Our time in Bangkok has come to an end. We finished teaching our classes last week and another team from America arrived to help the school teach the next session of classes that started earlier this week. We had one final event to spend time with students and before we left. Our Fourth of July celebration was our last farewell to the friends we made at the school.
Throughout our time in Bangkok, we learned many things about ourselves. Despite many barriers and cultural differences, it was remarkable how quickly we adapted. Within a week and a half, we established a routine of teaching classes, spending weekends on day trips and outings, and eating with students almost every night. It is incredible how quickly we formed new routines to get comfortable in a foreign culture. Looking back, the initial hardships of sleeping on the floor, sporadic food illness, and oppressive heat and humidity are very distant. It is amazing how faithful God was in giving us strength and grace to persevere through fatigue, sickness, and cultural barriers.
The hardest thing of all was leaving our new friends. Family and friends are very important in Thai culture. For Thai Christians, friendships with other believers are even more important because the national and family identity of Thai people is Buddhist. Identifying as a Christian isolates the Thai person from their country, often separating them from their own family. So for Christians in Thailand and places like it, the church is their family. Witnessing this dramatically impacted my understanding of the church. Even though I am a foreigner and did not know these people before this trip, I was welcomed into the family.
Thinking about this, the words of 1 Peter 2:4-5 come to mind:
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
This scripture has helped me to understand the beauty of the church. The church is not a physical building of brick and mortar, but the living stones of believers. The collective church is constructed to serve and worship Christ, a mission that is fulfilled not only during Sunday morning services, but in our daily lives. We do this in community, living life with a purpose of glorifying God and pointing others to Him. In Thailand, I saw this play out in sharing my testimony, having encouraging (and sometimes hard) conversations, sharing meals, going to markets, and playing games together. Many students at the school noticed that this uplifting community of Christians is dramatically different from their social circles. One of my students told me that the people at the school are his real friends. He would spend spent as much time as he could around us. This is the largest difference that I have noticed about ministry in Thailand; a strong community of Christians welcomes unbelievers into that community. Immersion in the community gives opportunity for unbelievers to ask questions and learn about Christ as Christians live out their faith.
The reality is I love Thailand. More than anything else, I cherish the relationships that I have with the people there. I have seen the love of Christ in other Christians as they sacrificed their own time and resources to meet our needs. This is just a glimpse of the beautiful family that we will have in heaven. For those who do not follow Christ, they cannot receive salvation or be a member of this family. We are to cherish the community that we have in Christ, but our job is not done yet. We are to teach others about the work of Christ and pray that God work in their hearts so that they can also be part of God’s family with us.
I am so honored to have been able to see this in a cross cultural setting, and I cannot wait to see how God continues to bring others into the family of Christ.
- Noah Schuetz