Thailand is one of the most resistant countries to the gospel in the world. After more than 180 years of missionary activity, the Christian population is less than half a percent. However, that resistance has begun to change as God’s word breaks up the hardened hearts and minds of the Thai people. Creative outreach methods have prompted them to examine the reality of Christianity.
A growing spiritual hunger sprouts to find hope in hopelessness. When presented in a relevant way, the Thai people consider the good news offered by Jesus with great interest. Personal testimonies offering evidence of the gospel’s changing power has forced many to contemplate the possibility that Christianity is more than just another religion.
Unprecedented doors and opportunities to share Christ have flung open in all levels of society, making it essential for Thai believers to respond to their country’s spiritual hunger with creative evangelism and new church plants.
A New Generation of Believers
Disillusionment with established religion and a rapid moral and spiritual downward spiral have dramatically changed Thai society. Youth are not interested in the old mediums of storytelling through puppetry, mime, and traditional music since modern pop culture has captured their attention. Previous generations were deeply ensconced in the customs associated with the national religion, but this generation demands the right to make independent choices.
At the same time, Thai youth are very nationalistic and protective of their heritage. They prefer acting as a group, challenging the Western mentality to succeed as individuals. They are very proud that Thailand is an independent nation.
A New Approach
This interest in modern music and drama, coupled with their proud Thai heritage, requires a relevant presentation of the gospel by their own people. The message has not changed, but the methods have in order to be effective in presenting Christ to those skeptical of shallow religion and opposed to dominating foreign cultures.
A major factor in speaking to the heart of the individual Thai is through the relevant medium of their own people in their native tongue. No one knows the Thai heart, mind, culture, and language better than a Thai. This makes a Thai person the obvious choice to church plant and preach. This approach eliminates many of the barriers for effective Christian witness in Thai society.
Breaking Down Barriers
Establishing a team of young professional Thai Christians with a passion for sharing Christ with their own people is a lofty goal. Yet a grassroots movement is doing exactly that. A team of young professionals in Bangkok is experiencing the power of God in unprecedented ways while evangelizing and planting churches. This team approach appears more acceptable and effective than the alternative of sending out a lone ranger.
Hundreds of thousands of young people have heard the gospel through the creative methodology of this team. The team fields hundreds of responses from youth who want to know more about Christianity.
Educators and government officials welcome the team into universities, colleges, and schools. Students and teachers find themselves drawn to the presenters, who share their transforming life experiences. Doors are also open in markets, prisons, factories, and communities. The evident change in the lives of the team members is real, desirable, and in stark contrast to the general hopelessness plaguing many. This intriguing contrast is an attractive alternative to a desperate generation.
Hard work, prayer, and dedication are essential to be effective in reaching suspicious and discriminating youth. Young people are attentive if the message and medium is professional and real. Therefore, this team performs music that youth easily identify with, thus earning the right to share their story. Initially, the concerts appear similar to other bands; however, once the team is accepted, the focus shifts to the life-giving message of the good news.
From a Western viewpoint, it is hard to imagine 1,500 university students sitting on a concrete floor for three hours listening to a team present Christ through multi-media, testimonies, and preaching. But it is happening in Thailand.
After each concert, the students are encouraged to fill out a short survey, where many indicate a desire to learn more about Jesus. This curiosity is followed up with personal contact from a team member via cell phone and/or social media. As inquisitiveness develops, the team invites interested parties to a specialized three-day camp. Many people have come to know Jesus through these concentrated camps, have been incorporated into a cell group, and have been part of a church plant.
Vision Thailand (VT) is the organization behind this effective team approach. They train and send out teams of young professionals back into their own communities to reach their neighbors and loved ones for Christ.
VT is a relatively young organization, born after the devastating 2004 tsunami. There are now twenty-five churches or groups in various stages of development. These groups are gaining recognition for their work by the Thai business community, the Thai government, and royal-sponsored youth programs. The doors have swung open, and by God’s grace, VT will continue to find favor with the Thai people.
Vision Thailand utilizes all avenues available to share the gospel, including radio and television. Their community radio stations draw favorable responses and they record their concerts with live satellite feed through online radio.
After a youth event in a large Bangkok mall, where a team adjudicated youth music and dance groups in the “American Idol” format, the mother of an involved adolescence requested a youth-oriented TV program for her national satellite TV channel. As a result, VT airs a weekly one-hour television slot with a short gospel message to the entire nation free of charge.
Vision Thailand is thinking ahead and creating a Church Planting School to train leaders to shepherd new believers. This is a natural progression of evangelism, one-on-one mentoring, cell group creation, and church planting. Most new believers have no background or understanding in the Christian faith, and need this nourishment and encouragement.
God is an infinite creative being. Following his lead, VT presents his message in new and appealing ways. The groups trust the Holy Spirit to water his word, and bring people to maturity in Christ. God is at work, and he does not disappoint.
Hope Has a Name
When the 2004 tsunami hit Thailand and submerged entire communities under water, a feeling of hopelessness flooded the nation. Years later, God plants new seeds of hope. He is blessing the ministry methods of organizations like Vision Thailand and not only granting hope to the lost, but giving hope a name—Jesus.
(Note: This article was co-authored by Alan Collingwood, CEO of Vision Thailand.)