สุขสันต์วันสงกรานต์ Happy Thai New Year. This is my favorite time of year in Bangkok because the city empties out and is like a ghost town. This is the holiday where everyone returns to their hometown to be with family. Since very few people are actually from Bangkok it results in there being only a couple spots in town where anyone is and they are a mix of local Thai, but mainly young westerners, looking for a wild party. All I have to do is avoid those spots (which are very far from me anyway) and I have this giant city to myself. While I normally really enjoy this time I am very much missing my family and wishing that we were together. This is the time of year we get to eat at our favorite falafel restaurant that is only 10 miles away but usually takes upward of 2 hours to get to. Right now we can get there in 15 minutes. But I am grateful that we have the technology we do so that we can at least stay connected via video calls.
This last month has been extremely encouraging from a ministry perspective. April 3rd marked 5 years since we moved to Thailand. Sometimes it feels like it has gone so fast and other times it feels like it is dragging on but regardless of how we feel there has been a lot of experiences and a lot of growth. We often repeat that line we heard at our first Faithcamp in 2012, “you may go overseas and not win a single soul to Christ, but you just might save your own.” I have seen so much in my character that I had been overlooking or complacent about, or just didn’t even know was there because it hadn’t been challenged before. But trying to incorporate your life into a foreign culture that in almost every way is in conflict with your values and beliefs and doing it in a way that is loving and impactful is anything short of a miracle. In no way have I done any justice to the title Christian. But that is a blessing as well because it just shows me how desperately I still need God. I haven’t ‘arrived’, far from it. I still need His Spirit to refine and rebuke me daily.
That said, there were some amazingly profound breakthroughs in the last few weeks. A few months ago we had a visitor come through and after sharing what we were doing here he asked how successful we felt we had been in regards to sharing the Gospel with the local people. I answered truthfully that we hadn’t really done very much. Of course, when we consider the context of our previous experience, in my 1.5 years in personal ministry in Spokane, there were 7 people who were baptized and about a dozen others who I met with weekly to study and discuss the Bible with. In 5 years of working here not one person has been baptized and the only people I had studied the Bible with were my staff. It seemed like we had accomplished very little. But that is because we use our human standard (numbers) of measuring success. Well God revealed to me this month just how wrong my perspective had been. 2 weeks ago I had lunch with some friends after church. One of them was the first Thai person we met personally on our second Sabbath in Thailand. She was a young woman with her atheist boyfriend trying to teach him about God. We struck up a conversation over lunch and became friends. We have shared part of her experience before in this post. Well on this afternoon she decided to share the testimony of her life with us. In the 5 years I have known her I only knew bits and pieces of her experience. She shared how Christianity had all been a formality for her. She knew the rules and what she was supposed to do and not do, though she had no
idea why; it was just what dad said. When she was a teenager her dad said it was time to be baptized so she was but she didn’t even understand what that meant. She went off to college and that was the first time she decided to bend the rules as she had always followed them before. She got a boyfriend, her first as that hadn’t been allowed before, and started doing other things that she deemed ‘little’. “After all”, she said, “it wasn’t like I was going to the pub all night or anything like that”. Her life became one of comparison and she felt good. That was how things went until she met our family and our friend Josh. We were open with her about the importance of a personal relationship with God. The post quoted above shares how she had never heard of that before. She said that due to all the formal words she had to use in prayer God seemed like some Being far away that wasn’t really interested in what was going on here. She also shared that a lot of the words they use in prayer she doesnt even undertsand and has started praying in English more to help her see God as a Father. We also started talking to her about some of the choices she was making, specifically in regards to her relationship. She was then asked to lead out in teaching the Bible to the kids in the slum. She said she knew how to teach, that’s her profession, but she had no idea how to teach the Bible, so someone referred her to us. She said Jessica sat down with her and told her you can’t teach something you don’t know and told her she needed to spend time with God. She was very offended that Jessica would tell her that she wasn’t ‘doing good enough.’ But when she went home she realized that Jessica was right. She started praying to God and spending time in His Word each morning and her life began to change. She still had struggles, mainly with the man she had been dating, but she was able to work through that and has had victory for a few months now. The biggest thing that shocked me was when she said, “I never said I was a Christian until I met you guys.” Looking at that experience and knowing the heartache, stress, effort, and prayer that had gone out for her from Josh and his wife, Jessica and I as well as many others; to hear the ‘behind the scenes’ and having a fuller context for it was so encouraging. So often we look at what we can see and judge based on that, but God is in the business of working on the heart, not just the actions. Actions can be easy to change but if the heart isn’t in it then they will go back and forth, but God’s work is always perfect, converting the soul.
Another experience this month has come as a result of our actions following the ‘How to Study the Bible Seminar we mentioned last month. I was convicted that we needed to be having a prayer meeting. The speaker was trying to make a point in asking how many people show up to prayer meeting and the translator had to tell him “we don’t have prayer meeting in Thailand”. I realized I had just fallen into the ‘this is how it’s done here’ attitude and hadn’t tried to make a change. Well, we started getting together each Tuesday morning to have an hour of united prayer. It started out a bit slow but now there is serious prayer happening for the work here. I also started implementing the study methods we learned in my personal devotion time and thought we could try it for our staff worship on Friday mornings. It was amazing. We have gone from me basically giving a sermon that results in little interaction, to me simply facilitating a Bible study where the team is searching for and coming up with answers themselves. They are loving it and it is so encouraging to me to see them studying and having questions then trying to answer them on their own. One morning we studied the parable of the unforgiving servant. Afterward, I gave a summary and then one of our team, Jun, started sharing. He said he had unforgiveness in his heart toward his father and brother. He started talking about the situation and actually started crying, which is usually taboo in this culture. He said he was glad we studied this now as he would be going home for Songkran and would have an opportunity to apologize for his actions. Even though he could be justified in his feelings, his brother was doing bad stuff in the family, he said it was his responsibility to make right his part of it. This week he found out his younger sister was pregnant out of wedlock which is also culturally unacceptable. His father was so stressed about it that he wasn’t paying attention while working and cut his big toe off, his mom was the only one who knew and was lying to everyone about it. These were all very big issues and he was so angry. He said that he would not be going to the wedding this weekend (they have to get married because she is pregnant) and that when he called her out on it she just started crying and saying she was so sorry. I had the opportunity to share some personal experiences and explain that he couldn’t change the situation with his attitude. Being angry and not attending the wedding wouldn’t make her not pregnant anymore. But he could be a support to her in this time of trial and be a witness to the true love of Christ for her. I asked him how he thought she felt and he said scared. I was able to share my dad’s experience when he found out my 16-year-old sister was pregnant. He was so angry, then he realized, she is 16 and probably terrified and knew he had to love her and support her. Loving and supporting people when they go through struggles that are the result of their own poor choices doesn’t mean we support their bad choices, but it shows that we care about them for who they are, regardless of what they do. That was what had impacted Chompoo in the story in this post and showed her the Gospel in action. Jun left for home today and he had happiness on his face and I am encouraged that he will be able to share the love of Christ in his village this week.
The last story is about a girl I met at church a few weeks ago. I walked into the cafeteria and was standing at the back as I was talking to my friends, new missionaries, about how the lunch system works. A man I know walked up to us and said: “go sit in the front corner there.” I always sit in basically the same spot, not in that corner, but he was adamant so I went. After I got my food I sat down and there was a couple across from me. For some reason, I didn’t feel in the mood to talk to them as I wanted to just visit with my friends. Well during a lull in the conversation I introduced myself to the man across from me. Turned out he was a visitor from New Zealand with his Thai girlfriend he had met online. I tried to talk to her a bit but she seemed uninterested. It took a good 5 minutes for me to realize she didn’t really speak English (I am always amazed at how these couples form a relationship when they are unable to communicate). I began talking to her in Thai and then she opened up. She was Buddhist. Her boyfriend came to visit and she took him to the temple. He told me he was backslidden and not really following God but when they went to the temple he wanted her to see what he believed and found the church online. I started asking her questions and she said she hadn’t really understood much, the sermon was in English, but that she had many questions. She had never been to a Christian church before. Why did we sing? Why did we stand up, then sit down, then kneel, etc? Why was it a certain day (they go to the temple when they feel like it or on a holiday)? I explained to her the story of Creation and how the infinite Creator God had come to this earth and with His own hands, formed us and gave us life.
Then He set aside a specific day that He wanted to spend with us because He loved us and was personally interested in us. She was very interested and had so many questions. Her boyfriend wanted to get her a Thai/English Bible and so I asked for her contact info to give to our female team member who could meet with her and help explain the Bible but she didn’t give it to me. I felt that maybe she wasn’t all that interested after all. After washing the dishes she came over and gave me her email and asked if I could have my friend contact her. Wiang went and took her a Bible but was unable to meet with her as she was working, but God opened a connection there and got a Bible into her home. This is a Filipino church and I was possibly the only person that spoke Thai in the entire cafeteria, and God had placed me right across from her so that He could connect with her through me, and I almost missed the opportunity. It also worked to encourage the new missionaries, who are currently in language study, just how important a working knowledge of the language is.
While just a few months ago I was feeling like we hadn’t accomplished very much in our time here, God gave me a glimpse into the reality of perspective. While in America we can go through a series of Bible studies with someone and in maybe 6 months they get baptized, here we have to build a relationship, we have to overcome cultural obstacles that are directly in conflict with Biblical principles. We have to establish the concept that there is a Supreme Being that Created each of us and loves each of us into minds that have been molded and shaped to believe that they are the highest being in their life and that the power for everything comes from within themselves. We aren’t just asking people to give up smoking, drinking, illicit relationships. We are asking them to give up their culture, their worldview, which sometimes results in losing their family, to follow a God that they have never heard of and aren’t really even sure about. To have the expectation that this is going to happen in the same timeframe as it would in America is just ridiculous. God is giving us patience and courage as we struggle with the feeling of being ineffective partially because He is trying to help us undrstand that it isnt about our argument or reasoning, but about His Spirit and partially because He doesn’t want us to lose hope and give up while He is working the sometimes slow process of drawing and converting hearts. While it can be hard we know it is definitely worth it.
Thank you all for your support and prayers. We wouldn’t be where we are today without your partnership.
In His service, by His grace,
Brian, Jessica, Asher, Joseph & Baby Atwell
- That we can find the right workers with a heart to serve the Lord (We need to add at least 1 more for the gym and 2-4 additional once the cafe opens)
- That God can help us with the business side of things. There are a few business people giving counsel and advice and helping in connecting with schools but we could always use prayer in this.
- For the resources we need, preferably through income sources, to cover our expenses. You can learn more at the end of this post
- For extra protection over our marriage and family as the enemy seeks to discourage and destroy Christ’s work especially in our time of separation
- For us to be more intentional in our witness for God’s glory
- For Jessica to have strength and patience taking care of the 2 boys, while pregnant and traveling alone up the West Coast.
- I was planning to open the cafe before I left as a financial support since the outdoor climbing trips will be stopped for rainy season but i have had many people councel against it. Please join me in prayer to know what to do about this situation.
- God has impressed us that we need to open an official call for someone (or a family) to come and join our team to help with the business side of things. While I have managed a few businesses I have never started one and while I feel we have done a lot, by God’s grace, I think someone with a better mind for business could greatly improve upon what we have started and I could focus on managing and the ministry side of things. If you know someone with business experience please send them our way for an interview.
- For guidance for Josh and Chitlada (Directors of Jesus for Slum Kids project). They have many aspects of their project developing and also a new baby in the house so they could use an extra special outpouring of prayer. If you would like to find out more check out their website here http://jesus4slumkids.org/ or email the Project Director Joshua Bauder at Joshuabauder@hotmail.com. You can also view their project featured on the program MissionTREK here