World Changers on Mission: Part 1 of 4
I belong to the tribe of America, which means I enjoy the rights of free speech and choice of religion without government interference. Having been born and raised in the United States, to a certain extent I take these freedoms for granted. Why so? I suppose because I haven’t had to personally fight for them like the Pilgrims did when they fled Europe and crossed the Atlantic hundreds of years ago to escape religious persecution.
I recently attended the Ethnos Asian Ministry’s (EAM) conference in Thailand which opened by eyes to the persecution that most of the world faces with regards to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only Thailand, a country that sits in the middle of the Access Restricted Nations of Asia (ARNA), retains a spirit of religious freedom. You may wonder how Christians suffer in neighboring countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar.
Some ARNA Christians are labelled traitors to their culture, family, and community. Persecution can range from rude comments to physical violence, property seizure, church destruction, and eviction from their homes. Arrest and imprisonment are all common retribution. Many cannot trust their own families, who are encouraged to turn them into the authorities for a reward. Many believers in Indochina have lost everything but their faith in Jesus. Would you have the strength and courage to believe and serve Jesus in the midst of this type of persecution? How uncomfortable are you willing to be for the love of Jesus?
In this multi-part series, I’ll share more about the dynamics of countries that restrict or persecute Christians, what it’s like to go into an ARNA country as a devout Christ follower, and an organization whose mission is to strengthen and serve the Body of Christ in these countries. Do not be discouraged, because even with all these challenges, the Lord of the Harvest continues to win soles.
Thailand: A Breath of Fresh Air
On my first day in Thailand, a religiously tolerant country within ARNA, I took a bike tour around the city to learn more about the culture, its religious tendencies, and celebrations. In comparison to other Asian countries, it boasts more tourism and shopping destinations with above par infrastructure and mass transportation systems. I also found the people friendly, helpful, and hardworking, which might be explained by their belief in Karma—a person’s actions in this and previous lives decide his or her fate in future existence.
Thai people, Buddhism, and their nationality are inseparable with 95% of the population claiming to be Buddhist, 4% as Muslim, and a mere 0.5% as Christian. I asked our tour guide, Wit, how the Thai would respond if another Thai claimed to be a Christian. He answered, “They would say, wow. They would be amazed, because it’s so uncommon.”
Our tour took us into a few Buddhist temples, and Wit helped us navigate through the rituals so we wouldn’t offend a Buddha. Take off your shoes, step over the threshold, bring your offerings of food and flowers to place before Buddha. Monks wearing red cloaks walked everywhere. What can monks do and not do? It depends on what religious order they belong to.
Similar to other religions, which have denominations ranging from orthodox to liberal, monks have similar hierarchies. Some cannot touch money or women and are dependent on others for gifts of survival. Others embrace the use of cell phones and buying food as a necessity of the times. One thing is certain. Monks get special treatment by the government including free use of public transportation and special seating status equivalent to pregnant, elderly, and injured.
Who can become a monk? Any male can become a monk. Many parents encourage their sons toward the monastery, so they can ride their son’s coat-tails into heaven. How long do monks have to serve? In recent times and with the pressure to provide for their families, some men take only 2 weeks off from work to become a monk. Although his plan was to be a monk for 3 months, Wit said he lasted only one week. It’s fashionable to be a monk at least once in your lifetime.
Our tour of the local markets overwhelmed us with food, flavors, and flowers. Flowers are shipped into the cities from the countryside to be used for offerings to Buddha and weddings. I thought of Biblical times when families brought their best sheep to the temple as a sacrifice. With Buddhism it’s less messy and more colorful. Thailand has a whole economy sustained by the growing and offering of flowers to Buddha.
Why is it difficult for me to embrace Buddhism? My tongue in cheek answer is that my memory just isn’t good enough to keep track of all the gods. Wit told us there are 37 gods. Another person told us there were millions of gods. Did Wit forget some?
I’d rather nurture my personal relationship with Jesus. It feels real, close, and loving, and I only need to keep track of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I can manage that.
Learn more about the Access Restricted Nations of Asia by visiting Ethnos Asia Ministries (EAM) at http://www.ethnosasia.org
About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, finances, and ministry. She serves in the local and global mission fields and has a heart to help others be the best version of themselves. You can contact Sandra at firstname.lastname@example.org