On Friday we flew to Singapore from Thailand. The contrast with where we have been for the past 4 weeks is quite striking. Singapore is one of the most expensive places in the world to live. For example to own a simple car you need to buy a license which at present costs £25, 000 for a 10 year license, after which you have to renew the license and apply to have the car renewed – they may refuse to do this if it’s too old. Cars themselves are ridiculously expensive starting at £30, 000 for a second hand small car and going up to 100s of £1000s for a luxury car.
The shopping mall below has a venetian style canal running through it complete with gondolas you can ride on. All a bit different to Cambodia and Thailand.
We were guests of the lovely Ruth & Anthony Phua and their son Joel (Pictured below giving Ken a hug). Anthony is a bible teacher and Ruth is the senior pastor of a local church where Ken spoke at the weekend. Their niece, Grace, is also staying with them.
I was speaking at a local church which met in an office block on the 9th floor. A small room, perhaps 25′ square which crammed in about 30 people and a full band and sound system – I like loud worship but my bones were rattling during this session!
A lovely treat was to meet up with Enid McFall’s daughter and son-in law Julie & Jon Hall. They recently moved out to Singapore with Jonny’s job and it was lovely to visit them and see where they live.
It was a short but lively visit to Singapore and we flew to Malaysia yesterday (Wednesday 18th May) to begin a week of ministry and catching up with old friends here before going on to Nepal!
On Saturday (7th May) we drove down to Manorom, a town about 3 hours south of Bangkok. We were staying at an old OMF (Overseas Missionary Fellowship) hospital that had been established about 60 years ago to treat Leprosy in the local area. Their work was successful and over the years Leprosy was been completely eradicated from the area.
So, OMF sold the site to the local Christian Community. In more recent years it has been used as a general clinic for local residents and an International Christian School. This is where we were based and working for the week.
On the Sunday Ken & I preached at the local church. In honour of our friends in Cambodia we wore the shirts they had given us when we left. It turned out to be a smart move as the senior pastor at the church wore a similar design!
It was quite a significant service for one young couple who were in church that day. Ken’s sermon really spoke to them and it was a turning point in their ministry. They had been asked to think about doing missionary work in Northern Thailand but were very unsure about it. The Lord spoke to them during that meeting and Mareeya (from Thailand) and Joshua (from Guildford), on the left in the picture below, will be heading North this week to explore ministry in a remote village, with an American missionary couple.
Our week at the school was a busy mixture of teaching English to various groups of students of all ages, and doing some teaching ministry in the evenings for the staff of the school.
We also got to meet some of the local wildlife!
For two days we were asked to be the main teachers at an ‘English Camp’ for local Thai schoolchildren from the nearby Buddhist School. This was a great opportunity for the school and tremendous fun. The 125 children (16-18) were really motivated and interested in what we we did with them – even if half the time they looked at us blankly when we were trying to explain things. It turned out to be our accents rather than the words which caused confusion. When the Thai teachers said exactly the same words in English they understood immediately!
It was hard work for the two days. Teaching started at 8am and finished at 4pm with a lunch in the middle of the day. Temperatures were high – 45 oC (114 oF) and we were glad there was a sort of air conditioning that cooled things down a bit!
After the English Camp we went on to teach evening classes. The girl on the left below wants to be an air hostess when she grows up so she’s learning English… but apparently she’s too short at the moment so needs to grow up in more ways than age…
This brought to an end our two weeks of very varied and interesting ministry in Thailand. So much to think through and ponder. Lots happening here, but lots still to do. Not least the work with the refugees.
We flew to Singapore yesterday (which is where I’m writing from) and look forward to a week here before going on to Malaysia next Thursday.
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.
On Friday we drove down to Phnom Penh from Battambang in Cambodia and flew to Thailand, arriving in Bangkok in the late evening to be met by Rev Chor Kee Tan who is an Anglican priest from Malaysia working as a missionary, church planting here in Bangkok.
Thailand is a completely different experience from Cambodia. Mass traffic and very built up. Yesterday we had a busy but great day. In the morning we took a children’s ‘Sunday School’ class with Vietnamese refugees.
In the afternoon we took a 2-3 hour drive to a Pakistani church. The church had a very interesting story. Below you will see Ken preaching and being interpreted by Pastor Lazarus. He, together with Pastor Sam (in the next picture, middle back) ran a very busy church in Karachi, Pakistan. They had a very successful ministry and the church had over 500 members and was full of life.
Sadly, this brought them to the attention of the Taliban, and they were attacked on numerous occasions. The Taliban specifically targeted the Church leaders, and eventually their congregation persuaded them to flee before they were killed. This they did 2 years ago and came to Thailand seeking refuge.
It has not been easy. Sam’s second child was born here, and they don’t know if they are going to be deported or arrested any day. But they run a small church for their fellowship and strength. We were invited to speak at it on Saturday afternoon. Seeing their faith and what they’d lost for the sake of the faith was a truly humbling and inspiring afternoon. I am sure I learned far more from them than they did from me, but their warmth and love was an inspiration.
On Sunday we went to visit Chor Kee’s church. He came to Bangkok 2 years ago and planted a small Anglican Church near the university in Rangsit. We had a great time with the congregation this morning.
Church growth is slow in Thailand, and difficult. But the vibrant faith of these young people was wonderful to be amongst.
We’ve spent the week teaching at a Bible school (situated in the same building as the TEFL school). We had ten students from the remote villages who are all training for some kind of ministry – mostly assistant pastors.
They didn’t speak english so we had a wonderful young translator – whose grasp of both languages was amazing (she is only 21). Classes started at 7.30am and went on till 4.00pm and we were teaching a course on mission and evangelism. Temperatures were hot – reaching 40-45 oC in the afternoon with a couple of small ceiling fans to cool us down. We just melted, drank gallons of water, and tried to keep them awake!
The teaching was interspersed with times of worship and fellowship and refreshments!
They were a lovely group of people who were very enthusiastic (mostly) and very tolerant of these strange English men trying to teach them how to do evangelism in their country to their own people!
Numbers swelled from time to time with others joining us, and on one day we had a group of pastors join us as they’d come in for a meeting.
The pastor from the church I’d been at on Sunday came in. It was really nice to see him again, and on this occasion I learnt about why he was so badly scarred. The picture below may not show it well, but all of his visible skin showed signs of extensive scarring from burns – and his hands were deformed almost beyond recognition, most digits were missing and his hands were badly twisted and scarred.
I thought he’d been in an accident. Then I heard the story. He’d was a baby when the Khmer Rouge had attacked his village in the late 1970s. Some of the young soldiers used his house to sit in and eat in. Being a hungry baby he started to cry. This annoyed the soldiers and they screamed at him to be quiet which only made him cry louder. So they took burning sticks from the fire and set him alight and crushed his hands and tortured him. It was horrific to hear and amazing that he survived at all. And yet Pastor Chun is an amazingly confident, happy, positive and fervent evangelist. He took part in a role play I did with them to ‘evangelise’ us as western heathens, he was so passionate and confident. An amazing man.
So we have had a great time in Cambodia. This is our last night here and tomorrow we take a taxi down through the country back to Phnom Penh and fly to Bangkok in the evening. More to follow…
Sunday was a great opportunity to see a small picture of the church here in Battambang and the surrounding villages. Ken and I were told that we would be in separate village churches a good drive out of Battambang city and that we would be picked up at 7am because they were quite a long journey away.
True enough our transport arrived at 7am (ish). The back of a motorbike was to be our transport. Ken had a 1hr journey to his church, I had a 1 1/2 journey. Only half the journey was on road – the rest was on dirt tracks through the countryside. It was quite an interesting trip!
The churches were very similar. Remote villages with about 20 families – some people came 20km or more to be in the church on Sunday morning. Most of the men were in Thailand or other countries finding work to send money home to their families as it hasn’t rained in the villages here since November and they are farmers so there are no crops and the livestock are nearly dying.
It was very moving in the service because they went around the congregation and everyone gave something they were grateful for. More than one person said ‘although we are very poor and have no money we are grateful to God for his great love for us and that we still have enough food each day to eat.’
The congregation were mainly women and children – about 25 in total. I had a lovely time with them – and although they couldn’t speak any English and I couldn’t speak Cambodian – with the help of an interpreter we had a good time… and when they sang ‘How great thou art’ I could at least sing a few of the verses that I could remember in English!
After another 1 1/2 hr journey back we had a brief lunch and then went to another church in the afternoon in Battambang city. This is led by Pastor Sophin (on the guitar in the picture below), and is all young people under the age of 35. It was full, and there were a lot who weren’t there. They are looking for new premises so that they can grow. It was a great and encouraging time.
After the service – they did a birthday celebration and then they bought out a bowl of these… any guesses what they are…?
Following our visit to CHO we took a ride out to a village about 10 miles out of Poipet town. This is a typical small village, with about 50 families. They are mainly farmers who grow crops such as Casava and Sugar Beat. However, this the hot, dry season of the year so not much was growing!
We went to meet a Pastor who is trying to plant a church in this village. He meets with a few families at the moment to do a Bible Study, and he has two trainee pastors who will be on the Bible School course next week which Ken and I are helping to teach.
A school was started in the village a few years ago so we went to see the school and meet some of the children who study there. The man in the picture below who’s wearing the baseball cap is the Pastor who is planting the church here.
As well as building the school they also want to build a church at the site below. So, they asked us to bless and pray for the site where they were going to build the church (if faith) in years to come.