'The water is at the knee level inside my house and at waist level on the street… Food and clean water are expensive and in short supply… The flood water is so dirty and has germs in it… There is water everywhere: huts and houses, markets and department stores, factories and shops, schools and universities, hospitals and temples. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, old or young, healthy or sick, the water doesn’t care…’ Soontaree, Bangkok City (www.ilsc.com/blog).
This was back in October 2011 when severe flooding inundated one third of Thailand including large areas of the capitol Bangkok. Some churches in the city responded tirelessly to support those affected but Pastor Aat* tells me that sadly many ‘churches were very slow to engage with the flooding’. We’re sharing lunch some seven years on in a small restaurant in the heart of Bangkok.
On one level I can understand why churches here may have been slow to respond to the crisis. The Christian church is small, just 1.4% of the total population, and the understanding of many churches here is that ‘social issues are not our role’. Yet as followers of Jesus we are called to live as he lived with a passion for justice and practical compassion for those in need. Pastor Aat puts it this way: ‘The ‘gospel’ (the good news about Jesus) permeates every area of life’.
How can we help people like Pastor Aat to encourage more of the church in Thailand to live out the fullness of the good news in every area of life? Here’s three thoughts:
Good thinking and good practice We need good thinking about what our faith really means for, as Pastor Aat explains, ‘teach the gospel [in all its fullness] and everything else follows’. This needs to be shared both with current church leaders and also with those preparing at theological colleges. We also need to share examples of good practice in living out our faith in love.
And the two strands, thinking and practice, can helpfully come together. For instance theological students can engage in and reflect on practical community work. In north Thailand some theological students realised that one hill tribe community was travelling 18km to collect rice. Reflecting on Jesus’ compassion for people living in poverty resulted in the students working with the community to build a small warehouse to store rice at the village.
Encourage a movement Pastor Aat was not aware of some other people with a similar heart in northern Thailand and they weren’t aware of him. However when linked together there is the opportunity to learn from one another (Proverbs 27v17), encourage one another (Hebrews 10v25) and see God’s blessing poured out on and through our unity (Psalm 133).
Pray big Even though the church is comparatively small in Thailand, our God is able to do amazing things as ‘nothing is impossible with God’ (Luke 1v37) including using what can seem small and inadequate in incredible ways. The boy with five loaves and two fish probably didn’t expect Jesus to use it to feed over 5,000 people...