I knew before coming to Thailand that learning the language would be the biggest challenge. 18 years later, it is still my biggest challenge.
I struggle writing in my own language and I’m not musical, so writing in another language and learning the different tones used in speaking Thai would be difficult. One of the reasons I initially chose to join OMF for up to three years as an English teacher was because you didn’t need to do as much language study or have such a high level of Thai.
However, I clearly remember the day, as I tried to give advice to a student, that I realised I needed to be able to communicate well in Thai so I could share the good news with Thai people I had grown to love. This gave me the motivation to keep learning the language when I returned to Thailand longer-term.
Why do I keep going?
After completing five years of formal Thai study and over 15 years of trying to communicate in Thai, why have I chosen to keep going when it is a struggle and a source of embarrassment? For me it is simple. There are still tens of millions of Thai people who have not heard about Jesus. I’m reminded of this at Christmas when Thai people say things like ‘Christmas is the foreigners’ New Year’ or ’Christmas is about Santa and gifts’. I also find sharing the good news of Jesus and journeying with people as they come to know Jesus very rewarding. So as long as God wishes to use me with my limited language ability, I will keep sharing the good news of Jesus with Thai people.
After completing five years of formal Thai study and over 15 years of trying to communicate in Thai, why have I chosen to keep going when it is a struggle and a source of embarrassment?
Who keeps me going?
Ultimately the Lord encourages me that my value is in my identity in Christ, not my performance in language learning or ministry. Often, though, encouragement has come through God’s people. From the OMF language advisors who assured me I was making progress, the local Christians who asked me to pray in Thai, to the supporters who asked questions about my prayer requests or sent me an encouraging note.
The support of churches and individuals over the years has also helped me keep going. Here are a few practical things churches can do to help support OMF workers during their first few years serving and during times of difficulty or discouragement:
- Encourage them in language and culture learning. Congratulate them when they pass an exam, or comment on posts they share on social media about a new cultural insight. Also, reassure them that you understand that it takes time to learn language and culture.
- Create opportunities for OMF workers to share why they want to share the good news of Jesus with the people they serve. I have found that as I tell others about my desire to share the good news with Thai people, like short-term workers, visitors, and groups back in New Zealand my desire to share it grows.
- Remind them of who Jesus says they are. This might be through a Bible verse, worship song, or a book you are reading.
- Assure them of your prayers by replying to their prayer letters and following up on prayer requests. Recently when I asked for prayer about deciding whether to continue running the children’s program on Sunday mornings at church, a couple of supporters sent Bible verses and told me they were praying with me. This reminded me I was not alone, that others understood this was not an easy decision and that others were praying for me.
- Send a note of encouragement or a small gift, like a treat from home. December is a busy and tiring month for OMF workers as there are a lot of outreach events for Christmas. It is also the time of year I most feel the separation from my family as I miss end of year performances and family Christmas events. But one of the things that lifts my mood after a long day is coming home to a piece of mail. A gift I look forward to every year is from a supporter who sends a New Zealand calendar and a card.
- Provide them with the means to take a break or to do something that will refresh them.
- Above all, pray for them to persevere in ministry.
Pray for cross-cultural workers:
- Resilience to keep trying to share the good news of Jesus even when it is difficult
- A deep sense of their value in Jesus
- Humility to share the struggles they are facing
- People that would faithfully encourage them, pray for them, and pray for the people they are sharing the good news with