When the King of Thailand Jammed with the Baptists
In the early days of Protestant mission work in Thailand, it was common for missionaries to meet Thai royalty, who often kept themselves apprised of the missionaries’ work. As the country changed and grew, and the 20th century progressed, such relations became less common.
In the early 1960s, however, a visiting Southern Baptist choir had a unique audience with His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, illustrating the goodness of God’s provision as well as the kind generosity His Majesty and his love of music. Ron Hill, a longtime missionary to Thailand who was involved in early Southern Baptist work in that country relates the story as follows.
“In 1961 the Baptist Students of Texas organized a choir of about 20 to give concerts in the far eastern part of the world. Louis Cobbs, Associate Director of the Baptist Student Union for Texas, was the coordinator of the mission project called "Project Understanding." Dan Pratt, an outstanding vocalist, was the choir director, and Bill Lawson, a wonderful black Baptist Student Director from Houston, was the preacher/speaker. The choir's itinerary included concerts in Hawaii, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Thailand, and many other nations in that part of the world. While in Thailand they were invited to sing for the King and Queen and about 200 members of the royal family. During tea time the King began to play the piano. He invited the choir members to come up and they ended up having quite a session, ending with the singing of "When the Saints Go Marching In." Bill Lawson did "The Creation," from James Weldon Johnson's God's Trombones. The King loved it. The King kept us so long that we were late for a big concert at the Immanuel Church that night. It was Sunday, and you don't leave until the King says you can leave.
“A few years later, Baptists in Thailand were trying to buy land for a Baptist Student Center. A great piece of vacant land was found at a major intersection in Bangkok. It looked perfect, but it was not for sale. It was royal land, the place where a consort of a former king had been murdered some years before. We prevailed on the prince who was handling the land to talk to the King about our interest in purchasing the property. He agreed, and when he mentioned "Baptists" the King asked if that was the same group as the Baptist choir who had sung for him a few years earlier. When assured it was, he said, "Sell it to them!" We got a prime piece of land in the heart of Bangkok for about $60,000. Today, at that intersection in the heart of Bangkok, there is a highly visible Baptist Student Union Center with facilities to accommodate Bible studies, conferences and gatherings of leaders from throughout the nation.”
story excerpted from Bruce Mciver, Riding the Wind of God: A Personal History of the Youth Revival Movement, Macon: Smyth & Helwys Publishers, 2002, p.182-183.
Photo credit: Vajiralongkorn and Bhumibol Adulyadej 1964.09.04.jpg from National Archives via Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: Baptist Student Center images from the blog of Rose Lane