Crouched in the doorway of a tiny hut, I’m praying for the health of the former “spirit doctor” of Hoey Torn village. I’m overcome and amazed by the power of God at work in the life of this man, and his wife, and so many villagers in the remote Nan province in Northern Thailand (about […]
Crouched in the doorway of a tiny hut, I’m praying for the health of the former “spirit doctor” of Hoey Torn village. I’m overcome and amazed by the power of God at work in the life of this man, and his wife, and so many villagers in the remote Nan province in Northern Thailand (about 20 kilometres from the Laos border).
God is moving among the Lua people. Lives of fear and disquiet are being transformed with peace and hope. And it’s to these people, living in these difficult situations, that God has called Australian missionary Pastor Simon Mackenzie, his wife Oiy, together with their son Nopakorn (“Aussie”, for short). The Mckenzie family is working together with Thai Pastor Amnouy and evangelist Tawee.
Our visit to the exciting but challenging mission in the Nan Province involves a one and a half hour flight from Bangkok to Chiang Rai, a four-hour road trip from Chiang Rai to Nan, a two and a half hour road trip from Nan to Bo Klua – and a further half hour journey to Baan Den, where Rev Amnouy and his wife Yai have been living and working for three years among the Lua. Evangelist Tawee lives in Bo Klua and works with people who are forced to walk long distances to seek medical help at the local health centre. He also ministers to people in Hoey Mei village, and two distant mountain-top villages.
From Baan Den to nearby villages (Baan Napong and Hoey Pong) or those further afield (Hoey Torn, Hoey Mei), roads are mostly unsurfaced, often bone-jarring, and hug the edges of steeply sloping mountains which drop away to the valleys below. During wet season, access by vehicle frequently is limited to motorcycle. Commonly, by foot can be the only way to access from certain levels.
Geographical and socio-economic difficulties aren’t the only enormous challenge for Christian missionaries. The traditional animistic beliefs of the Lua people have meant they have lived in fear of “spirits” and “spirit doctors” who have used their influence to control all aspects of life.
This also means people can be forced to give offerings, such as sacrificing blood to maintain their existence. Living in this climate of fear has led to people experiencing sickness, loss of privileges, and payment of various types of sacrifice to the “spirit doctors” and “spirits”. People have been seriously afraid of this spiritual darkness.
As such, it isn’t easy for Lua to be Christians, as many experience serious opposition to following Jesus. Work can be made difficult by local leaders who want Christians to leave. Also, when “spirit doctors” lose their power over Christian converts, they work hard to destroy what God is doing.
Pastor Amnuoy and evangelist Tawee have been threatened and asked to leave. Understandably, prayer is vital to their ministry.
Christian evangelists came to this region about 12 year ago, and locals are now coming to know and share the amazing power of God and the release from fear which God gives through Jesus Christ. When asked what has changed for him since he came to faith, one man says: “once I had to sacrifice blood – now no more”.
The faces of new followers of Jesus mirror the peace that only he can bring. There are now more than 800 Christians in these villages. In the last year, over 369 people were been baptised, with more coming to faith each week. In the village of Baan Den alone, where 500 people live, there are now 370 baptised children of God. Stories abound of the amazing growth of the kingdom of God in the region.
Two years ago, in the village of Hoey Torn (population of 491, comprised of 91 families), only seven people followed Jesus Christ. Since then, more than 100 people have been set free by the love and power of Jesus.
The work of evangelising the Lua people is growing at a remarkable rate. Remote villagers are asking the workers to visit and tell them about Jesus! The pastoral care needed to support this rapidly expanding ministry – situated in often relatively inaccessible areas – is beyond the team’s capacity, as it strives to effectively teach and build strong foundations for the longevity of the faith of the people.
As villagers come to faith, they meet in the home of one of the followers for Sunday worship if there is no sala (basic church structure) to gather in. Language is an issue. Since there is no written Lua language, no Scriptures or songs exist in their native tongue. Amnuoy and Tawee have become more proficient in understanding and speaking the Lua language.
This also means a new language for Simon! The Thai language itself is complicated and difficult to master and Simon is greatly helped by Oiy, who does much of the preaching and worship leading in Thai (then translated into Lua).
Amnuoy started working in the region three years ago and Tawee commenced work in the area five years ago. Both men have a passion to see Jesus’ love taught and lived out among the marginalised and fearful Lua people.
Amnouy has such a heart for the people, as evidenced by the self-sacrificing way he and Yai live among the Lua people. Amnuoy has had no rest or holiday, and his home is always open. He has a desire to not only serve local Christians but, by his actions and service, share the love of Jesus with all people.
As we sat cross-legged on the floor of the church building in Baan Den, Amnuoy shares his vision for the next five years, including a plan to establish one congregation in every village and to open one preaching place every year (to be recognised as a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Thailand, they need to have at least 30 members with twenty of them above 18 years of age).
Six evangelists from the Nan province are currently studying at Luther Seminary of Thailand (LST) until April 2010. Thanks to the amazing provision of God through the financial support of the St Mark’s Epping congregation these six younger people – mostly new Christians – have been able to leave their families and spend 12 months in Bangkok being trained for a life of service in God’s mission field in Nan. Once these people return to the province they will be able to help and expand the ministry and mission. However they will require support and on-going training for the long term sustainability of their ministry.
Simon, Oiy and ‘Aussie’ live in the regional city of Nan since August, 2009. Each week, they make the journey from Nan to Baan Den on a Saturday, where they stay/sleep in the church building, often until Monday or Tuesday (if there are patients who need to be taken to the hospital). They sleep on a mattress in the corner of the church, and eat their meals with Rev Amnuoy and his wife Yai. Simon and Oiy buy supplies of meat, eggs and fresh vegetables to contribute to the shared meals. While in Baan Den they use very basic facilities – a squat toilet and ‘splash’ wash facility attached to Amnuoy’s house.
The drive from Nan to Baan Sipaan is on a surfaced road which is winding with steep assents and descents. The last section of road from Baan Sipaan up to Baan Den is unsurfaced and rough, with deep water eroded trenches, and requires crossing over/though a river when this is not in flood. Simon has sturdy 4X4 Hilux diesel twin cab vehicle which serves him well on the rugged terrain.
In consultation with Amnuoy, Simon has assumed responsibility for the preaching place of Hoey Pong (currently a small group of people worshipping in the home of one of the new Christians) and Baan Napong – where there is a sala (basic church structure) and a regular worshipping group of up to 100 people.
It’s exciting to see real evidence of support from several LCA congregations apart from the LCA financial support given in order that Simon and Oiy can serve as our missionaries in Thailand.
The St Mark’s Epping congregation with the encouragement and leadership of Pastor Mark Schultz have already had two team visits the region – January 2009 and 2010.
Subsequent to their first visit and among other support, they have provided the finances needed to pay for the theological education of 6 young evangelists from the province to study for a year at LST.
The second team in January this year has built the structures (salas) for 2 churches, as well as a home for the former spirit doctor of Hoey Torn village – now a new child of God. The team from St Marks’ invited other LCA congregations to join them.
The Noosa congregation has given finances to buy seeds for agricultural projects and the Tarrington, Robertstown and Eudunda congregations have also provided funds for bibles and hymnbooks in the Thai language. The two blue motor bikes purchased with funds given by the St Paul’s Box Hill congregation enable Amnouy and Tawee easier access to the villages – when the roads aren’t too wet for motor bikes!
God has shown us where he is working – he is here in the Nan province – He has opened the door and invited us as his people in the Lutheran Church of Australia to join him in his work. What an amazing and humbling privilege!
Many of our partner churches are working in new territory for the kingdom of God; therefore, spiritual attack is their everyday reality. As a member of a congregation, school, or family, or a couple or individual, you are invited to commit to praying for our partners in mission. For regular prayer point updates, go to www.lca.org.au/international-mission/act-now/pray
Read more stories about our partner churches in Thailand at https://www.lcamission.org.au/category/stories/international-partners/thailand/