Short-term GO Teams to Thailand…long term impact
By Averil Bennett
GO Teams from NZ to Thailand ran for 15 years from 1995. Well-prepared teams of up to 30 15-18 year-olds submitted their final exam, grabbed their sleeping bags, mat and backpack and raced for the plane. 13 hours later they tumbled onto Bangkok Airport tarmac and were whisked to OMF Home before starting a full-on round of high school assemblies and camps for three weeks till Christmas Day. It was a win-win experience. GO Team student adrenalin and acceptance of uniforms/uniformity kept pumping high performance. Thai state schools seized the opportunity to meet the (to them almost impossible) curriculum requirements to run an English camp and also teach on comparative religions. Publicity on the education website meant more invitations than we could handle.
But has the win-win continued or was it effective just for that decade?
It is important to note the significance of the teams for the period. The church in Thailand where OMF pioneered was small, first-generation and teetering on the fringe of community acceptance. It was difficult to build bridges from the church into mainstream community. Many believers came from a chequered past of living outside official regulations and schooling. God gave the GO Team the privilege of building a communication bridge from the community back to the churches. At first believers were nervous of such close proximity to officialdom but by the end of the decade they helped with open-air efforts, joined in assemblies and planned creative approaches into their local communities. That gain has never been lost.
There were power encounters – dynamic growing experiences for Kiwi students and local church; and more far-reaching in breaking down barriers than at first appreciated. Any Christian teen was the only Christian in their school. One unhappy girl watched the GO Team dancing on her school stage. She had already arranged to run away that night, embarrassed by having Christian parents. One dancer fell off the high stage, her ankle badly twisted. Her GO team friends gathered round her, prayed…and she went back dancing. The girl whispered,” God if you give me friends like that I will go on being a Christian.” Two students believed, the girl didn’t run and a youth group started that continues today. Of course, the story didn’t unfold for a week or so. In at least five schools the GO Teamers were spiritually harassed and responded with prayer and fun. We deliberately returned the following year and saw God break through. Awesome!
Much of the effectiveness of the GO Team’s building into the church was through the cooperation of local missionary plus strategic Thai friends on one side and a GO Team leader with wide NZ church and education networks on the other. For 11 years Peter Butcher in NZ complemented the bridging vision that I shared with a teacher/administrator from the largest high school between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. ‘Teacher Sally’s’ status meant the local Christians were a bit wary of her. She too was a lone believer, discriminated against within her profession because of her Christian stand. Our first GO year we knew of only two Christian high school teachers among six million people in Central Thailand! We all grew in our faith as we saw God working miracles among the 7,000 students reached each annual tour. These tours included places where we would not normally have been able to visit: schools along troubled state borders (with army escort), social welfare boarding establishments, and orphanages for disabled. As a result there is a functioning Christian presence in all these places, with the fear and ostracism dissipated. A Teachers’ Christian Fellowship was started. Coinciding with the end of the Thai academic year (early April), the same leaders brought a reciprocal ’Thai SEE’ team of Thai teens to NZ for a month. Bruce and Heather Heyworth (ex OMF Thailand) organised and maximised their experience. They were billeted in GO Teamers’ homes and shared cultural skills in their churches and high schools – with lasting and everlasting results.
The extreme youthfulness of the GO Team meant they were committed to at least ten more years of education themselves before committing to major mission effort. 270 were personally mentored by Peter Butcher in NZ. Seven returned for one-two year short term stints with OMF Thailand; as many more went to other countries. Today six serve in a cross-cultural sphere. In NZ three are fulltime trainers incorporating a mission component and about 12 are in fulltime church ministry in NZ or Australia. Others so motivated their own parents that the latter have come for short term assignments of their own! The majority are using their lives to inspire mission awareness in their families and churches. Some have led their own short-term mission teams.
And the ripple effect continues to widen. Everything given to God gets multiplied – long-term.
This article originally appeared in our October/November 2018 edition of Serving Asia magazine. If you would like to sign up for more articles, stories and testimonies, enter your details below: