How Theological Education in Thailand is Different from the West

If you spend enough time in Thailand, one of the phrases that you’ll hear often is “Same, Same but Different,” meaning that two things are almost exactly the same… but not really.  The difference may (or may not) be substantial, but that depends on your point of view.  A vendor is trying to sell you a wrist watch and you ask if it is a genuine Rolex.  Well, it is same same from the vendor’s perspective. But the buyer’s might view it differently.

When it comes to theological education in Thailand, there is a lot that is same same as theological education in the Western world…but there are significant differences too.  My point is not to say one in genuine and the other is fake, but rather that on the surface the two have many similarities.  But when you dig a bit deeper there are important difference as well.  These differences have an impact on how teachers teach and how student learn.  Therefore, whether you are teaching Bible school students in Bangkok or running a modular leadership training program in Chiang Rai, it is important to have a heads-up on factors to consider if your previous experience of theological education has been primarily in the West.   In this post, I want to briefly consider, in broad brushstrokes, what is the same between Western and Thai theological education, and three things that are different.

seminary class in chapel

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When it is NOT Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

For anyone who has grown up in a culturally-Christian country, it can be a bizarre experience to be in a majority non-Christian country on December 25th.  It is Christmas, but it isn’t.  During one of my first years in Thailand, a Buddhist majority nation, I remember sitting through a school pep rally on Christmas Day at the government college where I was teaching English. It wasn’t about Christmas.  It was just rah-rah-go-team-our-school-is-great.  It was just a normal day for everyone.  Students went to classes.  Teachers taught.  Everybody went to work.  No mention of Christ, or even Santa Claus, although at the end of the pep rally parade there was an odd non-sequitur effigy of Uncle Sam hanging from gallows with IMF written on his chest.  I didn’t quite understand what that had to do with the rest of the parade.  

Meanwhile, in the United States, it would have been looking a lot like Christmas, or least the Western celebration of it.  Carols. Tinsel.  Presents.  Big sales in the stores.  Everyone asking what everyone else was doing for the holiday.  Schools and businesses closed, and people traveling to see family.  Snow, or at least images of snow.  Regardless of whether people are committed Christians or just enjoying a secular holiday of family, food, and gifts, those are the kinds of things that many Westerners think of when they are getting in the “Christmas spirit” or say that it is beginning to look like Christmas.

How to Publish a Christian Book in Thailand

People often ask me how to get a Christian book translated into Thai and published in Thailand. Most of those people are missionaries, but occasionally a Thai Christian wants to know how to get an English-language book or a Thai-language book that they wrote into print.  I don’t claim to know everything about publishing in Thailand but I have worked part-time as an editorial and theological advisor at a Thai Christian publisher for a number of years, which is probably sufficient for providing some advice for getting starting in publishing a Christian book in Thailand.  With that in mind, what follows is some general guidelines for publication but I make no claims of being comprehensive and the policies/procedures of various publishers and printers may change without notice.

Thailand needs lots of good, biblical literature to support the work of evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and leadership development and I am glad whenever I hear of someone’s desire to publish a good Christian book of that variety.  I assume that anyone who wants to publish a Christian book wants it to make as big an impact as possible, so there are two major issues to consider here:

1) the actual translation and publishing of the book

2) distribution of the book AFTER it is published

I’ll get to distribution later in the post (as well as some FAQs), but please don’t skip that part because distribution is just as important as publication.  In terms of publication, there are 2 primary routes for publishing a Christian book in Thailand:

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