then they run into this teaching, and meet some businessmen who have a heart to embrace this theology and see God blessing their business, so this kind of theology makes sense to them. They see, “Ahh, since this person starting believing in Christ, this is what’s happened to them,” then they are hooked.
Or some people challenge others in the area of giving. Give God 100 baht and you’ll get 1000 baht. Give God 1000 baht and you’ll get 10,000 baht, or give God 10,000 baht you’ll get 100, 200, or 300,000 baht. Your business will prosper and then this idea is shared around. Churches like this emphasize giving. The more you give, the more you get. The more you give, the more you get. This is what they talk about all the time. Thai people call it the 3 Rs:
“Rung rueng” [prosperous] – If you believe in Jesus, everything in life will get better. You’ll have more money, a better job, everything will be better.
“Ram ruay” [rich] – more money, more gold. Some people already have big businesses, big houses, and testify that God made them rich. Others see that and want it. They want to be rich.
“High Roke” [get healed] – This is the third R. If you believe in Jesus, you won’t be sick, you won’t have bad health, you’ll get healed.
The results of this is that in the Thai church there is a big emphasis on prosperity, riches, and health, so that makes a lot of people interested in going to church. But when they go to church, will they get prosperous? Will they become rich? Will they get healed? That is a question that remains to be answered for the churches that emphasis this teaching. So that’s the short version about this.
KD: Do you have any prayer requests for yourself, your family, or for BBS that people can pray for?
MC: At BBS, we are in the process of building a library, a specifically dedicated building. This will be a center of information and research, for not only for the students, but for Thai Christians in general and others. Every year, we have 400-500 people who come through the current library. They come in and out, including pastors, church leaders, students from other seminaries, even Buddhist monks come to look at the reference books. Catholic priests have come into to see the reference materials, and to do research.
We are going to build a new library building, which will cost 16 million baht, of which we already have 11 million in hand, that we have been saving up for 10 years. But we still need another 5 million baht, so please pray for that amount which we still need. But we have enough to begin, and construction will start next month. We’ll take the building that is currently on that spot, prepare the surface, make a parking lot, and put up pillars to get going. So please pray for that.
Secondly, for BBS itself. Nobody supports us, meaning neither OMF nor CMA support us. They are good friends and partners, but they do not give financial support. So we pray for God’s provision, as Hudson Taylor said, “God’s work, done in God’s way, will not lack God’s supply.” We pray that God will provide. Please pray for all that is necessary for our budget, and for our students.
Thirdly, for my family. My children serve God. My son is studying in the United States at International Theological Seminary. He is married and has two kids. He has about a year and half until he finishes his M.Div. My youngest son is in Florida, studying sports management, in hopes of doing sports evangelism with young people. And maybe he’ll come do that in Thailand in the future. As for my daughter, she is working at an international school in Bang Na [Eastern Bangkok]. Please pray for them. For myself and my wife, we help each other in serving God at various churches and at BBS, as well as with the EFT [Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand], and at a small church, called Sat-ja-tahm, which is an ACT [Associated Churches of Thailand] church, which is connected to OMF. I help with preaching, pastoral care, and taking care of the church. That’s my responsibility.
KD: Thank you Dr. Manoch, and may the Lord bless you and your family and BBS.
MC: Yes, yes, you’re very welcome.