“Fear not to go forward as you are engaged in the Lord’s work, and go on this distant mission at His command; it is your privilege to plead the Saviour’s promise to be present with you. While you feel your own weakness and unfitness for so great a work, forget not the strength of His Almighty arm. Live near to Him, and you will have nothing to fear.”– Walter Lowrie, 1846
These words, written about 170 years ago, brought comfort and encouragement, I am sure, to the early missionaries to whom they were intended. When I stumbled upon them recently while reading Siamese Gold: The Church in Thailand (Alex G. Smith) they encouraged me. In this modern age, crossing the miles from the West to the East is a simple matter of getting on an airplane, not an 8 month boat voyage. Even still, with the current COVID situation, Thailand sometimes feels further away from the US than it once did. But we remain here, confident in the Savior’s promise to be present with us.
While in some areas of the world COVID-19 restrictions are lightening, in other areas of the world the restrictions are becoming more intense. Over the past year we were blessed to live in a place where the restrictions did not make it too challenging; however, we have just recently been hit by a third wave of COVID. During the first and second waves of COVID, we only saw roughly a total of 3,000 cases of COVID in the whole country. This third wave of COVID has brought over 2,000 new cases daily. While this may not seem like a lot to some, depending on their country’s experience of the pandemic, it is a source of much stress and concern here locally. For the first time since this global pandemic started, COVID has actually reached our small town. Prior to this wave we didn’t even have any confirmed cases in our province, let alone our little town of Map Ammarit.
With the virus coming to our doorstep, fear has once again gripped many of the locals. Others seem un-phased but more cautious. Some continue to go out and engage in normal activities. Others are driven by fear into their homes and they quickly lock the door behind them. Others are boldly confident in faith declaring that believers will not be touched by this virus. While the majority of people in our church seem to be in the un-phased but cautious group, we seem to have church members in all of these groups.
We have seen government restrictions increasing since our last update to you. Masks are mandatory and leaving your house without a mask can result in a fine of $650. The markets have been shut down for weeks now, forcing vendors to open pop-up stands along the road to sell their goods to maintain their livelihood and provide for the needs of the community. People are being discouraged from gathering and schools are teaching online (yet again), or in the case of public schools, not at all. At present, we cannot legally meet as a larger group without risking two years of imprisonment. The only gatherings that are permitted to meet right now are funerals with no more than 50 persons present. As a result, our normal Sunday gatherings have moved to being small group gatherings in homes throughout the town. We had tried meeting online, but no one here cares for that model much.
We have been seeking the Lord about how we are to move through this tumultuous time. We feel that while our many plans and desires to do outreach had to be laid to the side for now, nothing said we couldn’t pursue taking our church members deep into their lives with Christ. While we are meeting house to house, rather than continuing with our normal teaching series on the “Gospel of Luke: The Life of Christ”, we have moved to more of a small group discussion model. Each week, we are developing a short discipleship lesson focused on different aspects of the Christian life, beginning with devotional time with God. (We are truly blessed that Amy’s schedule has freed up with her recent move to being a part time volunteer teacher as her skill with writing has been so valuable.) One of our church members then translates the message. Matt then meets with the leader small group leaders to teach them the lesson. The small group leaders then go to teach the lesson and discuss it in their groups.
It is our desire that these lessons could also be used in the future with new believers to help them in their discipleship journey. Our vision with these materials is to create a tool box of sorts that will be filled with short lessons that Thais will find approachable. We are still seeking the Lord as to what this will look like but would love to see something that is graphically rich and inviting as most Thai people prefer oral learning to book learning. We are also prayerfully considering how we can create a series of short video devotionals that we can use together with these tools.
Developing these tools is an adventure of its own because even with them being written first in English and then later translated, we want to make sure we are not simply putting our western ideas of discipleship on Thais. Rather, we want to develop these tools in a way that seems natural to the Thai person and answers the questions Thais have, not just the ones we as Westerners impose on them.
In the midst of it all we remain confident of this: as we live near to Him we have nothing to fear. At moments we feel our own frailties, but like Lowrie wrote, “While you feel your own weakness and unfitness for so great a work, forget not the strength of His Almighty arm.” We are confident that even in the midst of so many restrictions the Lord can, and will, and is using this time.
It is such a privilege to be serving the people here on behalf of our brothers and sisters in the US. As a small thank you for your friendship, prayers, and partnership in the gospel, we want to make these discipleship resources available to you as well. You can find them here or by clicking the button below. Please note that these resources are still very much under construction, but it is our joy to share them with you. We hope they encourage you and strengthen you in your own walk with the Lord. Thank you for your joining with us to see Jesus exalted in Thailand.