This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Martyrs relevant in Thailand

DET UDOM, Thailand — A simple open-air pavilion at the Life Enrichment Church Center served as the location for the third Thai Anabaptist Gathering Sept. 27-Oct. 1.

Most of the 150 people who attended were Thai, Isaan and Lao first-generation believers from a Buddhist background who are growing in Anabaptist identity.

Participants at the Thai Anabaptist Gathering drew inspiration from martyrs of the past to face today’s challenges. — Virginia Mennonite Missions
Participants at the Thai Anabaptist Gathering drew inspiration from martyrs of the past to face today’s challenges. — Virginia Mennonite Missions

Historian and missiologist Richard Showalter shared stories of believers from Pentecost to the present who, in the face of adversity, have borne witness and made disciples in obedience to Jesus’ instruction in Acts 1:8, the event’s theme verse: “You shall be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth.”

Participants were thrilled to hear stories of Asians taking the gospel to other Asians. They nodded empathetically upon hearing how early believers met in caves and seeing photos of present-day Kenyans meeting under trees. Groans rose as Showalter described the fortitude of Christian martyrs Candida, Perpetua, Felicitas and Michael Sattler.

For the Lao participants, who have to be prepared to face adversity daily, including threats of injury and imprisonment, the material was especially relevant.

“The gospel itself is a story of good emerging from great suffering,” said one rice farmer and church leader. “Why should we expect the story to play out differently in our lives?”

Showalter’s challenge was clear: “Are we ready in our generation to identify ourselves with the Anabaptists of 500 years ago? That is what it means to be an Anabaptist Christian.”

All participants related in some way to one of the Anabaptist mission agencies with workers in Thailand, seven of which were represented at the meeting: Brethren in Christ World Mission, Mennonite Church Canada Witness, Eastern Mennonite Missions, Hopewell Network, Mennonite Brethren Mission, Rosedale Mennonite Missions and Virginia Mennonite Missions.

The vision for this event and the two that preceded it in 2011 and 2014 was carried primarily by the Thailand Anabaptist Reference Council, composed of workers from mission agencies.

The enthusiasm and planning initiative for such events is passing to the local leaders. Nahta­nong Silachotboriboon (Pastor Naht), a Mennonite Brethren leader from Chachaoengsao, is beginning to think how she and the cluster of churches in her area might host the next event.

“I would prefer a format with less material and more discussion time,” Pastor Naht said. “But this content was so excellent, affirming the validity of the small and the simple ways that we meet together as church.”

Agency contributions and a grant from the Mennonite Endowment Fund covered Showalter’s expenses and 100 preliminary copies of his book, Footprints of God: Disciples Making Disciples to the Ends of the Earth, translated into Thai.

What Is an Anabaptist Christian? was translated into Thai in conjunction with the 2011 event with guest speaker Palmer Becker.

“From these stories, I realize that we are not limited,” said Life Enrichment Church leader SomjaiPhantaa. “We can raise leaders. We can worship in homes. And every drop of blood that falls to the ground is like a seed that bursts forth into life. There is never a time when the Spirit stops working or the Word loses its power.”

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