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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.
Dear Friends & Family,
Thank you everyone for standing with us in prayer as we have been in a holding pattern waiting for our financial support to go back up so we can return to Thailand.ALMOST THERE!By the time you read this our situation might have changed, but as of right now (Feb 2nd) we are $362/month short of 100% support, and $40/month short of 95% support (the minimum amount required by OMF International for us to receive clearance to return to Thailand). That’s really close! Our support gap used to be much bigger but we’ve seen it close through 1) making serious cuts to our budget, and 2) seeing God provide through a few large one-time gifts, and new (or increased) financial support pledges. We have felt tempted to cut the budget even further in order to get back more quickly but we don’t want to get out to Bangkok and find that we don’t have the funds that we need to live and minister. So, no more budget cuts, but more prayer and more visiting with churches and people interested in our work in Thailand. We are really thankful to God that He has brought us thus far, and we are confident that he will provide what is needed to bring us the rest of the way. Since we are so close to the 95% support figure, we are very hopeful to leave for Thailand in March.
ดร. ระวี ดินกินส์ มิชชันนารี OMF แบ่งปันในวันอังคารที่ 5 กุมภาพันธ์ 2013 ณ ห้องประชุมใหญ่พระคริสตธรรมกรุงเทพที่ผ่านมา (เทศนาแบบเล่าเรื่องเจาาะใจ) การเรียนพระคัมภีร์อย่างนี้สนุกดีและช่วยผู้ฟังให้เข้าใจพระคำของพระเจ้าดีมากที่เดียว ลองฟังดูซินะครับ ขอพระเจ้าอวยพระพรครับ
guest post by Larry Dinkins There are scores of quiet time books which stress making Bible reading a daily habit: Daily Bread, Daily Light, Daily Guideposts, and a huge variety of other Daily devotional aids for every age group. I've used many of them, so I'm not sure why the title of a new devotional caught my eye - "Once-A-Day Bible". Then it dawned on me. I've been thinking about Brother Lawrence whose "Practicing the Presence of God" is still a classic after 400 years. What if all they had in the monastery was the "Once-A-Day" Bible. Would Brother Lawrence read his portion for the day and then say, "Ok, glad that's finished. Once in the Bible is enough for today." Mind you, a "Once-a-Day" Bible is much better than a "Once-in-Awhile" Bible or "Once-in-a-Blue-Moon" Bible.
A number of people have asked me for apologetics resources in Thai, so I thought I would assemble a list of what is available. You’ll find that list down below but before you go get the goods, there are few things that need to be understood about apologetics in the Thai context.Apologetic Issues in Thailand are Different than in the West
Apologetics resources in the English language are intended to meet the challenges to the Christian faith in the English speaking world. For various cultural, historical, and religious reasons, not all of those issues are applicable to a Thai-speaking audience and thus do not need much attention (if any) when teaching on apologetics in Thailand. Issues that the vast majority of Thai Christians are not dealing with include higher criticism, secular humanism, the historicity of Adam, the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible, atheism, and postmodernism. Those are Western issues that grew out of historical and cultural forces in the West stemming from the Enlightenment, Rationalism, and the Fundamentalist / Modernist controversy. For the most part, Thailand did not experience those movements in Western thought. To the degree to which Thailand has experienced those movements, it has only been peripheral and mostly confined to the more educated upper-classes who have lived abroad or received a Western education.Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that the issues I’ve listed above don’t matter or are not important. They are important. They do matter. But the the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible are not being called into question in Thai churches, so why mount an apologetic defense against an enemy that your listeners haven’t met (and probably won’t meet) in their context?
I tried an experiment in a Thai church I was asked to preach at recently. As a Dallas Theological Seminary graduate I always try to prepare my expositional messages well ahead of time and end up spending many hours in preparation. Yet I departed from my usual regimen on this occasion and found myself standing in the pulpit on this particular Sunday saying something I had never said in 40 years of preaching, "Congregation, I have to be honest and tell you that I'm not sure what I'll be preaching on today." They gave me a rather blank stare and then I put a PowerPoint slide in Thai on the screen with the title and references to 15 Bible stories, "You see today I want you as a congregation to "vote" for one of these 15 stories. The one that gets the most votes will be the one that I will preach on." Before they voted, I asked for 6-7 people to tell the congregation which story was their favorite from the list and to convince the rest in just a minute of why they should vote for that story. One Thai lady got so carried away in her appeal that she almost told the entire story. When the votes from the 50 or so that were present were counted, the majority voted for the story of the poor widow who gave her two coins (Mark 12:41-44). Fortunately this was the shortest story on the list. I briefly looked the story over and then for the next 40 minutes I led them through that story in a "Simply The Story" style (www.simplythestory.org). The response was quite encouraging and I promised to return for another "election" in the future.
The other day a missionary friend called me for recommendations for Sunday school curriculum in Thai that he could use for a small church plant on the outskirts of Bangkok. There was only one that I could think of, but I didn’t know if it was in print anymore. I was stumped for a moment. What could I recommend to him... that was in Thai? What do you do if you don’t have any ready-made materials to put in the hands of the Sunday school teachers at your church? What if there just isn’t anything available?Then it dawned on me. Just tell Bible stories. But not just any stories. And not in any old way. Select a set of stories from the Old Testament and New Testament, and systematically work your way through the entire Bible. And don’t just tell a story, but help the kids really learn the story and discover what it means. Get it in their heads. Get it in their hearts. A couple years back, I started learning how to do Bible storytelling via Simply the Story, and ever since then I’ve been seeing ways to put it into practice all over the place.
guest post by Larry Dinkins
I recently went through training which included 10 days of silently reading portions of the book of Acts for 30 minutes and then discussing them in a group for another 30 minutes. I enjoyed the group discussion time, but was struck how western and individualistic it was to sit by myself and read silently without interacting with the others around my table. Of course, processing the Bible silently and in isolation wasn't hard for me (after all, I got through college sitting by myself in a study carrel in the university library). But what about the Thai; would they have warmed to such an assignment?
As a Westerner, there are many aspects of Thai society and thinking that I find strange, baffling, or frustrating - and sometimes all three at once. But as I read through Walter Ong’s book “Orality and Literacy”, there were several “Ah ha!” moments about Thai culture. Many of his descriptions of oral cultures resonated with things that I’ve observed in Thailand. I felt like I was beginning to understand why the Thai do some of the things that they do, thus disarming the judgmental attitudes that I’ve had at times.I suspect that many more cultural differences between Thailand and the West that can be tracked back to orality than the ones that I list below. And even these differences likely cannot be attributed entirely to orality. Whether you are primarily oral or literate, other factors such as personality, family background, education, sin, and faith come into play in making a person who they are. To classify all Thai people as oral thinkers and all Westerners as literate thinkers would grossly oversimplify matters. However, as a general grid to think about cultural differences that I encounter, orality and literacy are a helpful framework even though individual people from any culture may fall any place along the spectrum.
One time I was doing a Bible study in Ephesians with a Thai couple. The wife was from Bangkok and had a bachelor’s degree in accounting. The husband was from the countryside and had the equivalent of an associate’s degree in sculpture, or something along those lines. As we going through chapter 5, I pointed to a verse and asked, “What does this say about Christ and the church?” The husband looked down at his Bible briefly, then looked up and gave some general answer about Christ. I said, “Uh, that’s true. But what does THIS verse say?” He looked at the Bible again, and again gave an unrelated answer from his general knowledge. He wasn’t getting it and I didn’t know why. It was so simple. Just look at the verse. It’s right there in front of you. But, in retrospect, I was asking him to think in a way that he wasn’t use to. I was asking him to use a type of thinking that he wasn’t use to. He could definitely read but he wasn’t a literate thinker. He was an oral thinker. And I wasn’t getting through.
A few years back, Nicholas Carr wrote an article entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, arguing that the nature of reading online alters the way that people think. Reading on the internet is different than reading a printed page in that the online environment pushes us to scan, skim, and hurry through our reading material. We are impatient to get to the point quickly so that we can move on to something else. The result is that people who regularly get their information online not only have less patience but also less ability to understand sustained and detailed argumentation. Google is, in fact, making us stupid. Our ability to think and reason is being impaired. Carr’s research and insights were eye-opening and disturbing for myself and many others because we as human beings often embrace technology without realizing the effect that it is having on us. Only in retrospect do we see how our tools have changed us. And those changes are not always good. Because the advent of the Internet is near enough to us in history for many people to remember what it was like without it, Carr’s article created a sense of sorrow for what we are losing in a digital age. Namely, the ability to think. However, there also is another technological shift that dramatically altered our thinking ability. But nobody talks about it. Nobody knows. Nobody remembers. Except perhaps Walter Ong.
guest post by Larry Dinkins On Saturday I reconnected with a former student of mine who has been a pastor for over 10 years. I shared with him what I had been learning about oral communication among Thai and tribals. He readily admitted that he did not know how to preach a narrative type sermon from the pulpit. I immediately reminded him of the times I've seen him sharing a story from a popular poster set that we use here in Thailand. In such settings I've seen him break into the northern dialect and banter in a winsome and natural way with seekers and others (and without notes). My plea was to focus more on the stories of the Bible and try to capture more of that natural ethos in his communication. My friend didn't seem that convinced, yet was as always very polite and deferring to his "older" mentor.
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.
reviewed by Karl Dahlfred
In "Telling God’s Stories with Power: Biblical Storytelling in Oral Cultures,” Paul Koehler identifies and presents a solution to a problem that continues to plague many missionaries and national Christians worldwide. In short, traditional modes of Gospel communication in many so-called developing nations don’t seem to be working. Bible schools are churning out graduates and these graduates are preaching and teaching the Gospel but people are tuning them out. Converts are few. Discipleship and church growth are stunted. What’s gone wrong?
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.