Praying for new believer at worship service
Breakfast in Mae Salep
A typical home in Mae Salep
Pastor leading singing in home of new believers
Pastor praying in home before removing items for "spirit worship"
Objects dedicated for spirit worship ~ to keep evil spirits away
Items dedicated to "spirit worship" are removed and burned
As most of you know, the beginning of
this year was very difficult for us with the loss of staff and friends here in
Chiang Rai. Several people that we have
loved and worked with for many years passed away and are not with us now.
We were so thankful for the support that we received from the staff of IM during the tough times. We are also so thankful for the wonderful opportunity we had to gather at the World Mission Conference this summer with all of the (IM) American Baptist Missionaries. What an awesome experience and great source of encouragement it was, in the midst of a time of great stress in our ministry!
I confess that with the loss of some key partners in ministry, my faith was challenged, and I struggled as I wondered about my future on the mission field. But, once again, I have experienced the faithfulness of God and exciting things are happening! In the midst of the challenges, we are seeing the Spirit of God move in powerful ways among the Akha in the hills of Thailand.
The year began with the election of some new leaders among the Akha. This has created a number of new opportunities for ministry! First was the opportunity to attend an opening and dedication of a new church in the mountains. We opened worship with singing hymns, many which you would recognize, and then added many of our own Akha songs. As we were singing the last song, we experienced the presence of the Lord in a powerful way. Suddenly it was very quiet in the little cement church…no one moved and everyone bowed in silence as we experienced this holy moment. God was present!
After returning to Thailand, following the World Mission Conference, we are continuing to see God at work. This month we had a Women’s Retreat at the center for the Akha Churches of Thailand. Last year less than 50 people attended, but this year we had over 200! Attitudes have changed and we sense people are hungry to grow in their relationships with God. Things are looking up!
Recently, I returned to Mae Salep village which is about two hours from our home. In my fifteen years in Thailand, this is one of the most amazing experiences I have had. Families who had been firmly entrenched in the traditional Akha practices of honoring the “spirits”, have come to believe in Jesus and want to follow His way. We arrived at the village early in the morning and were immediately served wonderful green tea. They love to show hospitality and they generously gave us a wonderful meal of soup, vegetables and pork meat with chili dipping sauces, and, of course, bowls heaped with mountain rice!
Then began our journey to the first home where we began singing hymns and praying with the people who were leaving behind their old practices and embracing the new way of Jesus. Many of the rituals involved in spirit worship include having altars to the spirits in the home, including bones of animals and other items used in ceremonies to honor the evil spirits. All of these rituals arise out of a system which has people in bondage through fear, and there is little joy among the Akha who are bound to this system.
Even though they did not know much about this new way of life they were entering, they were embracing Jesus. There was much weeping and shaking as the pastors prayed for the people. For many, praying to a living God who is near was a completely new experience. As is common in Asia, they came in families usually led by the father. After these families turned to Christ, we spent the entire day visiting one house after another where all the paraphernalia dedicated to evil spirits was removed from the homes and later burned. It is truly a miracle to see their faces change as they begin to open up to Jesus and His joy begins to break the bonds of fear. Amazing!
After all of the items were burned, we went to the church building in the village and gathered for worship. The place was packed, with the kids peeking in from the outside through the windows! They asked me to preach and so I selected Mark 2—about the paralyzed man who was lowered through the roof by his four friends. I love this story as we get to talk about faith… the faith of the four friends who did not give up trying to get the man to Jesus, even though the way was blocked. And then I got to talk about forgiveness! Jesus says to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus is pretty bold to say this in front of the Pharisees. The Pharisees respond angrily, telling Jesus that he can’t say that because “only God has the power to forgive sins.” This was my opportunity to give them some of the background of the passage, as well as reassure them of the amazing gift that God offers each one of us…forgiveness of all our sins.
After my message, we continued with worship and prayer. We again felt the power of the Holy Spirit as some of the new believers were still shaking as we prayed for them and loved them, and as they entered for the first time into a relationship with Jesus. They are coming to realize that they can know the living God. We closed the service about 5 o’clock and returned home. It was a full day, but rich and deep!
As we departed, we noticed one more exciting change. In the past, a few of the homes in this village had signs forbidding the spreading of the Christian faith. They have now been taken down. They were signs of a former time, which will soon be forgotten. A glad welcome to Jesus and joy!