It’s been a really interesting week. One of real contrasts.
On Tuesday we took a trip into the centre of Bangkok to visit the main Anglican Church, Christchurch, that’s been there for over 100yrs.
Their ministry has changed a lot in recent years. From a work mainly focussed on ex-pats from Europe and the Americas it’s turned to refugee ministry (see below) both locally and further afield in recent years. On the borders of Myanmar (Burma) are the Karen refugees and the church does a lot to support the work there.
The vicar Tim, and his wife Julie do a lot of ministry there where the church is growing very rapidly with converts from Buddhism. Julie also does a lot of work with the infamous ‘Street Girls’ in Bangkok just down the road from their church.
Tim is very keen for some clergy help. If there are any clergy reading this who would like to come and work in Bangkok for a year – flights paid – accommodation sorted etc. then please let me know!
Whilst at Christchurch we met another Pakistani Christian brother who was a refugee from Peshawar, Pakistan. Three years ago he was in church for their main, busy service, when a Taliban suicide bomber came into the morning service and blew himself up. Many were killed (85+) including the music and worship group and the clergy. You may remember it in the news.
Christchurch, Bangkok is home to about 20 Pakistani refugees from the church in Peshawar awaiting a safe home.
On Thursday we had a lovely trip to catch up with some old friends from St Chad’s. Some of the Chad’s readers will remember Karl & Sarah, Poppy & Harrison Edwards. They moved to Shanghai with Karl’s job 6 years ago and were then transferred to Bangkok 3 years ago. They were doing wonderfully well and it was great to catch up with them and see them in their home.
They will be staying at least one more year before being moved somewhere else – as yet unknown. It was so lovely to see them and hear their news.
On Friday we went out with Pastor Steve (Junior) to visit his congregation. It is a long story, but his congregation is now predominantly Vietnamese refugees.
As we visited family after family and heard their stories it was very humbling, harrowing and thought provoking. We visited about nine families, some of whom had eight children.
Vietnam is a country where the church is growing very rapidly. Ken & I visited two years ago when we went to speak at a Pastors’ conference in the far south. However, the story is very varied. At the same time we were there two years ago churches across the middle of Vietnam and to the North were being persecuted.
The targets of the persecution were the church leaders and their wider families.
Nearly all the families we visited with Steve were the direct families of church leaders. They come from fairly prosperous areas of Vietnam. They are highly educated and many of the wider families work in very skilled jobs, medical, teaching and engineering. One family’s story gives you a picture. He was an elder in the church, an engineer, and had been responsible for helping construct a beautiful church building which housed about 600 Christians (we saw some photographs). Because the church was growing and attracting many members, he was targeted and arrested by the police. Word got around very quickly and his family and the Pastor’s family and their wider families were told to flee for their lives. They went to the school and took their children straight from the classroom to a boat which was waiting to take them abroad. No time to collect belongings. They fled to Thailand. The husband who was arrested was beaten and tortured and died in prison. The official cause of death was ‘food poisoning’.
The police started to track down wider family members to try and locate the immediate family, so many more of them had to flee to Thailand.
Every family we met now lives in blocks like the one pictured below. Each family in a single room about 90 sq ft. No furniture, no kitchen, basic sanitation. And most of the families have been here 3-4 years awaiting a safe place to go. Many of them still fear for their lives, but they meet regularly with Steve in their house church to pray, worship, support each other, learn English and get basic work to help them live.
The stories of these families will stay with me for a long time. As will my prayers.