What’s the story behind OMF (UK)’s new children’s book A Taste of Asia?
Author Reuben Grace explains more about the journey that led to him writing this family devotional adventure title.
My favourite part of BBC nature documentaries is the ‘making of’ segment at the end. It’s fascinating to see all the equipment, trials and tribulations behind the scenes. In that tradition, here’s a little of the ‘making of’ my book A Taste of Asia, released in 2020.
A Taste of Asia is a family devotional adventure that takes readers on a journey around East Asia, discovering why Jesus is good news for the people and places of East Asia. But to be able to write it, I’d need to see some of East Asia for myself.
And so an adventure began!
Back in 2018 I was just starting work on A Taste of Asia. I was due to be in Asia for an OMF book writing workshop, and a few weeks later, for some meetings at OMF’s International Centre in Singapore. The question came: ‘What do you want to do in between?’
I obviously wanted to see some OMF workers and explore how the good news of Jesus Christ was being shared across East Asia. But I had a crazy idea of how I’d like to do that. As any of my colleagues will tell you, I love train travel. I even have an ‘official train spotter’ mug! I’d heard about a beautiful train journey that took you up through Thailand overnight. I suggested I could take that trip, hardly expecting to end up catching that train a few months later! And so began an adventure travelling almost the length of Thailand taking in a sleeper train, 4x4s, taxis, buses and a short plane journey.
While I can’t claim to rival Michael Portillo’s Great Railway Journeys or Chris Tarrant’s Extreme Railways, I hope you’ll enjoy the journey with me in these blog posts to discover how God is at work in his world and some of the inspiration behind A Taste of Asia.
A personal connection
As the train rumbled through the gathering darkness heading for Bangkok, I reflected on the changing scene. It’s one thing to read about the Thai countryside and the lack of churches or Christian witness. I had read that only 0.75% of Thailand is Christian. (For every Thai Christian there are nearly 200 non-Christians!) It’s quite another to roll through miles and miles of it. Past the clusters of wooden houses, the motorbikes bouncing along dirt tracks and small herds of water buffalo. To consider the people who have likely lived in the area for generations with few opportunities to hear about Jesus.
This lack of opportunity is surprising given a long history of Christians travelling to witness to Christ in Thailand and other parts of East Asia. In fact, Thailand has welcomed Christian workers for over 200 years.
History was also another reason I was excited about the trip. My grandparents served with OMF in neighbouring Laos in the 1960s and my dad was born there. On my travels I would be retracing some family history. My grandparents served in the days when Christian workers’ children often went to boarding school. I would be following part of the journey my dad made as a boy to reach the (now closed) OMF boarding school in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia.
I reflected on all this personal and church history as I enjoyed my sweet and sour chicken in the restaurant car. I hoped the book I would be working on would inspire a new generation to pray for, and even go to, some of these far-flung places. Places that still have few opportunities to hear of Christ. After dinner, it was time to return to my seat. After a while, the sleeping car attendant came along to make our beds for us. By this point, I felt like all my ideas of overnight train travel from films and novels had come true!
After a while, the sleeping car attendant came along to make our beds for us. By this point, I felt like all my ideas of overnight train travel from films and novels had come true!
By day, the carriage looked much like any other with open plan seating. By night, the bunk beds were formed by an ingenious arrangement. One bunk folded out from the ceiling and the seats, with a board in between formed the lower bunk. My dad said this was exactly arrangement in his day as well!
I know it’s a cliché to say that one falls asleep to the ‘clickerty clack’ sound of wheels on the rail joints, but in this case it was true! The morning brought views of (more!) rice paddies, water buffalo and wooden houses. Surprisingly, a number of these boasted satellite dishes. Yet how many had heard the name of Christ, and how would they hear of him, I wondered?
Yet how many had heard the name of Christ, I wondered?
After a day in Bangkok, it was time to board another train for the 7-hour journey to Khon Kaen, the main city of Isaan, Thailand’s north-eastern region to meet some of OMF’s church planting teams in the region. And that’s a story for another time, involving a surprising shopping trip, a Thai church lunch and amazing opportunities to share Jesus Christ.
OMF (UK) Content & Media Coordinator
Reuben writes and edits for OMF International (UK) to encourage the UK Church to share the good news of Jesus Christ with East Asians, across the street and across the world. His work has seen him travel the length of Thailand by train and explore Southeast Asia, although he lives in Kent, where he enjoys visiting historic houses and riding on steam trains.