A reflection of God’s love
Kenneth H. Pasch
Standing in the bamboo house, Missionary David told me, “The people believe if someone removes the shaman’s altar from the house, that person will die.” And then he added, “. . . within 24 hours. Do you want to remove it?”
“No problem,” I said.
We proceeded to remove the altar along with the talismans and charms that draped the doors and windows of the house. All of them were believed to ward off evil spirits. We then took them outside where they were burned.
I must admit that it caught me off guard. We were in a remote village at the home of a couple who had renounced their pagan beliefs and become Christians. What I witnessed was a simple, but pointed, ceremony that is conducted for the Hmong when they become Christians. After the ceremony and a short devotional service, these new believers confessed their faith and were baptized.
With us that day was Vichai SaeVang. For him it was a very special day. At the time he was a fourth-year student at our seminary. The people who proclaimed their Christian faith that day were his parents. “I was very, very happy,” he says, “because now I no longer have to worry about their future when they die.”
DISCOVERING A BRAND NEW LIFE
About ten years ago, Vichai was introduced to the Christian faith through a relative from America who was visiting family members in Thailand. He had asked Vichai to drive him to our church for worship. It was the first time Vichai had set foot in a Christian church. Over the next few months, an elder from the church met with Vichai and introduced him to Jesus. Over time, Vichai began to see the futility of his old beliefs, and the Holy Spirit led him to faith and a brand new life.
It was not an easy transition for him. He had become the only Christian in his family, and his parents were not pleased that he had left the religious beliefs of his people. One of those beliefs involved inviting their dead ancestors to join them in festival meals and celebrations to ask for protection from evil spirits. By no longer participating in these family rituals, Vichai would be viewed as disrespectful of his ancestors and his family.
I asked him how he handled the situation, and he told me he showed them the love of Christ through his actions. “I helped them all the more where I could and when I could, always telling them it was a reflection of God’s love that he wanted me to show my family.”
He did not give up. Through his words and actions, Vichai reached into the lives of his family members, who eventually came to see and understand the same love and forgiveness of Christ.
Vichai was determined to learn more and to dedicate his life to proclaiming the love of Christ to his fellow people. In his village there were two Christian families, but no one to serve them or proclaim the gospel. He was encouraged to enroll in our seminary Pastoral Studies Institute in 2009 where he spent the next four years in study and training to become a pastor.
“I am very thankful to WELS,” Vichai says. “Unlike our university system, where the poor could not hope to go or study, WELS made it possible for me and others to study even though we are poor.”
Like the other students with him, it was not an easy path to follow. Most of the villagers in the hill tribes of northern Thailand live on subsistence farming. Though WELS provides seminary lodging and educational assistance for our pastoral studies students, it still means leaving their families at home in the villages during their time away at the seminary. For many, as was the case for Vichai, it also meant there were times when little more than rice could be afforded for his wife and four children to live on. Others found it necessary to leave the program since it became increasingly difficult to provide for their families during their time away.
Vichai graduated from our seminary in 2013 and was assigned to begin a new exploratory mission in the village where he grew up as a child. Reaching into the village has been a challenge. Other Christian groups have attempted to work in the area but have been met with rejection by community leaders and those who are antagonistic toward Christianity. Still, with the Lord’s blessing and a relationship in the village that was established in his youth, Vichai has successfully gathered a group of people who are eager to be fed with the lifesaving words of the gospel. He now conducts worship services and Bible classes in the home where we witnessed his parents’ baptisms. New people are coming from a neighboring village to join the others in learning about their Savior. Vichai is now looking at a plot of land between the two villages where he can someday build a small church that will give them permanence in the eyes of the community as well as provide them with a house of worship.
Ken Pasch is a missionary in Thailand.
Learn more about the mission in Thailand in this month’s edition of WELS Connection.
LUTHERAN EVANGELICAL CHURCH OF THAILAND
Baptized members: 1,100
Missionary stations: 13
National pastors: 18
National evangelists: 4
Unique fact: The mission in Thailand ministers to several different cultures, including Hmong, Lao, Issan (Lao-Thai), and Thai. Part of the missionaries’ work is to coordinate those efforts as well as to create the framework for the national association of churches.
Go to www.wels.net to learn more about WELS missions.
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Author: Kenneth H. Pasch
Volume 102, Number 7
Issue: July 2015
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