Christianity Part of Religious Rituals in Bangkok

Everyone is still trying to heal from the recent events in Thailand, especially Bangkok. The past week has thrown Bangkok into a mental uneasiness. They are looking for ways to bring unity and good luck. Today, the city government will hold a religious ceremony. When I first saw that, I knew it would be Buddhist. I read the article to see more, and I was surprised to see it included many other religions, including Hindu, Sikh, even Christianity. The Buddhist portion of the ceremony is by far the longest and given the most credence, but Christianity was still included. This is amazing as the Christian witness in Thailand is less than 2 percent. This just shows that God is moving in Thailand and the government is open, or at least tolerant, of Christianity.

Bangkok Cleaning Up

After 10 weeks of protest by the red-shirts, mostly the rural poor, that culminated in violent clashes, arrests and buildings burning, Bangkok is putting the pieces back together. The worst of the present protest has passed, but the beginning of reconciliation has only begun. One can look at the pictures of Bangkok, seeing a shopper’s paradise, the largest mall in Southeast Asia, burned out and tanks roaming through Lumpini Park, a beautiful spot in the heart of the city and see scars marring the urban center of Thailand.

There are similar wounds marring the hearts of the Thai people, largely regarded as kind, generous and averse to violence. The Thai identity has been shaken as they ask the question, how could we do this to our own people? The rift goes deep, and the future uncertain. For now, the wounds are being healed and the tears drying up.

Tonight is the last night of curfew. Businesses are going back to work. The schools will reopen again next week. As we talked with one of our good friends in Thailand, he said things are almost okay. No one really will be okay for a while, but life is returning to normal.

Many of the members of the church where we serve were hanging out together eating lunch yesterday; looking forward to what God will do in this broken country. The unknown leaves a wide open path for the gospel, a story of good news, to be shared with the Thai people. As the Thais recovered from the terrible violence of the past 2 months, we pray that God brings peace and justice to the hearts endives of Thai people.

Continue to pray for Thailand, as this was just a battle in an ongoing struggle for power between the rich urbanites and the poor and oppressed. Don’t let the story fade from your prayers as these precious people work for solutions and stability in their country.

Protests in May

Bangkok went from bad to worse yesterday. The protesters clad in red decided to set fire to the city before being removed from their encampment in the downtown area. At 1:15 pm the red shirt leaders turned themselves in for arrest. A couple of hours later the remaining protesters set fire to buildings in the surrounding areas, like the largest mall in the city (Central World), movie theaters, shopping centers and more. They also went after government buildings in the other major cities in the north and northeast.

When the fires started, the fire trucks could not get to Central World for more than two hours, because snipers prevented their path. I wonder which side the snipers stand with as they have prevented either side from doing anything productive.

Our friends in Thailand are under great anxiety and concern for their country. Uneasiness turned to pure sadness and worry. Everyone who saw the trouble coming crowded the stores gathering water and food for the few days of anarchy. The government enacted curfew last night and again for tonight from 8pm to 6 am. This is a hard curfew, with the US Embassy warning that soldiers have been given permission to shot people on sight.

Many stores have been ransacked and now are closed. 7/11’s, which can be found on every corner of Bangkok, are usually open at all hours but are now only open until 6 pm. The center where our school and church meet has closed temporarily. We get to participate in a tangible way by allowing the girls from the center to stay at our apartment.

Pray, pray and pray again when you think of the sweet people of Thailand stuck between this political battle. As fires rage, arrests take away the leading protesters and chaos unfolds, we seek peace in the midst of turmoil.

Thailand Protests: Helplessness Leads to True Hope

Hopelessness often leads to talking about real hope. The political turmoil in Bangkok has shaken Thai people out of a comfort they have lived with for generations. When the global economy tanked in late 2008, the yellow-shirts were working hard to protest and throw out the elected party. The protest ramped up to closing down the Bangkok airport for a week and causing many to reconsider their allegiance with the yellow shirts after seeing Thailand lose a lot of business and tourism.

Since then, the political fight has gone back-and-forth with each side protesting the other and protesters protesting the protesters. Red-shirts support the former Prime Minister, Thaksin and his ideology for a government. Yellow-shirts support the constitutional monarchy, the government as it has been. Now, a group of multi-colored shirts from the business district basically oppose the red-shirts with their acronym on Twitter being ABR (Anything But Red).

Thai people feel the situation is hopeless. When one-side takes power, the other side will fight indefinitely until they can regain power. Round-and-round they go on this unending political merry-go-round. They have lost hope in the stability, provision and protection of their government.

We noticed in the past 15 months that Thai people have become much more receptive to the message of Jesus, so we asked the local Thai pastor at the church we serve, Our Home Chapel, what he thinks. He said that the Thai Christians can talk to their friends about what true hope is. They can talk to them about Jesus as their friends have lost hope in a good job, the economy, a government that takes care of the people and the comfortable life they have lived. I always have said when life is uncertain; people will gravitate toward something certain sure. But in talking with the pastor, I received an insight into the specifics of what the Thai people have lost in these uncertain times. We see the current time as a window of opportunity for the kingdom of God to bring light into a dark situation. I don’t mean to be glib or make this out as an easy moment, but I see an opportunity to be seized.

We have seen many more people asking questions around the church, and many of the deciding to walk with Jesus. Baptisms are more frequent. Thai people are looking for something to hold onto as chaos has unsettled their foundation. Often, difficult circumstances lead people to find a solution or something different…and they find Jesus.

Keep praying that God will make himself known in this time and bring peace to the situation. Pray for no more violence.

Tension Remains High in Bangkok

Tensions in Thailand remain high as anti-government protesters maintain their call for parliament to dissolve. Six weeks of protests have left Bangkok mired in political unrest. Three clashes that led to violence have been called isolated incidents as neither side wants to see anyone hurt. The longer the protest drags on, the harder it will be to keep it that way.

The Red-shirts supporting the former Prime Minister, Thaksin and his call for reform have camped out downtown near one of the business districts. They have closed down the fanciest mall in Bangkok and some other surrounding shopping centers.

Here is a funny political cartoon about the protesters.

Two incidents that had grenades launched into the soldiers the first time and innocent Sky Train riders the second time have been rumored to be initiated by a third party. A third incident happened yesterday as security forces clashed with protesters on the northern edge of Bangkok. Rubber bullets were shot wounding a handful of people and one soldier was shot by a stray bullet from a police officer, killing him.

As the turmoil ebbs and flows in the heart of Bangkok, the Bangkokians are growing board of the fight. Many have stopped reading the news, and now wish to avoid talking about politics. The first few weeks everyone gave their opinion as the politics were quite interesting.  Now they just want it to go away, and they oppose everyone, unless they hold strongly to one of the sides.

Before this government was in power, the red-shirts allies held office. Their prime minister received protests from the yellow-shirts to the point of closing down the international airport, a hub of travel and import/export for the region.

We avoid discussing political issues and more than that getting close to where the protests are taking place. Every now and again we will see red-shirts or soldiers pass by where we live. We are staying informed and alert to keep safe.

Demo-crazy…No, I Mean Democracy

Demo-crazy, no it is pronounced democracy with an s sound, I told the students at English Clinic as they misspoke the word. As I was distinguishing the correct pronunciation, I realized that might be an apt description of things in Bangkok right now.

When things don’t go the way a segment of the Thai population wants, they go to the streets looking to oust the sitting party, or at least the prime minister. We have been here three years and seen four prime ministers seated after throwing out Thaksin on charges of corruption in September of 2006.

The military let corruption go for a while, but took over when things went too far. The country seized his assets and tanks rolled onto the streets in a bloodless coup, one of 18 in the past 30 years.

About 18-months ago, the country started to slide back into democrazy when the party aligned with Thaksin won the elections. Samak took over as Prime Minister. However, he continued to be a judge on a cooking show violating a technicality in the constitution. The Prime Minister cannot take any pay for second jobs. He received reimbursement for his travel. The Opposition party donned yellow shirts and marched outside the government buildings. In response, the pro-Thaksin side put on red-shirts and protested the protesters. The unrest caused the courts to expedite the case against Samak that would have probably taken years to see the light of day. They ruled he violated the law and must step down.

That put Thaksin’s brother-in-law in as Prime Minister, causing the yellow shirts all the more consternation. They marched to the airport shutting down the hub of SE Asia for a week, stranding many a tourist. Thankfully it opened up in time for us to get out for Christmas. At this point, the Times of London put Thailand up as the 7th most dangerous country to visit, an overreaction, as danger was low, but instability high.

The government fell apart. Minority parties switched sides and gave the yellow shirts the government. Abhisit, more of a moderate, came in as Prime Minister. Things settled down for a few months, but at Songkran last year, the riots started again. Last year’s Thai New Year was called the Black Songkran as busses were tipped over and gas tankers were lit on fire. These are only some of the highlights, or low lights, of democracy as practiced in Thailand. As one person put it recently, the Thai people have lived in constant anxiety over the past couple of years.

The red-shirts, as they are known, took this last month to march on Bangkok trying to disband the government. They have marched around Bangkok and gathered crowds outside the government buildings. People worried that the red-shirts would duplicate the yellow shirts and close the airport, so the military proactively put checkpoints everywhere. This time they took the prospect of an airport closure seriously. One of my friends joked recently; the real way to make an impact would be to close the malls. The malls being opened have always marked the coup with irony. When protesters have gone crazy or the tanks rolled out a few years ago, everyone just went to the big malls for air conditioning and an escape from worry.

This is the environment where the students called the government, demo-crazy. The red-shirts had closed down the business section of Bangkok including the two biggest malls and some secondary shopping districts. They also broke into the parliament and election commission. Things are escalating, including the rhetoric. Demo-crazy would be an apt way to describe the current situation.

Airport to begin emptying of protesters

With the Prime Minister of Thailand being sacked, the protesters will be leaving as of 10 am, Wednesday morning., after more than one week of beseiging the International Bangkok airport. Flights will begin flying in a few days if everything goes as planned (which is the key phrase).

now we will get in line with nearly 250,000 stranded tourists and get to So Cal for Christmas, departing Dec. 13.

The question will be what does Thaksin’s supporters do next. The political struggle is not over, so continue to pray for the country.