Tale of two cities 3
Do you know who founded Bangkok and why? Do you know that Bangkok has a Thai name and an English name? How are these questions relevant to serving God in this city?
Bangkok was founded by Rama I as he ascended the throne in 1782. He decided to move the capital from Thonburi (which was small, swampy, and on the west bank) to the east bank of the Chaopraya River in order to defend the city strategically against Burmese invaders. Foreigners called it Bangkok, because the area was called Ban Kok by the locals, meaning ‘village of the wild plum trees.’ But the official name given by the Thai people is Krungthep, meaning ‘the city of the spirit.’ Who is this spirit? Even though Rama I championed Buddhism by initiating the revision of the Tripitaka, he also erected a city pillar. Through animistic ceremonies, the pillar was dedicated to Phrasiamthewathirat, the spirit believed by many Thais to be the guardian of Bangkok.
Why should we learn these things? Often missionaries come to Bangkok without sufficient interest in the history of the people. Bangkok may look similar to any world-class modern-day city with its shopping malls and superhighways. But as we become friends of locals, we are surprised by their drastically different worldviews. An educated ‘Bangkokian’ may readily rely on Western sciences, but simultaneously give allegiance to amulets, astrology, and numerous guardian spirits. Examining the historical context helps us to begin to understand why people think and behave a certain way. It also has to do with gaining a bigger and broader vision for the city.
A city vision means to engage in God’s purposes for the entire city. God is concerned about the salvation of individuals, as well peace and prosperity of the city (Jonah 4:11, Jeremiah 29:7). How can we develop a city vision that brings revitalization and motivation for long term ministry in Bangkok? Read on in my next blog.