Church planting is exciting work that requires strategic thought and effort be given. An OMF worker in Thailand learned, however, that strategy sometimes is not so obvious.
Ever since I heard that the Tai Yuan church that we attend in our village has been involved in church-planting, I was delighted. I was excited that I would have the opportunity to learn and observe from an indigenous church-planting effort. So I made myself available to the Tai Yuan Pastor and told him that I would like to accompany him and some of the leaders on such trips to learn and observe what goes on. Introducing myself as a learner in such partnerships allowed me to ask all the questions I wanted while giving them the opportunity to share and teach me. If I were to start by taking up the role of an advisor in partnering with them for church-planting efforts, I would not be able to ask my questions without them feeling that I am being critical, and of course I would also have the pressure of needing to have answers to their church-planting challenges. What a vital learning experience I had!
When I started to learn about the details to this church-planting effort, their choice of village and people group didn’t make sense to me about. Church planting efforts are located in a Karen village called Mae Yang Min almost 60 miles (90 kilometers) away, about 1.5 hours drive. Initially, I was perplexed at their strategy. If it were up to me strategically, I would have recommended that if any evangelistic efforts were to be undertaken, it should be the Tai Yuan village nearby, less than a mile away. They speak the same heart language and share the same culture. New converts easily could get the support needed from neighboring Tai Yuan Christians. A church service and fellowship is only 5 minutes’ motorbike ride. Then I realized that their strategy was neither confined, nor directed by geographic or cultural proximity. There is something more important for the Tai Yuan Church’s evangelistic efforts than being geographically strategic. When the church considers where to reach out, people group and ethnicity are not at the top of their priorities.
What, then, is the key to their strategy and motivation to go out and make disciples? In a conversation with one of the leaders, we both agreed on the importance of relationships in missions, especially in the Tai Yuan context. In the course of the conversation, the phrase “trail of relationships” came up. It stuck with me and then I thought, I should ask my questions with a fresh perspective. Why don’t I follow the trail of relationships that led the Tai Yuan church to the village at Mae Yang Min? I did just that and spoke with many to finally piece the big picture together…
This church-planting effort to called Mae Yang Min started with one of the earliest elders of the Tai Yuan Church named Oui Sao, who was also amongst the first few Christians in the village where I live. Over 25 years ago, a young couple settled into my village with the hope of getting some farm work to sustain themselves. Living and working there, they were eventually touched by some of the Christians’ hospitality and help, especially by the love and care of Oui Sao. Eventually they accepted Christ and began to regularly worship in the Tai Yuan church. The husband was discipled by Oui Sao and after a few years felt the call of God to return with his family (now with a child) back to his home village of Mae Yang Min to share the gospel. With the agreement of Oui Sao and the Tai Yuan church’s support, the couple went back to Mae Yang Min. From then, Oui Sao regularly travelled the long distance to visit, encouraging and helping the couple as they shared the gospel to the Karen people.
Oui Sao slowly convinced others in the Tai Yuan Church to join him in this effort. I have heard stories of how difficult it was to travel to Mae Yang Min. Adults gave their earliest memories as children standing in the back of a pickup truck as they navigated the bumpy mountain terrain. Flashbacks of how most of the church members were involved in this exciting church-planting effort, which in due time, witnessed a wooden shelter built with the gospel being preached regularly. A Karen church eventually came to being, but through the years weakened and stagnated. Now, however, the Tai Yuan pastor in my village (Oui Sao’s eldest son) is reviving this church-planting partnership by getting the Tai Yuan church in my village involved again in preaching and witnessing to the Karen in Mae Yang Min.
As I traced the history of this church-planting effort in Mae Yang Min, I realized that a key part in the strategy of the Tai Yuan church was the “trail of relationships” that directed them to identify where church-planting efforts should begin. The Tai Yuan church did not choose to invest their evangelistic or church-planting efforts in the village next to them, though that is similarly a Tai Yuan village and less than a mile away, because the trail of relationships did not lead there. The connections weren’t strong enough to convince them that was where they needed to focus. Rather, the Karen village of Mae Yang Min had a family who used to live in their village and worshipped with them. This connection was so much stronger. Eventually, this trail of relationships led the Tai Yuan church to invest its time and effort to serve God further away.
Will you pray for Mekong Minorities?
- Give thanks for how the ‘trail of relationships’ led the church planting team to Mae Yang Min.
- Pray for the growth of the church in Mae Yang Min and pray that they may go on to plant other churches in the region.
- Pray for God to lead other church planters to the places he has for them to serve through good relationships.