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Faces of Faith – Pastor Chaleunsouk

The following is an interview I conducted with Pastor Tom Chaleunsouk. After you read this, say a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for his grace and his gift to the church.

Tom Chaleunsouk was born in 1952 just outside Vientiane, the capital city of the country of Laos. In the early 1970s he worked as a night watchman on the American Air Base in Vientiane. Tom was married in 1973 to his wife Kaysone, who was from the same village. By 1980, they had been blessed with three children.

After the Vietnam war ended, the air base was abandoned by the United States government and regime changes were taking place in Laos. The Lao communist government actively sought to find all those who assisted or worked with the Americans during the conflict, which placed the lives of thousands in grave danger. Many were killed and many were sent to concentration (“re-education”) camps in the northern part of the country.

Pastor Tom (right) and his wife Kaysone (third from right) during a youth volleyball tournament at the church

In 1980, having been warned that his life was in danger, Tom took the bold step of fleeing across the Mekong River which runs along the border of Thailand and Laos. To avoid being seen by communist soldiers, he crossed the river in the middle of the night on an evening in October when the monsoons were nearing the end and the river was at flood stage. The crossing was about a quarter mile wide. He crossed alone to protect his family from possible capture or death in the event he was caught by the authorities. He could not swim, so he fashioned a triangle of three bamboo poles and plastic bags into a kind of life preserver. He tied them under his arms and jumped into the river. On the other side of the river, he was picked up by Thai soldiers and put into the United Nations refugee camp in Nong Khai.

Meanwhile, arrangements had been made for Tom’s wife, Kaysone, to secretly follow Tom across the Mekong River with their three small children. Kaysone’s father took them to the river where a boat was waiting for them. Their oldest child, Thephone (who was four years old at the time), began to cry. For fear of being caught by the communist soldiers, Kaysone’s father took the boy back to the village, leaving Kaysone and the two youngest children alone. They successfully crossed the river and were taken to the U.N. refugee camp. It would take another four years before Tom and Kaysone were reunited with their son.

Tom and his wife were raised in the Buddhist religion. In the refugee camp, Tom met a Thai Christian evangelist who held gatherings in the camp. He approached Tom one day and invited him to join them, where he shared God’s word and prayed for him and his family.

In 1981, Tom and his family were brought to the United States and sponsored by the Christian Reformed Church in Pease, Minnesota. They were welcomed by the community, which helped them acclimate to a new country and culture. Tom and his family were eventually baptized, and Tom’s desire to not only learn more about Christianity, but also to be able to teach his native people about Jesus, became a driving force for him.

The Nong Khai church (left) and sala (right) in Ban Houymakhat. A sala is a covered open structure. All of the house church mission groups gather with the congregation here on the first Sunday of the month for a joint communion service and fellowship.

The family moved to Lakeville, Minnesota, where they started attending Bethlehem Lutheran Church. After Tom made his interest in becoming a pastor known, two pastors who were part of a multi-cultural WELS outreach team in St. Paul came to visit. Tom began part time studies with the WELS Pastoral Studies Institute in 1998, and was enrolled full time in 2000. In 2005, he graduated and was commissioned as a missionary to the Issan (Thai-Lao) people in Thailand.

Over the course of his service to the Lord and his church, Tom has continued to offer pastoral instruction to interested students in Nong Khai, Thailand. Together with one national pastor and one national evangelist as well as some dedicated laymen, Tom oversees four “house churches” in different villages and a central church in Ban Houymakhat, Thailand.

Pastor Tom and his wife Kaysone have been and continue to play a vital role in our mission work among the Issan people in northeastern Thailand. Through their untiring dedication and service to the Lord, many have come to know their Savior. Pray that the Lord blesses them with health and a safe working environment!

Written by Rev. Ken Pasch, Thailand Field Coordinator

 

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Faces of Faith – Kittikun

Kittikun Thouttha (pictured center) was born into a Christian family in northeastern Thailand. His contact with WELS Missionary Tom (pictured left) brought about a thirst to learn more about the beautiful truths of the gospel as they are proclaimed in the Lutheran faith. After studying with Pastor Tom for over five years, Kittikun graduated from his studies and was ordained in 2013. When asked why he became a Lutheran pastor, Kittikun responded: “Because I know that God called me.”

Pastor Kittikun works closely with Pastor Tom and other leaders of our five missions in northeastern Thailand. He is active in the instruction of others who are studying for service in the church. He and his wife live in the village of Pongsumran where he poured a concrete floor in his carport and set up a small chapel for his congregation to gather. Pastors Kittikun and Tom also assist in the care and leadership of families from three house churches in neighboring villages. Once a month they all travel to Houymakhat village where our largest congregation is located. Together, they join in Bible study, worship, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and a fellowship meal.

Though the Christian church is small in Thailand, it is not dead. Despite the overwhelming influence of Buddhism in the lives of the Thai, the Lord’s Word does not return empty. Through the dedicated work of men like Pastor Kittikun, the Lord’s kingdom continues to grow.

From Ken Pasch (pictured right), missionary in Thailand

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Gospel Seeds Continue to Multiply

Ger Yang was one of the first Hmong men home missionary Rev. Loren Steele met in St. Paul, Minn. in 1988. Ger Yang and Loren Steele worked together to share the message of salvation with the Hmong in the Twin Cities area.

Ger Yang (left) at Village 9 in Thailand

After Ger Yang was trained to be a pastor, he went to Thailand for mission a trip in village 9, Tak, Thailand, where he unexpectedly passed away. After Ger Yang died in December 1995, the Lord brought me to study in the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) program. I was ordained on October 16, 1999, and was called by the Minnesota district to serve Immanuel Hmong Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minn.

The seed of the gospel is still working at Immanuel Hmong today! Immanuel Hmong was started by two strong missionaries: Ger Yang and Loren Steele (both of whom are now in heaven). After I was ordained two decades ago, Immanuel Hmong started off with only a few orphans and widows. From then on, the Lord has continued to bless his church to grow to over two hundred members. The Lord is kind and he took care of his church. Today, Immanuel Hmong’s worship attendance every week is around 110 with 200 souls in our membership. Our congregation is working hard to reach out to one of the largest Hmong populations in the United States. More than 70,000 Hmong people live in the Twin Cities area.

Although Immanuel Hmong is a mission church itself, we have a heart for mission work even outside of our own community. Immanuel Hmong continues to reach out to Thailand, following the footsteps of Ger Yang, to Village 9 and many other villages throughout Thailand where Hmong people can be found. Village 9 now has Hmong men serving as evangelists and pastors. Pastor Vang Toua Moua (Joe Saema) now serves as the main pastor for Village 9. The seed of the gospel didn’t die with Ger Yang. Once the gospel seed was planted in St. Paul, Minn., it spreads to the different parts of the United States and Southeast Asia. I was even asked to baptize ten people during my recent visit in December 2018!

Pastor Vang Toua Moua baptizes a newborn in Village 9

The seed of the gospel continues to spread to different villages. There are many nearby villages by Pastor Vang Toua who need the seed of the gospel. Pastor Vang Toua Moua and his congregation are equipped to bridge the gospel seed for those villages. We trust that the Holy Spirit will turn more hearts to faith in Jesus Christ.

Only the Lord can water the planted gospel seed to grow and multiply. I ask that you remember the Hmong ministries in the Minnesota district and around the world in your prayers. Together, the Lord will accomplish his purpose when he sends his gospel seed to the lost world. As Isaiah said, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” May the seed of the gospel continue to grow!

Written by: Pastor Pheng Moua, Immanuel Hmong Lutheran Church, St. Paul, Minn. and member of Joint Mission’s Global Hmong Committee

To learn more about Hmong ministry in the United States and around the world, visit wels.net/hmong.

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Faces of Faith – Ching

His name is Ching. He was born 28 or 29 years ago in the jungles of western Thailand. He technically has two birthdays – the date that his parents told him he was born and the one the government assigned to him when his family was assimilated into Thailand’s population. The two birthdays are a year apart.

His family was moved to Village 9, one of the settlements established by the government for refugees. He attended school through the third grade, but had to leave due to family difficulties and the need to work in the fields in order to help support the family. No one in his family was Christian including his four siblings.

A strange dream caused his mother to seek out the local Christian leaders of our fledgling mission in Village 9. Through her contact with our young Bible Institute student (now one of our national pastors), the Holy Spirit led her to faith and she was baptized along with three of her children.

Children in Thailand listen to a Bible message

By the time Ching was 15, his interest in the Christian faith led him to the city of Chiang Mai, about a seven hour drive from his home in Village 9. He attended classes at our Bible Institute until its closure in 2009. He then transferred his studies to our seminary in Chiang Rai. At the same time he continued his secular education and earned his GED. When he completed our four year seminary program, he was graduated with a BTh degree and was ordained into the pastoral ministry.

He married in March of 2016. A year later he was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer and he underwent a series of chemotherapy treatments. Though the doctors told him he would never be able to have children after the chemotherapy, the Lord has blessed him and his wife with the joy and expectation of a child this November.

I asked him once why he decided to become a pastor. Music has always been among his interests. In his youth, he once heard a Christian song that led him to seek out more information about the words and music. His friends in turn invited him to become more involved in worship where he was drawn to the music of the church as well as the message. From there, a thirst and desire to learn more led him on the path to service in the church. Pastor Ching and his wife currently are serving as officers on the Board of Directors of our new Thailand Evangelical Lutheran Synod Foundation in Chiang Rai.

Please continue to remember Pastor Ching and his wife in your prayers.  Pray that the Lord grants him a complete recovery from his cancer, and that he and his wife are blessed with the birth of a healthy child.

Written by: Ken Pasch, Thailand Field Coordinator

 

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New Partnership To Broaden Outreach Efforts: Asia

MINISTRY TRAINING IN ASIA

Linda R. Buxa

Each year, pastors originally from Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Korea meet at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary to discuss their plans for reaching out and expanding their ministry. These men are the spiritual leaders and drivers of outreach to Asian peoples in North America and overseas.

One of these pastors (name withheld for safety reasons) is from a country that is in the top 30 countries that persecute Christians. Those who reject ancestor worship, animism, or Buddhism are either removed from their villages or beaten.

This graduate of the Pastoral Studies Institute could safely stay in the United States and pastor the people he serves. Instead, he and his wife choose to spend their own money to travel back to their country of origin. There they risk their lives to tell people about the one true God.

“As I go into the country, they ask if I am going to talk about God,” he says. (They hold his passport and threaten not to give it back if he does.) “I said, ‘No,’ but in my head I said ‘Yes.’ ”

On his first trip, he spoke to a group about marriage. “The women were crying. I was teaching the husbands that God says to love their wives,” he says. They had never heard that before, and it brought them to tears. They begged him to bring Bibles the next time he came.

So he did, even though it could put him in grave danger.

As he walked through security, he had Bibles in his backpack. “At the gate they searched all my luggage. Except my backpack. I went through and gave away all the Bibles,” he says.


OFFERING PHYSICAL AND SPIRITUAL HELP

Meet a medical assistant in Southeast Asia who travels from village to village on his motorbike to share his medical skills with his patients. He also shares the gospel.

This man, who became a Christian when he was a child, wants to learn more about his faith so he can share more with others. To do that, he takes classes through the seminary’s Pastoral Studies Institute via Skype. Twice a year, he travels to the United States to take classes.

He isn’t quite sure where his studies might lead. “For now, his focus is on studying and reaching others,” his translator shares. The people he reaches are hungry for the gospel and are looking to WELS for even more support. “They are excited to hear from the national church body.”


Linda Buxa is the communications coordinator at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin.   

MISSION STORIES

Read more about how WELS missionaries are working to spread the gospel in the U.S. and around the world on the WELS Missions blogs.

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Author: Linda R. Buxa
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Mission stories: Thailand

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.

PROCLAIMING 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
Congregations: 6
Missionary stations: 13
National pastors: 18
National evangelists: 4
Missionaries: 2

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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us