ONE DOOR SHUTS, OTHERS OPEN
The first OMF (CIM) workers arrived in Chiangmai following the Lisu with whom they had lived in China. Early surveys showed that OMF could use its similar tribal experiences in the North and Muslim understanding in the far South of Thailand. The health authorities welcomed medical cover for the rural Central and Southern regions where there were no hospitals. But first of all the newcomers needed to learn Thai and sit registration exams.
1952 – 1958
FIRST PIONEERS FOR INLAND RURAL THAILAND
Mission organizations made a comity agreement for regional work to save overlap. OMF gladly offered to pioneer inland areas, even though communications were minimal away from the rivers and the one railway line. Teams entered first 5 and then 8 main tribal or minority groups in the North and in Laos, 8 of the 13 central provinces, and first 2 and then 4 of the southern provinces. In Bangkok, Christian Witness Press opened to print literature and a houseboat was used to distribute the Good News along the waterways. General medical clinics opened in Wiset, Inburi, and Saiburi.
LEPROSY: FROM FEAR TO FAITH
Leprosy was prevalent, feared and untreated. OMF doctors and nurses trained at McKean leprosy colony in Chiangmai. There was no cure for another 10 years, but loving ‘power of touch’ and preventative medicine healed broken lives. The rough clinics or salas became havens of hope for the shunned in society. The first 11 were baptized in 1955. The sala churches grew quickly into a strong network from among the 3,000 patients. The Christian Leprosy Foundation became the solid base for medical expansion.
TWO MEN AMONG MANY
Two significant conversions in Nakhonsawan province were those of Arphon Charleerintra and Samyong Prasopsin. Both became foundational members of the church in Central Thailand which started from zero. Arphon brought the discipline and love of education from 13 years in the monkhood. Samyong (later Rev. Songsan) shared gifts of music, songwriting and drama from years as a professional actor in Thai theatre or likeh. Early non-leprosy churches were called ‘well’ churches; but they grew more slowly, with a weak network. Arphon and Samyong visited all ‘well’ and sala churches with equal enthusiasm.
MANOROM CHRISTIAN HOSPITAL
Manorom Christian Hospital in Chainat province opened to cater for the overwhelming needs for surgery, midwifery and leprosy control. The land was gifted by a local landowner. It pioneered the combatting of haemorrhagic fever and reconstructive surgery by Dr Grace Warren (from The Leprosy Mission). Saiburi Christian Hospital 1960-1986 in the South, and Nongbua Christian Hospital 1968-1982 in the east gave the same care. The total number of patients seen by the three hospitals per month was 5,000 – doubled if one counted the relatives with them.
1959 – 1965
Fatal shootings on northern trails, terminal illness in the South, sudden death by accident and infection in the Central plains – all that and little spiritual response discouraged the teams. But all determined to press on. Large scale evangelistic campaigns were held in Central and South Thailand, and popular contest booklets sold in schools – effective in sowing the seed of the Gospel of Christ.
PHAYAO BIBLE TRAINING CENTRE
Phayao BTC, now Phayao Bible Seminary, opened on its own beautiful lakeside campus to train Thai and tribal christians in a fully residential and self-supporting farm setting. A degree course was added in 1995. Vacation teams and interns are valuable assets to small churches throughout Thailand. PBS pioneered home mission and has done much to unify christians across ethnic divides.
1968 – 1975
Communist militant advance in the Northern mountains engulfed Hmong and Mien villages, scattering believers from 5 christian villages. But they took the Gospel with them to all 11 Northern provinces. After years of minimal growth, the number of christian villages dynamically increased. By 2001, christians lived in 120 of 240 villages (9% of the population). They started their own church associations (Hmong SKT in 1978), annual conferences and developed training, youth and radio programs.
Pioneer settlers moved west to clear the forest for farms in Uthaithani province. OMF pioneer Alex Smith and team went with them with the good news. Three hundred believed and were baptized in three years with over 30 small church groups formed and 17 registered. A dynamic likeh group, skilled in traditional theatre, enculturated the message. Soon Uthaithani had more christians per head of population than other provinces, and dynamic lay pastors’ training.
BANGKOK BIBLE COLLEGE AND SEMINARY
Bangkok Bible College and Seminary opened with five students, under Dr. Henry Breidenthal, a joint venture of OMF and C&MA. It quickly expanded under Thai principals from offering bachelor degrees of theology to become a graduate school as well. Night school and distance learning enables graduates from Thai Christian Students (helped since the 1960s by OMF) to train for ministry.
1974 – 1975
KINDNESS AND KIDNAPPING
Political instability formed the backdrop of life in the South. Leprosy control treatment, most needed among the Malay population, raised trust levels in the rural and fishing villages. It gave hands-on demonstration of the love of God and the first five Malay believers were baptized. But the courageous nurses had to pass terrorist-infested locations to reach the clinics. In April 1974 two were kidnapped, a ransom requested – but not paid. The remains of the nurses were found in March 1975. In sympathy, HM the King and HM the Queen visited Saiburi Hospital which wonderfully boosted morale.
YEAR OF ADVANCES
As the church grew so did its vision for the nation. Phayao alumni set up the Thailand Home Missions Board to fund fulltime church workers; the ‘well’ and sala churches combined, as reasons for separation ceased to exist; the first national christian medical conference was held at Manorom Hospital; OMF Publishers took a new name, Kanokbannasan, and became the major producer of evangelistic material; and preparations started for the first all-Thailand evangelistic campaign.
1978 – 1982
What was to be a triumphant 150th anniversary of protestant mission in Thailand opened with tragedy at Manorom Christian Hospital. 12 OMF medical missionaries including their children were killed in a traffic accident. Four earlier accidents and 2 more later highlighted the constant dangers in travel and security. Seen as a spiritual battle, they raised expectation that there would be a widespread turning to God. The year 1978 marked the turning point in medical missions, toward planning for indigenization.
TRANSLATION, LITERACY AND EDUCATION
Making the Word of God available to people in their own language is top priority for OMF. Workers developed written scripts to fit the local dialects of the tribal north and the Malay south. This was accomplished over 40 years with the help of the Bible societies. New Testaments (White Hmong 1978, Pattani Malay 1980, Mien, Akha 1983, Pwo Karen 1998) were expanded into paraphrase Bibles (Hmong 1981, Lisu 1986, Pattani Malay, Mien 1991, Akha 1997) and finally into ‘literal’ translations (Hmong 2004/2005, Mien, etc). Dictionaries, hymnals, literacy & teaching materials are also updated. Home Bible Seminary in 1979 started inductive Thai Bible study for emerging leaders.
ASSOCIATED CHURCHES IN THAILAND
The Associated Churches in Thailand (ACT) registered as a national body within the Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand (EFT) – of which OMF was a foundation member (1970). ACT united the existing regional and tribal associations: Hmong SKT, Mien, Karen, Lawa, Central Thailand (ACTC), South Thailand (ACTS), followed by Bangkok (ACTB, 1989) and North Thailand (ACTN, 1990). The ACT foundation registers land, buildings, hostels and economic-social projects. Today ACT is the second largest christian network, after the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT). Unlike CCT, it stresses the autonomy of each local church and association. Formal ordination of pastors commenced in 1991.
‘HELP ONE OF THESE WEAK ONES AND YOU HELP ME’
Erwin Groebli studied at Ramkhamhaeng University in Bangkok. A student brought little street urchins to him, aged about seven years old. It was discovered about 50 thousand children lived in public spaces, often with siblings, and almost none born in Bangkok. Thus Baannokkhamin (house of the bird with no nest) began. Today, the foundation (est. 1993) has homes and churches in the provinces, a drug rehabilitation centre, and a trades workshop. At the same time Lydia House opened to help vulnerable adults entering Bangkok for employment. Visitation at the Bangkok detention centre brought help to refugees.
1989 – 1990
YEARS of JUBILEE
Two thousand Akha gathered for a six day 25th Akha churches anniversary festival at Elephant Mountain in Chiangrai province. In Uthaithani, 350 gathered for the 35th anniversary of the church, followed by other Central churches a year later. First-generation churches mainly celebrated Christ –born, dying, risen and coming again– in outreach to family and friends. Only a few had a concept of even the christian calendar. LIFE Centre started in 1989 in Nakhonsawan to enrich christian life.
July 7th 1990
A NATIONAL CHURCH WITH A VISION FOR OTHERS
OMF Thailand Home Council was formed to help local churches reach others beyond their own communities. Its secretary organized the first Thailand Missions Congress and a group of 40 attended the Asia Missions Congress in Seoul, Korea. Soon after, the first four OMF missionaries, including the secretary and his wife, were sent out from Thailand to East Asian countries.
OMF personnel were among the first to respond to calls for help after the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004. Already using local language and offering medical and social care, OMF is always quick to meet urgent requests until dedicated relief organizations arrive. Battling recurring floods, meeting the human flood of people streaming from Cambodia in 1975, initial support for washed-in Vietnamese boat people in the 1980s, restoring wholeness to tribal and post-tsunami resettlement villages – such practical christian care continues to the present.
EXPANSION INTO NORTHEAST THAILAND – THE LAST FRONTIER
Requests for OMF to work in the Northeast were made repeatedly from the 1950s onwards, but personnel was inadequate to take up the offer in the region bordering Laos. Urban drift to Bangkok was clearly seen in some of the ACT churches, and the members were concerned for their communities back in Isaan. In 2006 a team led by Marten Visser gave the situation priority and within five years saw substantial results.
PARTNERSHIP IN COMMUNITY
Manorom hospital became Manorom Christian Centre, incorporating a general medical clinic, an ophthalmology clinic with mobile clinics, a residential home for needy elderly, a conference centre, a student training base, a day care, and a rehabilitation centre for children with disabilities (under the CCD Foundation). It opened a language and development school in 2009, and in 2014 Manorom International Christian School (MICS) with a residential facility was founded. OMF personnel assist short-term by invitation.
PARTNERSHIP FOR DEVELOPMENT AND RESEARCH
Leadership potential development programs through the Jonathan and Timothy training courses, and now Project Paul (since 2007) are effective in training church leaders alongside missionary personnel. OMF –with others– partner creatively in the eStar Foundation for accurate statistical resource material. The SEANET conferences have become the network for those interested in missiological research across the buddhist world.
ACT 30th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
ACT commenced its 30th anniversary with a colourful parade of 13 associations. The Chiangmai 700 Year stadium overflowed with christian representatives of Thailand’s multicultural people and resounded with multi-language praise.
PARTNERSHIP WITH OTHERS TO FULFIL THE VISION
Part of OMF’s strategy –in order to fulfil its vision– is to invite other mission agencies to contribute to the growth of the ACT (Associated Churches in Thailand). At first this required secondment of individuals to OMF, but now organizations can align with OMF and engage in diverse yet compatible ministry. Working together, OMF intentionalizes the vision for a movement of peoples into the Lord Jesus Christ, thus becoming His one Church.