Culture and the Biblical World

When we first moved to Thailand, multiple people in Thailand told us that Thai culture is closer to Biblical culture than American culture is. It was preached that way and widely spread in the church we serve. Multiple reasons were given: first, Thailand is an agricultural society, even if Bangkok is not, most people come from small towns/ villages or have family there. Second, the Thai people are highly aware of the spiritual world and how spirits interact with this physical world. From these basic tenets, it was then assumed that Thai people would have an inherently easier time understanding the Bible and what Jesus taught.

While I love the heart of what these people said, I have to respectfully disagree with them. After living in Thailand for over 4 years, I believe that American culture, foundationally, not superficially, is closer to Biblical culture. Yes, we don’t understand farming very well, if at all. Most Americans try to ignore, or deny, the existence of spirits.

We have many problems with our culture that are not Biblical, and we need Jesus to transform. But the foundation of our culture is built from the same foundation that made up the world Jesus lived in. Today we call it a Judeo-Christian worldview. On the other hand, Thai culture is built on a Buddhist worldview and it effects all parts of life and how people interact with each other.

Let me example this for you with a story. In America we have an axiom, do to others what you would want them to do to you. It is a Biblical principle, but it is a pervasive idea. People think of others and how they might feel or think when they interact with them. I know it’s not every time, but Americans tend to think about other people’s feelings and reactions. In Thailand, that is not so. I recently rode the bus to visit some friends up north with Ellie. On the way back, the lady in front of me decided she wanted to take a nap so she laid her chair as far back as it would go. She never turned around to see if someone was behind her or how much space I had. Well, I was so squished that I couldn’t even move my legs or get out of the chair. People will regularly come up to Ellie and get in her face or grab her, even if she’s trying to say no or stop. They’re not thinking of her feelings, but what they want.

Ultimately, we God to transform us from whatever culture we are in to be Biblical in the way we live.

Face Time Matters

At some level we all understand ministry flows out of relationship. We are able to serve people through relationship and influence out of the relational equity we have with people. Relationship underpins everything in mission and ministry. Yet how relationships play out varies from context to context.

Building relations and connecting through social media helps, but I still like a pat on the back…and a kick in the pants conveyed digitally doesn’t ever go well.

I find that in a nation like Thailand, face time matters so much more. As I assumed the lead pastor role at Our Home Chapel, I found immediately the importance of face time. As soon as I walk into the office, people come in wanting to seek advice, ask questions, give advice, share stories, ask for money, and the list goes on. We could accomplish much of this work over the phone or on email, but nothing really happens until you can meet face to face or in person. The Thai literally say your body is there with you when you talk together. Maybe we take for granted the nonverbal parts of communication and enjoy the phone and other digital means of communication as Westerners, but in Asia, presence matters. Maybe we miss how observant Thai people are to the subtle nuances of the nonverbal may exist.

People call Thailand the land of smiles due in no small part to the varied smiles a Thai person can have. In Thailand, there are said to be nine kinds of smiles, including the smile that means I am going to kill you. When we realize how much gets lost in translation over the phone or via secondary modes of communication, I get why face time is so important. I have come to find that decisions don’t get made or deals don’t get finalized until you meet in person with people. I have seen the power of being present with people when we went south to visit a couple that we want to coach in church planting. We just need to be present with each other. Maybe this limits our future growth potential numerically, but a greater potential for deep discipleship, leading to a multiplication of growth.

How do you see the presence of in person in relationship valuable?

Children’s Day

Children’s Day is an important day of celebration in Thailand. Everyone pauses to think about the future, and those that are the future of the country, children.

There are fun celebrations to take your kids to, many of them free for children, as well as speeches from politicians. Thailand wants to have a country that their children will be able to be successful in and proud of. Children’s Day is a day to look forward to the future, and honor those who will make it great.

For Ellie’s first Children’s Day, we took her to the park and then to Toy’s R Us and bought her a small toy. We then went to dinner at her favorite restaurant in Thailand, Sizzler, where fruit and veggies are plentiful and she can drop as much as she wants and get new for an entire meal.

At church we wanted to honor and bless the children. The service revolved around them with games, clowns, and many object lessons. The service finished with each child pairing up with one adult praying a blessing over them. After service, “Jack” was baptized and each child received a gift. As you might have guessed, no holiday could center on children without having gifts.

Do you think that the United States should have a Children’s Day?

Standing Alone

I wanted to share this story from our newsletter here on the blog. It is a story of a young boy, we’ll call him Jack. Jack, at age nine, has already faced difficulty beyond our wildest imaginations. He has grown up in a nearby slum to the church, been given to a foster family when his mom no longer could care for him, and abused by his caretakers. His rough upbringing caused him to in turn act out and hurt those around him. Yet this is not even a glimpse of the child I know now. When his extended family no longer wanted him nor could handle him, the church stepped in and took him. The church is trying to find a good orphanage, but the only available ones are state run places with unlivable conditions. For years, the church has gone into the communities around us in Bangkok to bring hope and love through skills training, after-school tutoring and other examples of tangible love.

When Jack received the genuine love and mercy of the children’s ministry, it took him little time to also accept the saving work of Jesus in his life.

His slow transformation came to fruition the other day at school. The second term of the school year began late due to the overwhelming flood crisis, so when the children finally got back to school, they needed to get reoriented. Jack still attends school near his family’s slum in which there are a number of Muslim families as well. At the beginning of the school, the teacher wanted to make two groups of students for daily religious activities. She began by having the children make two lines, Buddhist and Muslim. Jack found himself standing alone after all the other children found their place. Perplexed, the teacher asked Jack why he hadn’t chosen a side, thinking maybe he was a bit slow in the head. Jack gained his composure and said, you called for the Buddhist students and Muslim students, but you never called for the Christian students. I am a Christian, and I have no line to get in.  He stood alone in the room as the only one of his classmates who belonged to Jesus.

When is a time you had to stand up for your faith? What happened then?