I remember the conversation well – so well, that it has been burned into my memory as one of those moments I will never forget. We had only been at the Bible Education Centre (BEC) in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, for two months of our proposed one year sojourn to assist in the work and teaching of the good news of the Kingdom of God and the salvation that is in Jesus Christ. After months of prayer, planning and preparation, I had arrived in February 2015 along with my wife Vickie and our eight children. Nothing however, could prepare us for the sheer joy and delight of working, sharing and teaching the Word of God as a family to the people of Thailand.
Angkana Thiengtham (known as Ang) was brought to us by God, called out of the darkness of a culture steeped in Buddhism. She was called, “not because of her works, but because of his own purpose and grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:9).
Two of our daughters, along with Sister Deborah Griffiths, had been shopping in one of the many tourist areas of Chiang Mai. Upon entering a shop they started a discussion with the owner about being in Thailand to teach the Bible through English. The owner was very interested once she found out that the lessons were free and, because of her own limited English, she asked the girls to ring her friend and arrange a time for them both to come together and begin lessons.
Not interested in the Bible
The girls diligently returned with the phone number and asked that I ring the lady’s friend and arrange time for lessons. Unfortunately someone lost the phone number! So a week later I took Lara on the BEC motorcycle and returned to the shopping district to try to find the shop. With seeming ease we found it and asked for the phone number again. On returning to the BEC I immediately rang the number and Ang answered the phone. We discussed a suitable time and provided the location for Ang and her friend to come for lessons.
The following day they arrived and said they were not really interested in the Bible, but would like to improve their English to help them communicate with the many English-speaking tourists. I inwardly sighed and proceeded to teach an English lesson. Towards the end of the lesson, I pulled out a Thai-English Bible and asked if they would mind reading Psalm 19 together in Thai to conclude the lesson. Brother Tim Galbraith from India had once told me that to engage someone’s interest in the Word of God they need to read it and hear it in their own language.
Ang proceeded to read:
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”
Having started to read she continued:
“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.”
I’m not really sure what happened to Ang that day. She read through Psalm 19, pausing as occasion required, quietly asking a few questions, and then continuing to read the psalm all the way through. Her friend sat by patiently, but obviously uninterested. When Ang finished reading she lifted her head and I could see the deep reflective mood that the Word of God had brought upon her.
A burning interest
We arranged for Ang and her friend to come three days a week for two hours each lesson. I have never seen her friend again. Ang however was diligent in coming at least three days per week and sometimes four. Each lesson would stretch from two hours to three hours and often to four hours at a time. In each lesson her questions and interest varied and she needed and wanted as many answers as I could provide.
After this had continued for about six weeks Ang came to me one day with a puzzled look on her face. “What’s wrong?” I asked. After a moment’s reflection Ang said, “I’m confused. Why is it that now I have this burning interest to know about God?”
She went on to explain that she had had many opportunities to learn about the Bible in the past and that she had never felt any desire or interest to learn, but now the Word of God was burning within her. She went to bed thinking about it and woke up thinking about it.
“Why is it?” Ang wanted to know.
God calling a people for his name
I leaned forward and looked directly into Ang’s eyes. “Ang,” I said, “I can’t say for sure, but I believe God is calling you. He wants you as his own and he is giving you an invitation to share in his kingdom.”
That’s the conversation I remember. That is the moment that is burned into my memory that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. That is the joy of working in the mission field that money cannot buy, the moment when we witness the miracle of the seed taking root and springing forth to bring forth fruit to the glory and praise of the God of heaven.
That lesson, we searched the scriptures, noticing that even in these last days God is still “taking out a people for his name” (Acts 15:14). We saw that today God was calling Angkana Thiengtham to “walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12).
We were privileged to spend ten months with Ang, witnessing her personal growth and development in Jesus Christ, culminating in her baptism on 16 January 2016. We rejoiced as she confessed that she was a sinner and in great need of the salvation that is in Jesus Christ, something that Buddhism cannot provide. Sister Ang has been “called to freedom” (Galatians 5:13) and is no longer enslaved to a life of endless rites and rituals that cannot save.
She is, however, a babe in Christ. She needs our and your love, support and nurturing in the things of God. We, and you, can provide that by making ourselves available and by planning and preparing for an extended stay in Chiang Mai to support the small ecclesia of five there. “May the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).