Reaching Thai students with the Gospel is vital to reaching that part of the world
By Allen Palmeri
December 16, 2003
JEFFERSON CITY – As International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries go, Sedalia , Missouri ’s Tim Owens can think of no better place for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to be concentrating on than his post: Bangkok , Thailand .
“There aren’t many places in the world where I can have a job this big," said Owens, who has been stationed in this strategic area for 16 years with his wife, Jill. Like all Southern Baptist foreign missionaries, they rely on Lottie Moon Christmas Offering gifts to sustain their ministry.
In a city of 11 million people, Owens serves as strategy coordinator for one million university students. His focus is to raise-up indigenous leaders on 30 campuses so that the 10/40 Window, the region where 95 percent of the world’s unreached people groups and cities are located, can be saturated with the Gospel.
“These students in Bangkok are strategic for impacting Southeast Asia with the Gospel," Owens told The Pathway while home on furlough this fall. Plans call for him to return to Thailand in early 2004.
“Bangkok is the most modern point of Indochina, and its universities produce the most influential segment of society in Bangkok – students. Once these one million students graduate and get work experience, they are marketable anywhere in Southeast Asia in terms of work, and can use their church planting experience in college to plant churches much easier than a Westerner could in these closed countries."
Tim and Jill spent the first 10 years of their ministry in Thailand targeting young married families. That decade became the foundation of a ministry that has blossomed into something more. Fruit has come out of the last six years as they have trained university students as church planters.
“We have seen a congregation of over 100 students planted in Bangkok , with small cell groups that are Thai-led meeting on three university campuses and in the city itself," Owens said. “Some of these cells are now second generation. The leader of the new church has taken a mission trip to encourage Burmese pastors and is planning a trip to Laos and Cambodia ."
The IMB’s strategy in Bangkok has been to encourage American ministry teams to come over for two months at a time in an attempt to connect with Thai students. One of those American collegiate ministry leaders is Rich Casebolt, a member of Faith Community Church , Kansas City, a Missouri Baptist Convention-affiliated church. Casebolt has served three two-month terms in Thailand in 1999, 2001 and 2003.
“In a lot of ways, Americans are magnets," Casebolt said. “We’re automatically honey, so to speak, for the bees."
Thai college students are generally shy, bashful and immature, Casebolt said. When they see an American they want to participate in a cultural exchange. The key for the American short-term missionary is to figure out which students to prioritize.
“I finally got my feet under me (this year) and I learned how to make the most out of two months," he said.
Casebolt spent his first summer at Dhurakitbundit University , his second at Sripatum University and his third at Suan Sunandha University . Total enrollment for all three: 57,000.
“You’re swarmed by people in white outfits," he said, recalling how he met a Thai student nicknamed “Gahn," who came to Christ on an evangelistic retreat in a beach setting midway through the summer. On Sunday, a Thai pastor shared the Gospel and Gahn converted to Christianity.
“It was one of the only times I can remember of someone trusting Christ while I was still there," Casebolt said. “A lot of times it happened while I left."
Casebolt got to disciple a Thai believer named “Nut" who converted from Buddhism to Christianity through the influence of a couple of IMB journeymen. Nut served as Casebolt’s translator over this past summer.
“He’s a great friend," Casebolt said. “He’s a great example of indigenous work."
Even so, getting a Thai Christian to lead in a new church, which is one of the IMB’s goals through Owens, is not easy. Siam is one such man who has been conditioned by the Thai culture not to show off.
“He is far more adept to be preaching than me, and I told him that," Casebolt said. “His immediate reply is, ‘I can’t preach. I don’t have a degree.’"
Reaching Thai leaders like Gahn, Nut and Siam is vital if Christians are serious about reaching the world with the Gospel, Owens said. Bangkok is like a key that can be turned to unlock a door of opportunity.
“To impact Bangkok is to be able to impact Saudi Arabia , Iran , China and India ," Owens said.
“Bangkok has the freedom for Westerners to communicate the Gospel broadly and the arteries that connect with the mainstream cities of the 10/40 Window, and the universities of Bangkok have the students who can be reached to become an army of laborers to traverse those arteries that fill Bangkok and then go out into Indochina and the 10/40 Window. I know of no other world-class city on earth that affords an opportunity with this mix."
For more information on short-term mission trips to Thailand , contact Owens at email@example.com.