Watch a video of Nukhan Latsaboon's baptism. (Windows Media Player required)
BORABU, Thailand (Mennonite Mission Network) – For years, the dark, shadowy figure haunted Nukhan Latsaboon when she was asleep and when she was awake. The spirit would chase her and choke her, until she could bear no more.
This year, on Easter Sunday, Latsaboon stepped into the waters of a lake near the village of Koklang, Thailand. For two years, the presence had left her alone. For two years, since she accepted Christ, she had been at peace.
The Easter morning baptism she shared with her sister and another man from her village thanked Jesus for her deliverance.
Contextualization key to Thai ministry
Easter celebrations at Living Water Church in Borabu, Thailand, began and ended with water. Between the baptisms that began the morning and the songkran water blessings that ended it, church members used their own traditions – and some borrowed from others – to honor the savior who is changing lives across Borabu.
Much of the work of the Living Water congregation involves placing Christianity into the Isaan culture, which makes up much of northeastern Thailand and Laos. Other than the occasional hymn, most of the music uses traditional Isaan instrumentation and melodies.
Some Thais believe that Christians evangelize to spread Western culture, not religion. Nukhan Latsaboon’s husband, a Buddhist who thus far vehemently has resisted Christianity, is one of those skeptics.
Presenting a savior who feels at home in Thailand eliminates the contextual barriers that would apply to a “Western” religion, according to mission worker Pat Houmphan. For Easter communion, the bread and wine of the gospels became balls of sticky rice and small cups of krajiep (rosella juice).
A Thai New Year tradition includes ceremonial washings of possessions and people to ritually clean away the previous year’s dirt. At the end of the Easter service, Living Water leaders used it to celebrate Christ washing away sins, simultaneously blessing the elders.
As older members sat in a row, church members filed past, said a few words of blessing and slowly poured flower petal-scented water over the elders’ hands, head or shoulders.
Still, some Western traditions blend into the Thai context. The Living Water children colored eggs for an egg hunt. The eggs then became part of a congregational fellowship meal following the service.
Pat Houmphan, who serves in Borabu with his wife, Rad, through Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness, said spiritual forces are quite real to the Isaan people of northeastern Thailand and Laos. Both Houmphans grew up in Laos and moved to Canada before deciding to return to the Isaan region as mission workers.
Houmphan said most Thais follow a mixture of Buddhism and animism. They believe that spirits exist all around them and can greatly influence their lives.
Many non-Christian households and businesses build small spirit houses on their properties to placate those forces. Several of Latsaboon’s friends and relatives worshiped the being that followed her, offering gifts and other appeasements. They thought this spirit would bring them luck, but it brought only torment for Latsaboon.
Other members of Living Water Church share similar stories of oppressive forces overwhelming their lives until they believed. But not every Thai believer seeks Christ to escape spirits.
Two years ago, Seng Sanglao had been ill, weak with diabetes and drinking to escape the weariness of life. Prasan, Latsaboon’s father, told him that Jesus could help. After consideration, Sanglao chose to follow Christ.
Instead of drinking, he now takes his medication and prays. On Easter Sunday, Houmphan and Living Water pastor Samarn Senavong baptized him with Latsaboon and her sister Bee.
“Today I say, ‘Thank you, God,’ that he leads me to this point to give me a happy life,” Sanglao told the congregation. As if to prove his point, he stood to dance to a traditional Thai tune, arms swaying rhythmically in praise to God.
Latsaboon sat quietly through much of the dancing, nursing Ming, her 15-week-old daughter. Her two children also are signs of her deliverance from evil.
While the spirit tormented her, Latsaboon hated herself, her life. Fighting the presence caused her to fight others, often her boyfriend (now her husband). Her terror and anger caused her to want to destroy life. Three times, she became pregnant. Three times, she aborted the child.
The third abortion nearly killed her.
The presence that haunted her sometimes would be dressed as a policeman and sometimes wore white. The presence followed Latsaboon to Bangkok where she worked in a clothing factory. It returned with her to her village near Borabu.
Prasan, Latsaboon’s father, has been a Christian for 40 years. Instead of suggesting she appease this spirit, he encouraged her to seek healing through Jesus. Latsaboon thought Jesus was useless until finally, nearly two years ago, she had nowhere left to turn. She cried to the God that created the world and could remove her fear.
After speaking to Houmphan and other church members, out went her charms and talismans that had been futile against the spirit – statues of respected Buddhist monks, a piece of cadaver flesh wrapped in aluminum foil. In their stead, Latsaboon placed her trust in the Lord.
“Now that I believe in Jesus, my fear is gone and those evil spirits have stopped bothering me,” she said. “I feel I am bigger than those evil spirits. … God is protecting me.”
Latsaboon’s husband does not share her faith (see sidebar) but has not tried to keep her from the church she attends with many family members. Following the Easter service, she sat with Bee and a songbook. As her father played the pin – a three-stringed instrument tuned to a minor key, the young women sang, learning songs of praise so they are equipped to lead songs in worship and lead others to Christ.