This past weekend, I attended our Fremont WCF Prayer Group. I had the privilege of hearing the testimony of our brother Wilson, who has been serving on several short term missions to Northern Thailand in the past five years. The area Wilson has served in is in the notorious “Golden Triangle” where historically gangs have harvested opium for sale in the drug trade. The King of Thailand made a strong effort to rid his country of this vice years ago, and now the region also grows other legal agriculture such as green tea, though undoubtedly opium trafficking is still a problem.
I was touched that one of the groups Wilson has been working with through a local pastor in this region is the Akha tribe. The Akha have a spoken language but no written language. This fact really struck me as I cannot conceive in the 21st century of a people group with no written language. To put it in perspective, the Internet would be essentially useless to them in their native language, so even if they had access to it, it would provide no value to them unless they first learned a second language. See how hard that is to wrap your head around?
A local pastor and his wife live in the region along the border of Myanmar, ministering to the Ahka and Burmese refugees. These are a very poor group of people who would ordinarily have little hope of ever escaping poverty or a life of hardship. Except for one thing: Jesus.
The local pastor has set up a Chinese Christian school/orphanage/church teaching the Chinese language and Christian values to children. With their language skills, the children can travel to the cities and find jobs to support themselves and their families. With the Christian values, they have learned how to create strong family units leading to a strong and supportive community. Astonishingly, in this region known as a Buddhist stronghold, 85% of the village are Christian and many are taking the gospel to other local villages in the area. Even Akha villages are receiving the word of God through Akha Christians delivering the gospel orally.
Wilson’s testimony reminded me of two important lessons about short term missions:
Often God calls us to missions in a whisper. God did not reveal His plan for Wilson to serve in Thailand through some grandiose vision. Wilson didn’t even want to go on a mission. He wanted to go on vacation! But through God’s perfect timing, the opportunity for Wilson to go on a mission instead of a vacation came up and he accepted the call. Wilson had no special calling for the Thai people, but through serving them, he does now! One missionary I know told me he only went to Japan because it was the only country where he actually knew a missionary was serving. He stayed for almost 20 years and to this day, longs to return.
Consistency in short term missions is critical. Because we are so blessed in America with opportunities to serve on missions to just about anywhere in the world, we sometimes think we should take the “salad bar” approach: go to Asia one year, Africa the next, South America the year after that. However, there is great power in consistently returning to the same place, the same community. Consistency shows the people you are committed to them, and that commitment allows stronger relationships to be built with them. We have found this in our missions to Japan; serving the same community for six years has allowed us to build relationships with key people in the community and enhance the reach of the gospel.
For the people in Northern Thailand, consistency means that projects that are started get completed. Wilson visited many sites where well-meaning Christians started a building project but never returned to finish them. They now stand as hollow monuments to the lack of commitment some Christian groups have toward the region. Thank God there are others who have stayed or continue to come back to help.
Please join with me in praying for Wilson and his team as they return to the same village this March to love, serve and support a people who are little remembered by the world otherwise. This team will serve as a reminder of God’s love for every person on earth, even in the remotest places.