Waves of hope

Vision Thailand hopes to flood Thais with the gospel

The waves came fast and hard, decimating coastal communities in 14 countries along the Indian Ocean, killing thousands in minutes. Among the countries hardest hit during the December 26, 2004, Asian tsunami was Thailand.

Though considered the worst natural disaster to ever strike Thailand, the tsunami also thrust a wave of hope across the nation – opportunities for sharing the gospel.

In the months following the disaster, Jake and Margaret Janzen – who attend Cornerstone Community MB Church in Virgil, Ont. – coordinated an MBMSI-initiated relief effort on the island. The project helped rebuild homes, but the Janzens soon realized a greater need in the country:  the need for Christian churches.

“We were overcome with a strong desire to see more evangelism and church planting in the Asian nation. There was an evident thirst for it,” says Jake.

When MBMSI ended their relief efforts, Jake created Vision Thailand (VT) – an independent, non-denominational mission agency.

“Thailand has a population of about 67 million people, with less than 1 percent Christians. We felt that the doors were wide open to proclaim the Good News in amazing ways,” says Jake, who also chairs VT.

Today, VT operates out of the Dream Centre, a three-storey building in downtown Bangkok, from where the organization’s Dream Team runs a variety of outreach programs that include music, drama, testimonies, live radio broadcasts, and preaching.

Indigenous approach

“For me, the greatest distinctive strength of VT is its remarkable recruitment of, and reliance on, indigenous staffing,” says John Redekop, VT International advisory board member.

Comprised of 30 Thai evangelists, the Dream Team requires no North American education, no learning curve in a new setting, no costly overseas flights, no expensive placement of children in mission schools, no cultural adjustment, and no salaries comparable to North American wages.
“For the modest total of ministry costs in Thailand, a truly amazing extent of Christian witness…is taking place. I know of no other mission in which the ‘bang for the buck’ is greater,” says Redekop.

So far, VT church planters have spearheaded more than 14 church plants, and the team spoke to more than 120,000 Thai students in 2010 alone.

“That’s a rare feat considering the many government restrictions when it comes to operating churches,” says Jake. “But VT has met all Thai government requirements to operate, own property, and register churches in Thailand.”

A hard people to reach

“To them, to be Thai is to be Buddhist,” says Alan Collingwood on the phone from Bangkok. “That’s what their children are taught from a very early age – to be the best Buddhists they can be.” Collingwood has been a church planter in Thailand for more than 15 years. He now serves as the vice-chair on the VT board.

“Although Thais officially welcome all religions, most of them put a lot of psychological and emotional pressure on anyone that actually turns to a religion other than Buddhism,” says Collingwood.

That’s why Thais have often been a hard people to reach. But all that is changing.

“Thais are hungry and ready to hear the gospel as never before, because they are aware of the moral crisis Thailand is facing. That is why schools, colleges, and universities are asking for our help,” says Jake.

“They don’t know what to do with the drug, sex, and violence problems. God is providing unprecedented opportunities for our team to present the gospel, especially to young people.”

The unseen evangelist

One of those opportunities is employing radio.

“Radio is often referred to as the unseen evangelist,” says Jake. “It can go where we can’t, and Thais love listening to radio.”

At the core of their ministry, VT currently runs three community radio stations: Dream FM, Life FM, and Spring FM. Every Sunday, the organization airs a one-hour TV show on a national youth channel – a rare privilege, especially since the slot is free of charge.

In addition, the Dream Team also employs a variety of social media platforms like Facebook, Hi5, TVonline, chat rooms, and even a cellphone counselling program – all with the intent of fostering Christian discipleship and cell groups that will turn into churches.

“We operate on a shoestring budget,” says Jake. “But we trust that prayer and donated resources will continue to empower and grow God’s work in Thailand.”

For more information visit www.visionthailand.org.

Mike Duerksen is a freelance writer from Winnipeg.

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