BORABUR, Thailand (Mennonite Mission Network/Mennonite Church Canada Witness) — When 12-year-old Tum first came to English camp, he was what Rad Houmphan calls “a very naughty boy.” He disobeyed his teachers and didn't want to pay attention.
All the children who come to the annual English camp are invited to attend Living Water Church in Borabur. Tum was one who accepted the invitation. As he learned more about Jesus, his attitude began to change. He became obedient and listened well during the hour-long English lessons held before Sunday school. He showed genuine care for others and had a knack for knowing how to make them laugh. At his invitation, others also began to attend church.
First Christian funeral an opportunity to share Jesus
Traditional Thai funerals last several days and involve ceremonies by Buddhist monks. At night friends come to support the family, but much gambling and excessive drinking also takes place.
Living Water Church member Tia's funeral was different. Pat and Rad Houmphan held a Christian funeral for her, the first they have been invited to perform.
Songs, Scripture and prayer brought comfort to the family. One evening the Jesus film was shown to an audience of more than 140 to communicate the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
“Tia’s hope was that someone else in her family would come to know Jesus,” said Monica Epp. Epp and four others of Bethel Mennonite Church, Langley, British Colombia, were assisting with English camp during the time of the funeral and visited the family to show their support.
“It’s a blessing and honor to have foreigners come to your home,” Pat Houmphan said. Two family members have begun attending church since the funeral.
Each fall, mission workers Pat and Rad Houmphan give children like Tum an opportunity to learn about Jesus while improving their English-language skills through English camp.
This October, more than 210 children attended English camp in Ban Bo Yai, Borabur and Ban Daeng. Monica Epp, Jessica Horst, Charlene Redekop and Annette Wiebe of Bethel Mennonite Church, Langley, British Columbia, joined the Houmphans and a Thai national team from Living Water Church. The Canadians taught English using the creation story as a theme. The team led dramas and singing in Thai and helped translate.
“Working alongside the national team was an incredible experience,” Redekop said. “We became one big team with the common purpose of sharing Jesus with Isaan children.”
Epp and Redekop, who both taught at the camp three years ago, noticed the group of Christians working alongside the Houmphans has grown spiritually in recent years.
“The church in Borabur has been blessed with a team of committed and enthusiastic national leaders,” Redekop said. Two young adult women who assisted Redekop as translators in the past have since attended Bible college. Now Oratai and Ban Hon use their gifts in music, teaching and leadership for the church. Epp said the hope and purpose the new Christians have found in the knowledge of God’s love is quite different from the rest of Buddhist society.
But Pat Houmphan said many Christians continue to feel pressure from family and society to conform to traditional Buddhist practices and beliefs. Having foreign visitors is a great encouragement.
“The Thai church knows they aren’t alone, but have many brothers and sisters around the world that love, support and walk side-by-side with them,” he said.
Many children have never heard of Jesus before coming to English camp. Redekop developed a close relationship with one of her students, Noom. He arrived for class early each day and was eager to help her set up the classroom. After the week of lessons were over, he came to church for the first time. With friends and siblings in tow, he attended Sunday school, worship and a fellowship meal.
“We don’t always see the fruit of what we have done,” Redekop said. “That made the whole trip worthwhile.”
Horst said she hoped the children she taught would make connections with local believers who could maintain contact after the group left. “They’re at an age where relationships are a crucial part of their lives … and influence the type of person they will develop into,” she said.
In the past, the national team has continued building relationships long after the work team has returned home. While some adolescents hesitate to receive Jesus, others, like Tum, accept him into their lives. Rad Houmphan hopes that one day Tum and several other teenagers who have been regulars at church will choose to be baptized.
English camp and church involvement of new youngsters would not happen without the help of an international team, the Houmphans said. The encouragement, material resources and English-language skills they bring are invaluable. While the work is left in the competent hands of Thai believers throughout the following year, the two groups remain connected by prayer and a common desire to see the good news of Jesus shared with all people.