Thailand: A Breath of Fresh Air in the Persecuted Christian Countries of Asia

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.

IMG_9334AI 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.

DSC02617Similar 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.

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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 shinecrossings@gmail.com

What’s Your Relationship with the Spirits …and Not the Alcoholic Types?

I find many of today’s Christian denominations avoid discussion or minimize the existence of the spiritual realm that operates in and around all human lives. The Bible tells us that Satan still has dominion of this earthly world. “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News…” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Enemies will always have the advantage when they are denied or disguised. I’d rather know there’s a real devil to battle than be uninformed or ill-equipped to fight.

spiritual realm

Why is the church not teaching Christians about the spiritual realm, preparing them for battle, and reminding them of their power? Are they afraid of scaring Christians?  Are pastors afraid that people will distance themselves from Christianity if they preach on the spiritual realm and the daily workings of demons and angels? Are we that fragile? I believe teaching on the spiritual realm provides answers and brings clarity to events that the three-dimensional world cannot explain well.

Just before Jesus died on the cross, He said, “It is finished,” meaning the human lamb was sacrificed to bring new life for all who were once dead in sin and made alive in Christ. The power of darkness was now defeated. Christ’s death was the defeat of the power of Satan—his only weapon was people’s unforgiven sin.

If we don’t acknowledge or leverage the power of Jesus, we are giving our power away to Satan. When I ask Christians whether they believe the Bible represents God’s words and truth, they answer, “Yes.” When I ask whether they believe in the spiritual realm, too many look at me with a quizzical look and answer, “I’m not sure.”

The Bible tells story after story about Satan and his demons including when the Devil tempted Jesus in the dessert (Mark 1: 12-13) and Jesus casting demons out of the man into a herd of pigs (Matthew 8: 28-34). The world hasn’t changed in these thousands of years—it’s still governed by Satan and his minions.

What’s so scary about acknowledging the spiritual realm surrounds us? I know Christians who’ve seen Satan, seen demons attached to people, and gazed at wings of angels. As a child without formal Christian instruction, I didn’t have an explanation for the little demons I occasionally saw on the landing outside my bedroom door. I didn’t accept Jesus based on logical argument and exposure to the Scriptures. I came to know Jesus by unknowingly tapping into the spiritual realm. What I experienced was so real, an engineering mind couldn’t deny its existence.

When Jesus died on the cross, He gifted his power and a companion [The Holy Spirit] to anyone who chose to believe, so they would be equipped for both earthly and spiritual warfare. We honor this power when we understand the breadth and intensity of the battlefield. I understand that for those who grew up in the traditional church, acknowledging or talking about the spiritual realm may be uncomfortable. Have you had nagging thoughts that quietly whisper to you that maybe the spiritual realm really does exist, because it explains what you are feeling, hearing, seeing, or smelling? Some may dismiss it as intuition, but I prefer to call it tapping into your sixth sense.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, finances, and ministry. She coaches individuals and couples to be the best versions of themselves. You can contact Sandra at shinecrossings@gmail.com

Are You Taking Your Faith for Granted?


♦♦ Shh! I can’t talk about it. ♦♦

What? My Christian faith Why? Because I might be beaten, homeless, or without a country How? Because it’s the law


take for grantedThat—is the truth—for many Christians in Access-Restricted Nations in Asia—commonly referred to as “ARNA”. In many countries across the world, and especially in America, we have the freedom of religious choice, its expression as long as we don’t infringe on others’ freedoms, and many legal protections. Sadly, there are several countries in Asia where Christianity is a crime, and Christians are subject to physical torture, mental harassment, and denial of school admissions, traveling abroad, bank loans, utilities, trade/business licenses, civil service promotions, and gainful employment. The government won’t issue citizenship certificates to Christians, and they are excluded from the census. In many ways, Christians in ARNA are displaced people—people without a country.

Persecution and Suffering

As a Christ follower, who loves the Lord with all my heart, I need to ask myself, “Could I withstand this level of persecution and still profess my faith to the leaders of my community and country?” It’s almost unimaginable to Americans, and I believe no Christian could ever know what  he or she would do until faced with that situation. Given that many Christians, even today, are persecuted while others enjoy asylum, have you seriously asked yourself whether you’re taking your faith for granted. There are populations who pay a heavy price for the gift of salvation and would trade shoes with those who can openly express their love of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

Mission

I have an intense curiosity to learn more about my Christian brothers and sisters living nearly 10,000 miles away and in fear of “being found out” as they continue to fulfill God’s command to go make disciples and spread the Good News. I want to know more about my Christian family—what they suffer, what they believe, how they live and remain hopeful. I have to go and give them whatever encouragement I can to not grow weary and not give up the fight.

In a few weeks I will be traveling with a team to an ARNA country. I will be packing teachings, a few goodies, and my encouragement, and I hope to bring back their stories. I wish I could share more publicly about where we will go, who we will see, and what we plan on doing, but anonymity protects our brothers and sisters.

Please pray for the team’s safety, health, and ability to make a difference in the lives of the people in ARNA

Perhaps it’s been while since you prayed, opened the Bible, or even attended church service. Don’t worried or fearful. God’s patiently waiting to hear from you and ready to celebrate—just like the father of the prodigal son.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, finances, and ministry. She coaches individuals and couples to be the best versions of themselves. You can contact Sandra at shinecrossings@gmail.com

 

Christmas: Could You Ditch the Gift Giving?

Christmas presentsFor those who are extreme planners, this message may be too late—at least for this holiday season! If you’re an OCD organizer like me, you may already have your Christmas shopping done by Halloween—reveling in that wonderful feeling that even those hard to find gifts for family and friends are safely tucked away in a closet.

For those who haven’t yet contemplated Christmas shopping, I’d like to propose a serious question. How would it make you feel if you didn’t exchange presents and only celebrated the holidays with decorations, parties, food, and fellowship? I would guess that many, except those who may have gifts as a primary love language, would respond, “Could we? Should we? Can we really? Oh my, that sounds wonderful.”

You can chose not to indulge in gift giving and instead focus more on the beauty of the season by spending time with people. What would you do with extra hours you’d get back from not walking the malls or online shopping in front of the computer? Besides time saved, you’d likely be saving yourself from more debt. Statistically, 75% of Americans don’t have the ability to pull together $1,000 in cash in case of an emergency, although some might be able to squeeze a little more on the credit card.

This Christmas, I encourage you consider whether you want to put consumerism aside and bless your family and friends with more of your presence. If you do have a bit of extra cash, consider giving some to charity—to those who don’t have as much as you. It will free you, I know, because my husband and I did it two years ago. Our driver wasn’t lack of money but eliminating the feelings of stress in finding meaningful gifts.  We just wanted everyone to come over, spend time together, share a meal, and maybe go out and do something fun. We put family on notice that we weren’t giving or receiving gifts. When we made the announcement, I think there was a mix of surprise and relief—one less gift to buy for the Dillons.

Christmas is about the love of Jesus and celebrating what His birth meant for our salvation. We feel blessed and grateful. How did a celebration of Jesus turn into gift giving to everyone else? We’ll never know because the tradition dates back so far no one remembers. I’m breaking with tradition and truly celebrating what Christmas was intended to celebrate. I’m celebrating Jesus, and I know Jesus doesn’t want gifts. He just wants us to spend time with him.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, and financial coaching. She coaches individuals and couples as well as designs and facilitates workshops. She has a passion to help people be the best versions of themselves.  You can learn more about Sandra by visiting her website at www.shinecrossingsministry.com.