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Karl teaches missions and church history at Bangkok Bible Seminary, assists with translation and editing at Kanok Bannasan (OMF Publishers Thailand), one of the few publishers of Thai Christian books, and preaches at local churches. Living right next to the seminary campus in downtown Bangkok, both Karl and Sun have opportunities to invest in the lives of students, the next generation of Thai church leaders. They are also involved in ministry with local Thai churches, laboring to see healthy models of biblical teaching and Christian living take root in the lives of Thai Christians.
For the past couple of years, I have been working together with Dr. Natee Tanchanpongs (pastor, Grace City Bangkok church) and Mr. Chaiyasit Suebthayat (elder, New City Fellowship Church in eastern Bangkok) to write a new catechism in Thai for Thai Christians. The three of us have written a new Thai Christian Catechism from the ground up, borrowing from the Westminster Shorter Catechism at times, but organizing the catechism differently and covering slightly different ground in terms of what is included or not included, and how it is expressed.
Why a New Catechism?
While Reformation era catechisms like Heidelberg and Westminster are superb for English speakers, especially for native speakers in a culturally Western context, translations of these catechisms end up sounding clunky and unnatural in Thai. The truth in them is sound but it is difficult to maintain accuracy to the original without sacrificing readability. Also, the questions and issues of Europeans hundreds of years ago are not always the same as contemporary Thai believers. Surely there is a vast amount of overlap because the duty of all Christians is to preserve “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3). However, we wanted a biblically faithful catechism that is readable and accessible for modern Thai Christians, addressing issues of faith that are both essential and current for Thai churches. I hope we have accomplished that.
The catechism has been privately published with professional assistance in layout, design, and printing from Kanok Bannasan (OMF Publishers Thailand). Dr. Natee will be teaching through the new catechism over the next several months at our church, Grace City Bangkok, and videos of each session to be posted on YouTube. The catechism will also be available for purchase through Kanok Bannasan (OMF Publishers Thailand), and we hope that other churches will find it useful in giving their church members a solid foundation in the Christian faith.
In the remainder of this post, I want to give you a brief peak inside the catechism, share some question and answer pairs that show how we have written this for the Thai context, and provide a link for you to download a PDF of the introduction and first chapter. Currently we do not have a full English translation of the catechism, but that will probably be coming eventually.Download Thai Christian Catechism (Intro and Chapter 1 only)
Dear Friends & Family,Greetings from Northern Thailand! No, we have not moved from Phrabaht but for the first two weeks of March are attending Pre-Home Assignment Workshop in Chiang Mai to help us prepare for our upcoming home assignment (furlough) from Dec 2010 to Oct 2011. We are busy reviewing our life and ministry over the past few years, preparing talks, and starting to plan for the where, when, and who of our time in the States. We’re looking forward to time back home to reconnect with many of you and to share what we we’ve seen God doing in Thailand over the past four years. And looking ahead to AFTER our home assignment, we’re asking God to give us at least one more missionary family to join our church planting team here in Thailand. May the LORD of the harvest give us desperately needed like-minded co-laborers in the Gospel for His work here in Thailand. Please pray with us (Matt 9:37-38)
Dear Friends & Family,We thank God for the Christmas evangelism opportunities we had this past December. Our kids club Christmas in Nong Doan went well with sufficient helpers and lots of kids. The neighborhood outreach the next day went fine program-wise but was very poorly attended due to the fact that the neighborhood public address system that we planned on using to invite neighbors was broken. We found this out only a couple days beforehand when I went confirm with the chair of the community association about the time of the announcement. All the same, some people came and it went as well as could be expected. Thanks for your prayers for these and other Christmas events. We pray that God will use the messages heard and literature distributed to impress His truth on the hearts of many.
Dear Friends & Family,This past Friday we started up the kids club in Nong Doan again. There were only about 20 kids present but that’s to be expected since we hadn’t held any activities for a month. My missionary helpers were not available and I was glad to have along two young Thai men from the PhraBaht church. I want to bring them along regularly and make this a discipleship/ministry training time for them. They have both been Christians for a few years but are quite young in the faith. One of them, nickname Milk, has agreed to also meet with me once a week to read the Bible together. We’ll start that up after our family gets back from vacation on the 24th of this month. I have yet to ask the other fellow, nickname Top, to meet up with me to read the Bible but I hope to do the same with him. There are a few women in the church that Sun would like to disciple in the same manner but she has not yet approached them. With two small children at home it will be a bit more challenging for Sun to do this but perhaps one or two of the ladies would be willing to come meet her at our home. Investing in the lives of individuals like this, and opening the Scriptures with them, will be perhaps one of the best uses of our time here in Thailand during the next 1.5 years until home assignment.
Dear Friends & Family,Thank you for for your continued prayers. We press on in all our responsibilities and we appreciate your pressing on in prayer for us. Our big news is that Sun is pregnant again, about 17 weeks as of this writing. Due date September 21st. We are excited about the prospect of a new little one but also a bit anxious as Sun’s previous two pregnancies ended in miscarriage (at 4 months and 2 months, respectively). Thus, we hold on to the fact that God is sovereign and God is good, praying that God will graciously give us another child to be with us for many years to come but also trusting that if He doesn’t, then it is good and He will strengthen us for whatever is ahead. In the meantime, Sun has been exhausted for the past few months, eating every 2-3 hours, yet only nauseous on occasion. Karl has been trying to take care of her and Joshua, while Joshua has been pretty self-focused as can be expected of any toddler. It is fun, however, to watch him to look into Mommy’s bellybutton to see if he can see the new baby.
It is easy to think that success in ministry depends upon us making good decisions. If God’s plans for this church / ministry are going to succeed, we need to discern His will and follow it. But what about when we make dumb decisions? Can our failures ruin what God wants to accomplish? Certainly, our decisions have a real impact in our lives and the lives of others. We should pursue holiness and make the best choices we can. But at the same time, our missteps, miscalculations, and general failure to follow God in every way do not prevent God from accomplishing his plans.
We see this principle at work in the story of Abimelech and Abraham in Genesis 20. Abraham and Sarah move into Gerar, the territory of King Abimelech. Abraham has some inkling of the trouble that is ahead, so he tells Sarah to say that she is his sister instead of his wife. Abimelech then takes Sarah as his wife, but before he gets to sleeping with her, God speaks to him in a dream and tells him that she has a husband already, and Abimelech will thus be punished. Abimelech pleads his innocence, returns Sarah, and berates Abraham for lying to him. At the end of the day, Abraham gets his wife back plus a lot of gifts from Abimelech who wants to clear his name and escape from divine wrath.
One of the first things our supervisor instructed us to do as church planters in Central Thailand was to glue a card with the Apostles’ Creed into the cover of every hymnal. Every Sunday we would have our small congregation of mainly leprosy believers memorize the creed and recite it in unison. Our congregation had no real appreciation of the historic development and impact of this creed, but as preferred oral learners in a group culture, they enjoyed saying the creed out loud together and in the process gained a major dose of scriptural truth. Ancient statements of faith, like the Apostles’ Creed, have been translated and used for centuries in a variety of cultures. Much ink has been spilt analyzing the contribution and content of the historic creeds, but less has been said about how to contextualize them for non-western contexts. To contextualize a creed, one must be aware of the nature of creeds historically as well as the benefits and potential pitfalls inherent in the development process.
The Value and Dangers of Creeds
Philip Schaff in his massive three-volume work on Creeds states, “Confessions, in due subordination to the bible, are of great value and use. They are summaries of the doctrines of the Bible, aids to its sound understanding, bonds of union among their professors, public standards and guards against false doctrine and practice.”[i] G. W. Bromiley notes the benefits, but also highlights the dangers of creedal statements:The dangers of creed making are obvious. Creeds can become formal, complex, and abstract. They can be almost illimitably expanded. They can be superimposed on Scripture. Properly handled, however, they facilitate public confession, form a succinct basis for teaching, safeguard pure doctrine, and constitute an appropriate focus for the church’s fellowship in faith.[ii]
In 2008 I was on a short home assignment in the U.S. when my brother introduced me to something called Facebook. I had never seen it before but was hooked instantly. However, as time has wore on, Facebook (and Twitter) have changed from an exciting way to connect with people to something a bit more tedious, and a bit less personal. Judging by the number of people deactivating their Facebook accounts these days, it seems that others are having a similar experience.
As Christians got on the social media bandwagon, numerous blog posts and magazine articles appeared, warning that if Christians failed to get with the times, they would miss out on fantastic possibilities for evangelism and discipleship. If your church or ministry did not have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, you would become irrelevant. And irrelevance is the thing that evangelicals seem to fear most, even more than sin itself. However, as that wave passed, a small deluge of books (both Christian and secular) have begun to appear, calling into question the utopian claims of digital media. People have started to notice the effect that social media and perpetual connectedness are having on them. And not everyone likes what they see.
Joshua is a boy always on the move but we managed to get him to slow down for moment this afternoon to answer some questions. After dinner, we've been telling him Bible stories and helping him to memorize some questions from the Catechism for Small Children (a simplified version of the the Westminister Shorter Catechism) and some Bible verses. We also try to sing some songs with him but Joshua usually protests (probably due to our musical incompetence). We try to make it interactive and interesting for him so that not only will great truths about God get into his head but that he will enjoy our times together learning about the big wonderful God who made all things and loves us.
Karl sat Joshua down to test his memory of the things he's been learning. So far, he's memorized catechism questions 1-4, Genesis 1:1, Matthew 22:37, and a simple definition of sin. Have a listen to the audio file below and see how Joshua did. Please ignore the fact that Daddy didn't do as well, mistakenly asking Joshua to repeat Matthew 22:38 instead of Matthew 22:37.
(If you don't see an audio player above, click here to download the file)
I have just finished four orality (Simply the Story) workshops in the Thai language in Khon Kaen, Bangkok, and with Thai/tribals in the Chiang Mai area. This is the fourth year that we have done such training with the Thai and these patterns continue to emerge:
Orality and the Need for Bible Storytelling in Thailand
1. Thai at their core are oral learners and although education is widespread, the majority after school do not use what they have learned and often end up semi-literate or even functionally non-literate. It may be true that most all who come to Christ have been influenced at some point by printed material or tracts, but it is the relational dimension of hearing personal testimonies/witnessing that influences them the most.
One would think that Americans are fairly literate group of people. But unfortunately, many are not readers, nor even critical thinkers. That’s not to say people aren’t smart but just that they don’t process and learn primarily through the printed word. I’ve included below a fascinating summary of the literacy rate in the United States (source). The implications for evangelism and discipleship both in the West and the Majority World are staggering. For more info about oral strategies for sharing the Gospel, see this page on the Simply the Story website.
What would you guess the literacy rate is in the USA? The published literacy rate for the USA is 98%. Interestingly beside that rate, there is a note saying, "85% functionally literate." Humm? I wonder. What does "98% literate" mean then?
“Truth that Sticks: How to Communicate Velcro Truth in a Teflon World” by Avery Willis and Mark Snowden (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2010)
reviewed by Karl Dahlfred
As I have been learning and reading about oral Bible storying, one of the questions that has come up in my mind is, “To what extent can storying be used? Don’t we need to use other methods too in order to bring people all the way in discipleship and leadership?” In “Truth that Sticks”, Avery Willis and Mark Snowden have not only laid out a vision for biblical storying but have also explained how it connects with discipleship, leadership, and church growth.
After being introduced to STS storytelling this past year, I thought I would try it out at home. As part of family devotions each evening, I started doing something that I decided to call “Story Challenge.” I pitched this to my son Joshua (5 years old) as a contest to see if he could tell back to me the story that I was about to tell him. The first story we did was Jesus calming the storm in Mark 4:35-41. We told and retold the story many times over several days. He was hesitant to tell it back to me initially, claiming that it was too hard and that he didn’t remember anything. So, I skipped straight to the walk through, coaxing out of him the next line of the story, bit by bit. Often times, I throw in silly options and questions that provoke a “You’re wrong, Daddy!” type of response. After I “bungle” the story, he tells me how the story was supposed to go.
The objection was not uncommon. I recently received an email from an American college professor requesting advice for a Thai student of his who had recently become a Christian. The student’s Buddhist mother back in Thailand was greatly upset about her son’s decision. But she would be okay with his new faith under one condition. He didn’t get baptized. The first time I ever heard this objection to baptism, it seemed a bit odd. Why would a Thai Buddhist, who is largely unfamiliar with the Christian faith, object to baptism in particular? Why would they single out baptism as the one thing that “my son” or “my daughter” can not do? Why does not church attendance, Bible study or prayer solicit the same fierce opposition?
I don’t know of any plans to translate Rob Bell’s new book on hell into Thai. But if it was translated, I doubt it would sell very well. I haven’t read his book so this is not a commentary on what Bell does or does not espouse. But this IS a commentary on how culture shapes our perception of what’s important. The burning issues facing the American church are not necessarily so important in other parts of the world.
While the American church faces the challenges of postmodernity, secularism, and doubt, the church in Thailand does not. The vast majority of Thai Christians and churches affirm the reality of heaven and hell, and the reality of God’s supernatural intervention in the affairs of life. Even Thai Buddhists, who make up 95% of the population of Thailand, believe in heaven and hell. Granted, they have a different understanding of these terms, but most would acknowledge their reality because Buddhism affirms them as well. So, a book addressed to a culture which views heaven and hell with skepticism would likely sit on the shelf in Thailand, gathering dust.
Perhaps my favorite Bible reading plan is the one put together by Robert Murray M'Cheyne. In one year, M'Cheyne's Bible reading calendar takes you through the Old Testament once, and the Psalms and New Testament twice. Each day has about four chapters of Scripture to read - usually two Old Testament readings, and then either two New Testament readings or a New Testament reading and a Psalm. It is a rigorous regiment to keep up with but I really enjoy keeping my mind in various parts of the Bible at the same time, and it is a great aid in not getting bogged down in books like Leviticus since there are other, perhaps more accessible, daily readings to go along with it.