Mai-treejit Sawang-dandin church is located in Sakon Nakorn, a region in northeastern Thailand. It is commonly known as the barren region. Numerous people of all working ages move here to work in the big city, where they can earn a decent income to support themselves and their families.
Noppadol and Ladda Surin were a young couple who had just graduated from Bible school and had come to serve God in this area. The first time they held a Sunday service at Mai-treejit Sawang-dandin church, there were only five members in the congregation.
As they walked away from the church grounds after the service, they could see the large Buddhist temples that surrounded the community and the church. They silently prayed,
“What can we do to bring salvation to the people in this community?”
“The villagers considered Christianity a western religion, and building in-depth relationships with them was initially very difficult. Another major concern was that the villagers were strong Buddhists, and there were temples existing in every village,” explains Pastor Noppadol.
About 98 percent of the communities in Sakon Nakorn are Buddhist. Every morning it is common to see villagers waiting along the road in front of their houses to make merit by putting food into the bowls of Buddhist priests as they collect their alms for the day.
In every Buddhist ceremony, the community gathers together to celebrate for the entire day, much in the same way holidays such as Christmas are celebrated in western cultures. Everyone in the community participates in helping and preparing for the ceremony weeks in advance. The community’s collective effort ensures the ceremony is a success.
In this environment, the church needed some help to reach out to the poor and bring glory to God. Compassion provided the solution.
Mai-treejit Sawang-dandin church partnered with Compassion Thailand in 2003 and registered 80 children living in five Buddhist-stronghold communities.
The first year was extremely difficult. The church was constantly being scrutinized by the community, especially by the parents. Many parents were wondering how the center would affect their child. They were not accepting and trusting of the church.
“Some parents scorned their children when they heard them singing worship songs or praying before their meals. Several parents would say to their child ‘the church has brainwashed you,’” says Ladda, the center Director.
On Sundays, there are two services at the church: one for the adults and one for the children, which is called the Children’s Church.
The Children’s Church begins with a time of worship. Then a Bible lesson is taught, which focuses on the children and aims to engage them enough to sit still and listen for an hour and a half. About 25 Christian children attend the children’s church regularly.
Mai-treejit Sawang-dandin church has been growing steadily since partnering with Compassion. Once having only five church members, the church now has more than 60 members who have regularly attended the past six years.
During the summer, many parents in the community take their sons to be ordained in Buddhist temples for one or two months because the monks at these temples take care of their sons while the parents are at work. The temples provide their sons with a place to sleep, food to eat, and also offer some religious education.
To offer an alternative, the church organizes a youth camp. On the last day of this camp, Pastor Noppadol challenges the children to have a personal relationship with God. So far children have decided to receive God into their lives.
In the six years Mai-treejit Sawang-dandin church has been partnering with Compassion,it has brought more than 32 children to Christ.
God often works through little children to expand His kingdom. Eight families also have come to Christ even though they receive resistance from their communities. Their neighbors mock the believers. Critical members of the community repeatedly say things like, “You have gone crazy,” and often exclude the new believers from the village.
God used Boonson’s grandson to bring her to Him. Apiwat and Boonson, his grandmother and caregiver, have been attending the church together for three years now.
“I told my grandmother every day about God because I wanted her to go to church,” Apiwat says. “I felt sad and cried when I saw her drinking.”
“I used to think that I had already had a religion and that I did not want to change my beliefs,” says Boonson. “But after I saw and experienced the major transformation in my grandson’s life, I knew that I, too, had to become a Christian. The church is filled with love and peace. I feel warm every time I go there.”
Despite their community’s criticism, each believer in the church still has a strong faith in God and doesn’t express regret over his or her decision.
The harvesting of God’s people takes time, energy and strong determination. God has never disappointed His faithful servants. He always works things out for the better in His time.