The Best Kept Secret… Buddhists
1 Jan 2004
John, the regional leader for South Asia/Pacific, recently wrote the following: ‘Have you ever spent much time thinking about Cambodia or Vietnam, Thailand or Myanmar? In many ways, I wonder if the Buddhist world is not one of the best kept secrets in missions. As Buddhists do not tend to be involved in any extreme violence, they are not as often in the lens of the world press. Living in a predominantly Buddhist country and seeing just how subtle is the darkness that blinds them (at least in this context), it is understandable that they tend to fade into the background of the world stage. Yet, the spiritual needs of the Buddhist world are staggering. Did you know that there have been over 140 years of mission efforts in Thailand, yet the Thai remain the most unreached people group of Southeast Asia? Their thriving tourist industry and heartwarming politeness mask the deep spiritual needs of their hearts. Please pray for a great outpouring of God’s Spirit in this region of the world. Our desire is to see His light penetrate the spiritual darkness of Southeast Asia and to set these people free!’
As I reflect on our area, even though we are still a very ‘young’ area, we find ourselves at a time of new beginnings–collectively as an area, as individual teams and for many of us, as individuals and families.
Our ‘new’ area, Mainland Southeast Asia (MSEA), includes the following countries: Vietnam (VN), Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar (MY, formerly known as Burma). I say ‘new’ because of the restructuring that made it possible for us on the MSEA Area Team to focus on these Buddhist Bloc countries in a singular way.
The singular focus comes from the fact that each of these countries is heavily Buddhist. While a couple (VN and MY) are strongly communist, they both still have strong Buddhist ties. Also, the people groups in these countries flow across borders, which may work toward developing a strategy of seeing indigenous church-planting movements realized in and throughout MSEA.
As teams, each of our current initiatives is looking at a new beginning of some sort. Just look at this:
- Chiang Mai is now a city with multiple Pioneers teams, each with its own God-given focus—cell church planting, college students, Grace International School and others.
- A number of Thais are making decisions for Christ and are being discipled through the ministries of the Thai Student Ministry Team.
- Cell churches are being multiplied and led by Thai nationals through the Metro Team. Also, a new ministry facility, Wisdom House, is being used to meet needs and to draw local Thais to a place where they can hear the Gospel.
- Grace International School is growing in its capacity to provide an education for the children of many missionary families, including a number of our Pioneers workers.
The team in Cambodia is seeing God work through the ministry in Chhlong, up the Mekong River. When we travelled to visit our folk there, we were blessed to see this church-planting team persevering in this hot, dusty village. God is opening doors for the team to share the Gospel in this extremely rural setting. They are starting evangelistic Bible studies and seeking to help in practical ways, such as helping with orphans. Churches have been established. As the churches grow in both number and maturity, they are beginning to look out to the provincial towns beyond Chhlong. Meanwhile, the part of the team that is in Phnom Penh is serving in such roles as Bible teaching and medical consulting. God is using the gifts of His servants to bring glory to His name.
The folk in VN are seeing new possibilities brought before them, both in the north and south. For example, as materials are translated, nationals have gone out in small groups to outlying villages to begin evangelistic Bible studies. One creative initiative revolves around the establishing of a factory that can be used to impact many lives, both in providing occupation and in exposing them to the Gospel through national believers in the business realm. Meanwhile, the nationally recognized church is moving forward in seeking to meet the training needs of their pastors. One of our teams is actively involved in helping to provide materials and teaching.
As a result of a survey trip to MY, a new initiative has begun in this country. A team has been formed to help meet the needs of national evangelists who support themselves through agricultural means
In MSEA, we’ve held gatherings of all of our field leaders. What a blessing it is to see how God is calling out harvesters for the Buddhist countries, where the fields are truly white for harvest. We all benefit from each other’s insights, and the fellowship is sweet indeed.
The Sharpening Your Interpersonal Skills Workshop, a one week series of seminars designed to help missionaries relate better to one another, is being offered more frequently. We see this as a valuable tool to enhance our workers being able to stay on the field.
Our MSEA Area team also enjoys the expertise of a church planting consultant. Randy seeks to come alongside of our church planting teams to help them design and improve church planting strategies.
Yes, we are at a great time in our history. God has been faithful indeed. But, just as Joshua reflected on His faithfulness in order to look forward in faith (Joshua 23-24), so we too, have a great time to launch forward. PLEASE PRAY for our MSEA Area Team and those we serve as we work through the exciting changes and beginnings God is bringing our way.
- Pray for the team for MY, that God would orchestrate their efforts and that He would give wisdom to know the best strategy for entering this difficult country.
- Pray for the team in Laos, that God would raise up more workers to join them and that He would give wisdom for long-term ministry.
- Pray for God to break down the spiritual walls that make it difficult for Buddhists to accept the Gospel message.
- Pray that the love of Jesus, as demonstrated and explained by Christians, would cast out the fear under which Buddhists live.
- Pray for the many ministries starting up in and through our teams in Chiang Mai.
- Pray for other teams in Thailand (in Bangkok, Samut Prakan, and Isaan), that God would raise up more laborers for these teams. Pray, too, for God to meet their needs while they are still in the early stages of ministry.
- Pray for the Mainland Southeast Area team, as we continue to enjoy God’s blessing of each other.
- Pray for us to know how best to empower and to care for those serving on teams in this part of the world.
By JF and ES – Mainland Southeast Asia