Church movements in new areas take time to grow. Or, more accurately, they develop in God’s timing. Louise and Jim Morris can testify to that.
From 1957 to 1971 they worked tirelessly among the Pwo Karen people in North Thailand. When they started the work, the Pwo Karen had no Christians, no Bible and no written language. By 1971, however, there was still no visible Karen church. For 14 years, they had prayed, sought to learn about Karen culture, engage with the people and share the gospel. In 1965, five people had been baptized, yet all but two turned back, finding the “Jesus way” to be too hard. Every “way in” the missionaries tried, from medicine to singing, was either stopped or people preferred the “way in” over the message that came with it.
Breakthrough did not seem to be coming.
In 1971 Louise and Jim accepted an invitation to teach at a Bible college in Thailand. Encouraged by their colleagues who pledged to pray for the Pwo Karen daily, they returned to the region in 1974 and found that God had been making gospel seeds grow.
In the mid-1960s Mrs. Dee, along with her son and daughter, had become Christians. They stood firm as the only believers in their village called Prosperity Fields for many years. Their Christian lives and answered prayers were a testimony to her neighbors.
So when Jim and Louise visited in 1974 they found that several of Mrs. Dee’s neighbors wanted to become Christians. They began gathering on Sundays and later a church building was constructed in the village with about 30 people attending services.
Now that there was a visible church, a gospel movement really developed.
Jim and Louise returned to Striped Creek, a village where their medicine had been gratefully received while the message was not. This time, their neighbor, Geekay, showed some interest in the gospel.
Jim could now point him to the new church in Prosperity Fields. Geekay saw that the “Jesus way” worked for other Karen people and so turned to Christ himself. Soon Geekay was helping Jim translate Mark’s gospel into Karen. Two other families had turned to Christ and it wasn’t long before about 20 people were gathering in Striped Creek for Sunday services.
A gospel movement gained momentum as one Karen told another about the gospel, or even about their relatives who were successfully following Jesus.
Louise Morris wrote: “God had broken through in answer to prayer and was working in a way we had never known before. It was certainly beyond our doing. People were turning to Christ from villages we had never visited.”
So what was the missionaries’ role at this stage?
Jim and Louise encouraged and discipled the new believers. This included teaching them how to read and even how to hold a book – all new experiences for many Pwo Karen. In addition to a series of captioned drawings covering the Bible story from Genesis to Revelation, Jim and Louise produced illustrated booklets on topics like “What does a Christian do?” As there was no suitable local Bible college, they gathered Karen leaders once a month for an intensive time of teaching.
The missionaries also helped as new issues arose. When one of the Christians wanted to get married, Jim and Louise helped develop a pattern for a Karen Christian wedding. Its success helped remove a significant barrier to belief for young people, who had thought following Christ would harm their marriage prospects.
All the while, the church movement was gathering speed and God proved his faithfulness. One day messengers came inviting Jim and Louise to a village they had never even heard of. In their first few years in the area, they had a number of record players with records that explained the gospel. They sold a couple of them but hadn’t seen any results.
Now they saw some fruit at last.
It turned out that Jot Saw, who had invited them, first heard the gospel through one of their record players which he’d bought out of curiosity from a local man passing through his village.
After many years the record player stopped working, but Jot Saw had an abiding interest in this Jesus he’d heard about. One day his neighbor remarked, “You know, my wife’s relatives up north no longer worship the spirits. They now worship Jesus. The white missionary teaches them.”
So Jot Saw sent for him. The neighbor’s relatives were Mrs. Dee’s family. When Jim came, Jot Saw turned to Christ and then took Jim to five of his neighbors, who all turned to Jesus. From there a church grew, and by the 1990s its witness had led to churches being established in 30 surrounding villages!
Today there is a vibrant church movement among the Pwo Karen in North Thailand and we continue to pray for them and work with them as they reach out to those in their own people group and beyond.