Updated: Jun 26, 2019
My experiences working in the mission field for 21 years are divided into seven “S”s.
1. SPIRITS: The fear of spirits is real in the hearts of the people. Once, we drove to the provincial side and had a small collision with a motorcyclist. Nothing was damaged but he asked for some money to appease the spirits. He believed that there would be bad luck for him if he did not bring an animal to be sacrificed at the alter. He was afraid of the spirits.
There was a very big and nice house near the dormitory of our children in Chiangmai. I enquired why it was vacant. They said that many years ago, the owner’s son died a terrible death in that house. Since then, they became afraid of spirits and did not want to live in that house.
We brought a mission team to the Hmong tribes in the north eastern part of Thailand. Day and night they would beat drums to offer sacrifices to the demon spirit because one of the men was very sick. They carried out whatever the demon priest had requested so that the sick person would be healed.
The fear and worship of spirits is still real and true today among the non-Christians. Praise God, the Spirit who is in us is greater than the spirit who is in the world (1 John 4:4).
2. SNAKE: As missionaries, moving house is part and parcel of our lives for various reasons. In OMF, we normally share furniture. When we leave on Home Assignments, we return the furniture and when someone comes back from Home Assignment, he would continue using it. Once, after we returned from Home Assignment, we went to the store room to pick up furniture like beds, tables, cabinets and drawers. The store room in those days was not cemented. We brought the furniture to our house and I was about to start cleaning them. While I opened one of the drawers, a live snake lifted its head and tried to crawl out from the cabinet. I had heard some noise while shifting the furniture but thought that the noise came from a moving van. Never did I think that a snake would be hiding in the drawers! I almost fainted!
I called our neighbour, “Aunty, can you send your son to help us kill the snake?”
She replied, “No, no, no, do not kill the snake. Just let it out alive.”
The snake crawled between the mattress and bed and we opened the window to slowly let it out alive. After a few weeks I found out that my neighbour worshipped snakes. She put images of snakes on her alters with other idols. If we had not listened to her and killed the snake, we would have lost contact with her.
Every Sunday afternoon, we used to do door-to-door evangelism by giving out tracts and meeting people on the streets and homes. While walking in one of the villages, one of our new believers was bitten by a snake in the middle of the road. The villagers felt that we had to kill the snake to find out if it was poisonous. One person brought Phonsak to the hospital nearby while the rest of us put the snake into a plastic bag and brought it to a bigger hospital for tests. I had to hold the bag because none of them were willing to hold it. We prayed for the life of Phonsak with fear and trembling. Someone said the snake might be revived because it was cold in the taxi. Anyway, we praised God that the snake was not poisonous. However, Phonsak’s parents were very upset and started to blame the Church. The Church also had to pay for his hospital bills. Yet God worked in a way that turned out to be very good. Phonsak’s parents were so encouraged by the love Christians showed their son that they even allowed him to study the Bible.
Once, someone brought a live snake to the market and barbecued it. He started to sell parts of the snake and told the people, “If you eat this snake, your eye sight will be good and arthritis, back pain and all kinds of sickness will be healed.” This incident reminded us of the story when Satan tempted Eve to eat the fruit of the good and evil in the Garden of Eden. For some people, the “snake” can be a toy, god or medicine. We are reminded that as missionaries, there are always choices to be made. If we make the wrong choice, it can affect our ministry very badly.
3. SHOW LOVE AND RESPECT: It is the culture in most Asian countries to show love and respect for one’s parents and the elderly.
One of the church leader’s father had passed away. She was the only child in her family. Their Buddhist beliefs and practices meant that she had to burn incense and bow to her father’s dead body and pay her respects. But as a Christian, she decided not to do that. Her relatives, friends and even her mother started to blame her. This is one of the most challenging situations of being a Christian in a Buddhist family. If one of the family members die, the Christian family member cannot take part in the idol practices and beliefs of the family. To Buddhists, becoming a Christian means disobeying one’s parents and disrespecting their beliefs and practices, which would bring them bad luck. One would also not succeed and prosper in life.
4. SHY: Most Asians share a culture which prefers indirectness and politeness. If someone has a negative answer for your question, they may not tell you the truth as they do not want to hurt your feelings or offend you. Many years ago, one of our missionary friends invited their friends for dinner. Thirty of them accepted the invitation. However, on the day of the dinner, only 3 turned up. But no one informed her that they could not make it. She was very disappointed. On the other hand, it is a good lesson for us as missionaries. We need to relate well to the culture of the people. We have to confirm with our local friends whether they truly meant it when they said yes.
Once, as part of our evangelism efforts, we showed the Jesus film in a village. Many people came and even prayed the sinners’ prayer. The next week, while following up, one of the men said that he really appreciated the movie. He then added, “Jesus is tough. Even though beaten terribly and tortured by people, he did not renounce his religion. Like him, I will also not change my religion.” The same incident could happen again. We thought that people had truly accepted Christ, but the seeds had fallen on the wrong soil.
5. SIMPLE LIFESTYLE: During our first year in OMF, the main emphasis was living a simple lifestyle. Things are constantly changing nowadays. Though it is still important to live a simple lifestyle, living an “appropriate lifestyle” would be more relevant for our ministry today. For instance, if I go to the urban poor I will wear a t-shirt, rubber shoes and carry a backpack. However, I will not be in the same attire when I go to work at the Asian Theological Seminary.
Once, we visited one of our contacts whose husband was hospitalised. I forgot to think about my dressing and wore a black printed dress. They were very religious. Even in the hospital rooms they brought along their idol. The wife was very happy with our visit and prayers. But I learned later that she was very disturbed by my outfit. Being a foreigner and new to their culture, they were more accepting towards me. But to be effectively working among the non-believers in the frontline, or for us to be fully accepted by them, we need to be sensitive, even in the type of outfits we choose.
On one occasion, a British pastor working in Hong Kong came to visit us. He came in shorts and sports shoes, which was acceptable as he was travelling. But he wanted to visit Bangkok Bible College and our church pastors and members. We had to keep reminding him to wear long pants and shirts because in Thailand they really respect pastors, who to them are supposed to be in proper attire most of the time unless they are at home or on holiday. Also, dress code is important to get people’s attention. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:20, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law so as to win those under the law.”
6. SENSITIVENESS: To be sensitive to the feelings of the people is important. Once, one of our missionary friends left some idols in his pick-up truck and drove around the city (the idols were forsaken by new believers). People could see the idols in his truck. Some of the pastors were disturbed by this and reported the incident to us. It is wonderful to see new believers forsaking their idols. But in situations like this, we need to be sensitive to the feelings of the people around us because the people still believe in and revere idols.
7. SPIRITUAL POWER: Spiritual warfare is real. Once we took photographs in various spirit houses. After we returned, we placed our camera on the book shelf. We found that the camera cracked by itself though no one had dropped or touched it. As the film was damaged we could not develop the photos anymore. A month after this incident, our son accidentally dropped the camera and I even scolded him. But to our surprise, the camera could be used again. There was no need to send it for repair. The Lord answered our prayers differently.
On another occasion, a lady who had accepted Christ invited Thang (my husband) and the leaders of the church to remove the idols from her three-story house. Each story had Buddhist alters with lots of idols. They decided to bring down all the idols together, pray over them and then throw them away. But when Thang reached for the idols, he felt a sudden pain in one of his arms. The pain lasted for over a month. He consulted a very good doctor who was a Buddhist but never got better. Then we went to Manorom Hospital in central Thailand. Our friend, an OMF doctor, prayed for the healing of his arm and gave him the same medicine as that previous doctor had prescribed. Since then the pain has subsided. We could really see that the power of spiritual warfare is real, but prayer is also very powerful.
Prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well. “Elijah prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed for rain and the heaven gave rain and the earth produced its crop” (James 5:17-18).
Adapted from “Journey Jumbles – Real Stories...Real People...A Real God,” a JMM publication for Bartley Christian Church July Mission Month 2008.