Thailand (MNN) — “Pray that God would continue to open up hearts, especially for our middle school and high schoolers.”
This is a phrase that sounds like it could be coming out of any youth worker in the church in your neighborhood. That’s especially true when it’s preceded by this comment: “Pray that people think deeper, and want to go deeper and want to experience more in their lives that they want to ask bigger questions.”
And yet, these are requests shared by a couple working among the villages in rural northeast Thailand. Chris and Dora Barbee with The Mission Society work with a Thai foundation, teaching English in several villages in Roi Et, the poorest province of the Isaan region.
The Mission Society’s work in Thailand officially began in 2008. The Barbees came on board a year or so later, tasked with figuring out how to share the Gospel with the predominantly Buddhist Thai people and aid in the development of their communities.
Chris explains, “We are trying to reach students that don’t have the opportunity to get into the city and study English. If they can’t study English, they’re not going to have the opportunity to go to university. So, we are there to help meet the basic needs that they have if they want to have the opportunity to study further.”
Chris goes on to say, “We have spent 3½ years just building relationships and gaining the trust and showing that we love these people first. We’re not there with an agenda to change their lives, we’re there to love them because God loves them.”
In terms of showing numbers or big project success, it’s slow going. However, Dora adds, God is steadily working. “We had a group of students that we teach English to, on a regular basis. They would come to our camps. We do devotions, we sing worship songs, and we try to just love on them as they start to become interested and say, ‘Why are you different?’”
What began as a game night quickly morphed into a Bible study/discipleship group in a community that has never encountered the Word of God before. Chris adds that the first thing they understood was what the youth really wanted to discover. “The question of who Jesus is maybe isn’t the first question in their minds and their hearts, but the question ‘How can Jesus change me?’ is the question they’re asking.”
Dora says because of the foundation of relationship building, they had earned the right to answer the questions being posed by the students. As a result, “They’re learning about the Bible, and they’re learning about what Jesus says about the stuff that applies directly to their lives.” Word spread, and the group is growing steadily to the point where Chris quips, “We’re going to have find a bigger house, I think.”
The Barbees also help plan and teach worship and church services for children and youth every Sunday. In addition, they help run two camps every year in Bangkok for 7th-12th grade students from Roi Et. One is a month-long academic camp in March, and the other is a week-long Bible study camp in October.
Both used the phrase organic when describing how the Bible study came about. Growth came because of what they planted and God cultivated. Their confidence comes from the consistent approach in love. Chris concludes, “If we can do that wherever we are, then we can change lives. We will have the opportunities to be a witness and to share the Gospel and to be effective.”
Want to know more? Check out The Mission Society opportunities in Thailand.