Bringing Christ to Buddhist Villagers

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.

group of children sitting and praying

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.

group of adults sitting and listening

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.

10 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Linda June 14, 2010

    Eric, Bob, & Helen:

    I am confident the children were not “forced” to pray & sing. And if the parent’s feel their children are being “brain-washed” they are certainly able to pull them from the program.

    There are not many truths, there is one truth. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

    If that sounds exclusive, it’s because it is. We do not ‘exclude’ other religions in an attempt to feel superior or to be mean-spirited. Followers of Christ simply believe what He said – that no one can be reconciled to God except through accepting the atoning blood of Jesus Christ and God’s gift of grace.

    The choice is there for people to believe or not to believe….
    I pray you will earnestly seek with an open mind, and find the Truth.

  2. Lisa June 9, 2010

    If you really believe that there are many pathways to truth, then why do you think it’s a bad thing that Compassion offer this community another option other than Buddhism? So Christianity has come to this community. Now the community members have a choice between Buddhism and Christianity. It sounds like some of the adults are seeing something in Christianity that they like and the Christian church is growing. Some will choose to stay with Buddhism.

  3. Helen June 9, 2010

    I completely agree with Eric and Bob. What makes you think Christianity is better for those people than Buddhism?
    People are not crops to be “harvested”. I am disgusted by what you are doing – you said yourself there was a strong community – “In every Buddhist ceremony, the community gathers together…Everyone in the community participates in helping and preparing…” Why would you want to break that up. It is narrow minded to think that there is only one path to the truth and that yours is it. There are many pathways to truth/love/whatever label you use. I pray for you – that you leave these communities to their own faiths and put your time and energy into broadening your own minds first.

  4. Mark January 23, 2010

    What is being done in this village is a real blessing, the core work of Christianity, which is the Great Commission, bringing more people to Christ, and making discriples of all nation.

    Eric and Bob, I see that you hate Christ. Why do you hate him? Have you really thought about it? Have you ever felt the call in your life? Christ’s atoning sacrifice was for all, including you. Ask yourself, if something as simple a Christian seeking to bring more people to Christ through sharing and persuasion is so threatening to you, why would that be? What makes Christian teaching seem more threatening to you than the Buddhist indoctrination the children would otherwise receive?

    Ask yourself these questions because there is an answer as to why the world hates Christians in a way that they don’t hate a thousand other religions.

    “If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours. But they will do all these things to you on account of My name, because they don’t know the One who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin. Now they have no excuse for their sin. The one who hates Me also hates My Father. If I had not done the works among them that no one else has done, they would not have sin. Now they have seen and hated both Me and My Father. But this happened so that the statement written in their law might be fulfilled: They hated Me for no reason.
    (Joh 15:18-25)

    Eric, Bob, and I other Christians will pray for you, that you might heed the call and live forever. And I will pray for this mission, that God will multiply their fruit for generations to come.

  5. Bob January 22, 2010

    Thank you Eric. What this church is doing is terrible.

    “Several parents would say to their child ‘the church has brainwashed you,’”

    That seems quite accurate.

  6. Eric January 9, 2010

    separating children from their families, taking advantage of impressionable minds… of course they weren’t “accepting and trusting of the church”. nor are they in need – thinking your religion is better than theirs is simply vanity. thumbs down.

  7. Juli Jarvis January 7, 2010

    Very interesting! It must be so difficult sharing truths in some communities…but I’m so thankful Compassion is out there to help these children & families in great need.

  8. Becky January 6, 2010

    First, excellent story!

    I have a clarification question: the text states ‘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.’

    Am I reading that correctly that the children sit still for 90 minutes for a Bible lesson? I can’t fathom sitting still that long for a Bible lesson as an adult! Perhaps their Bible lessons are much more interactive! Or, does that mean that the entire children’s church is 90 minutes and a portion of that is the Bible lesson? Thanks!

  9. Diana January 6, 2010

    This is a great story! Noppadol and Ladda Surin have done an amazing job to bring Christ to the region. This story reminds me of something my pastor said Sunday about when they first started the church, he and his wife prayed that God would bring them to the darkness, where Christ was needed most. That is what this couple did! They are truly glorifying God. They didn’t ask for an easy task, instead they are making a HUGE difference where Christianity is barely spoken of. Amazing!

    I understand somewhat of what it means to be mocked by community/family to be Christian. In just my immediate family, one parent (my mom) is Christian and the other (my dad) is not. There has been many a fight over the years about church, the time spend there, tithing, etc. One of my brothers also is not a believer. Sometimes it’s difficult, but I know God will us those of us in my family who are saved, to help the rest that aren’t. Christians are to be beacons of light in the world and a lot of times it starts within your family or community. I will never be able to fathom the magnitude of having your WHOLE community against you though. That is so hard. Thanks be to God that there are people like the Surins, as well as those who have joined the church, who are willing to stand up for Christ and make every effort to bring others into Christianity. God will honor their pleas.

  10. Amy Wallace January 6, 2010

    I come from a Christian family, so I can’t even imagine what it feels like to have your family scrutinize you for being a Christian, like many of these children experience. But God’s work is being done 🙂

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