From TIF to Thailand: Equipping Leaders of the Karen

by Bruce McDowell March 1, 2015

You may have seen the poster in Reception Hall about global partner Boon Chu, a Karen from Thailand, who served as a Tenth International Fellowship intern and seminary student some years ago. He has a charismatic personality and strong leadership gifts, which the Lord has used since his dramatic conversion. He serves as a pastor and evangelist in some of the most challenging conditions in the world, bringing the gospel to villages where there isn’t a road, let alone a church leader.

The Karen people live in the hills of northern Thailand and are very ripe for the gospel harvest. About 2,000 people came to Christ through Boon Chu’s ministry in 2006, not long after his return from living in Philly and doing an internship here at Tenth with our international fellowship. 

To trust Christ is a big step for a Karen. Most of the Karen hold to beliefs that are a mixture of animism and Buddhism. They farm the hills with rice and raise water buffalo, pigs, and chickens. Many of them live where they have no access to schools—far beyond cell phone range. There are 6,000 Karen villages scattered across Thailand. Of these, only about 2,000 villages have heard the gospel, but there are still another 4,000 villages which have yet to hear the good news of Christ’s victory at the cross. Besides needing help with reaching the other 4,000 villages, they also very much need help with church buildings; church leadership training in evangelism, pastoral care, Sunday school, and Bible teaching; and economic and community development. They are looking for ways to support evangelists so they can begin new churches in these unreached villages. They are currently targeting five new villages to evangelize, some of which have rejected their initial efforts. Pray for God’s Spirit to prepare the people’s hearts to receive God’s Word.

Boon Chu has a vision to reach the four thousand unevangelized Karen villages. Several churches with 100+ congregants have the potential of establishing five or more churches within three years. This is where Tenth member Charlie Lyddane and I hope to assist in April. Boon Chu wants to train evangelists in Bible and theology, its practical application, and church planting, as almost all of them have had no formal training. Since January 2009, Boon Chu has been involved in organizing conferences on Sunday school teaching, theology, Bible exposition, diaconal and pastoral training. Attendance at these conferences has ranged from 250 to 1200 people, with many of those attending walking for three or more days over the hills in the rainy season. The conference at which I am speaking April 11–14 is aimed at youth pastors from 300 villages. None of them have had theological training. It was one of the highlights of my ministry experience to visit in 2009, as I saw a great openness to the gospel in a totally new context. 

Since the conference attendees are subsistence farmers who don’t live in a cash economy, they need assistance with funding the conference expenses. Our part in sponsoring the conference is $35/pastor or $6,000. Since the Global Outreach budget had to be cut for 2015, designated gifts are needed to fund this. Checks can be made to Tenth Presbyterian Church with “Thailand Conference” on the memo line. We will definitely need your prayers as we enter spiritual warfare and dangerous conditions.

Why should Tenth care about a conference in Thailand? Without adequate training, no effective leaders will be formed. False teaching will arise without it being recognized as such. As it is, some church leaders do not clearly understand the gospel themselves. When I was there in 2009, several church leaders professed faith in Christ upon hearing my preaching. Those who have not been trained in proper means for evangelism are often driven out of the villages they try to evangelize, so they need proper training.

The immediate need for the conference is a part of a greater hope for Thailand. If financial support for the evangelists can be secured, more churches can be established. Since the Karen do not have televisions, church activity becomes of primary importance and the central meeting place for the community. Then missionaries from the Karen can be sent to other peoples both near and far, such as to the Hmong and the Thai and to the neighboring countries of Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, and China. May God provide and use us to accomplish his will in Thailand and beyond.

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