The following Serve Asia story was written by Jeremy who spent 3 and a half weeks in Central Thailand last summer with Sattha, a soccer mission trip. He tells of how he was reminded of who God is, experienced the work of the Holy Spirit in the Thai church, within Team Sattha and in his own life.
The Thai Community and Thai Church
More than 95% of Thais consider themselves to be Buddhist, and less than 1% Christian. I was moved, at times to tears at the testimony of the Thai Christians I met throughout the trip, where, despite being a distinct minority, their unwavering faith and resilience to follow Jesus was something I was deeply encouraged by.
At Manorom, alongside a local minister of the local church, we visited primary and high schools in the area, teaching English and playing a game of soccer. During the visit one of the students who had previously been to church, told the minister of his desire to go to church, with the issue of transport having prevented him from doing so in the past. That Sunday that boy visited the church, bringing along two of his friends. In fact, that Sunday there was a group of seven boys who the church began to evangelize and disciple. Following the trip, over a month later that group has grown to around 23 kids, boys and girls aged 10-12. As a Thai pastor once said to me, “Look at God!”
On our second day of school visits, we visited the local high school in Lat Yao, where we started off by running an assembly. During this time the Christians in the school were asked to stand up and come out to the front to share a bit about their faith and what they did as a result of that. In a culture where emphasis is on the collective group rather than the individual, this was tremendously encouraging to see 5 young Christians so bold on their faith to profess it amongst the rest of their classmates, numbering 300 plus!
Being an ‘international sports team’, we definitely got a taste of what it means to be the main attraction for the day as many students came up to ask to take photos with us! During that day I personally was having conflicting thoughts about why we were here, and questioned if the local church could take anything away from our visit, or if any of the students would take anything meaningful from the tracts and stories we shared with them. Following our game against the local school team, following a number of photo requests, a young boy approached us, and I assumed he wanted a photo. Yet he continued to follow us all the way to our bus, where one of the local missionaries was able to speak to him in Thai. It turns out following our visit he was interested in attending church that Sunday. How great is our God! In the midst of our doubts He hears us and comforts us!
There are exciting times ahead in Thailand. The church has been doubling every 12 years, as many Thais are curious to read tracts about Jesus and hear about the good news. God is definitely at work in this country, yet there is still plenty of work to be done. We spent one day of our mission trip praying for Thailand. During that time as we prayed on the highest point of Nakhon Sawan, across 3 quarters of the tower we could see into the horizon, yet the other quarter was blocked by a Buddhist statue. One of our team observed that although this is in some ways a place of darkness, it is also place where there is hope in Jesus. Thailand is a nation where spiritual warfare is taking place, please be praying for this nation.
As an international team of all different backgrounds, we hailed from as many as 12 different countries! While we came from many different countries and continents, speaking different languages we were all united under one God, with the intention of serving Him wholeheartedly, collectively as a team. We really felt like we were coming from every tribe and nation coming together in what was a very small glimpse of heaven!
And it was this unity in Christ, emphasised through a culture of prayer which brought about so much joy among the team – we were here for a common goal, to serve God wholeheartedly in everything we did. Our differences were insignificant compared to the salvation that we had in common. We would debrief daily, singing songs of praise, praying, sharing testimonies and planning for the day ahead over a 2-3 hour period. This would take place in the evening after an 8-10 hour day of teaching, running soccer clinics and playing a match. It was the only way that we were going to make it through the trip the right way, having our eyes fixed on Jesus and relying on the Holy Spirit to provide us with what we needed each day.
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. – Psalm 46:1
God is a God of patience, a God of goodness and a God of indescribable beauty. When we think we have it all together He redirects us with patience and gentleness in His perfect timing. There are so many stories in the Bible which remind us of this, and I experienced it personally during the trip.
On the field we were enjoying ourselves, and getting good results as a team. I had been enjoying many aspects of the trip – the camaraderie with fellow soccer-playing Christians, the rapport with the locals, and worshipping God together through service, singing and prayer.
Then it happened. One week into the trip, what appeared to be the stubbing of my big toe, tripping over a step in the dark ended up being something far worse. Bad enough for a trip to the hospital and an initial diagnosis of requiring stitches. And that was it, the soccer part of this soccer mission was over, the part which I had trained for.
I was so angry and frustrated at God! Why did He allow for this to happen, as some of my Singaporean teammates would say an “utterly ridiculous” accident, one borne not out of my stupidity but random chance? I told myself I could still focus on the teaching aspect of the mission, but I could barely stand up for more than 5 minutes continuously the next day, where we were scheduled to visit 4 schools and a police station.
The team would pray for me both spontaneously and under direction from our team leader. Yet in all honesty I sulked and moped for the first half of the day. No brave smiles when someone asked if I was alright.
Throughout the following days as the toe slowly healed and my frustrations began to diminish, I realised God was drawing me closer to Him during this experience. I’d read Psalm 46 continually following the accident and God made me realise a number of things:
- I had signed up for the soccer first, and I was serving Him second
- I lacked a heart for the Thai people
- How patient God was in allowing me to realise the first two points on my own accord and to aim to rectify that
One of my teammates had only just signed up for the trip least 2 months prior, but then 1 month before he tore his ACL during a soccer match. This sparked a prolonged process of frustration with God, and he tossed up whether or not to come on the trip. He ended up sharing what he learnt out of the ordeal, that God is just so beautiful. I never understood what that meant until it happened to me. And God is so beautiful, His timing is perfect, His grace is seemingly endless and His love never fails.
Looking back 3 months after the trip has ended and reflecting on all the things God has taught me, I’ve been so humbled by God’s work in me, a sinner who did nothing to be saved. I’ve been reminded of God’s goodness and power through His work in Thailand. I’ve also been encouraged by the faith of the Christians in the Thai church, as well as those on Team Sattha. As I transition back into everyday life in Australia, I do so having been convicted of these solid truths about who God is during my time in Thailand. Moving forward I continue to seek God’s will in my life.
Interested in finding out more about Sattha Sports Ministry?
Visit the OMF Thailand website for information about upcoming Sattha tours.
Or search the OMF Opportunities site for other Serve Asia sports mission trips across East Asia.