Church leaders are encouraged to be witnesses
By Carol Tobin
A simple open air pavilion at the Life Enrichment Church Center in a far corner of Northeast Thailand served as the location for the Thai Anabaptist Gathering, September 27-October 1, 2016. Most of the 150 people who attended, which included Mennonite Brethren church leaders, were Thai, Isaan and Lao first-generation Buddhist background believers who are growing in Anabaptist identity.
Historian and missiologist Richard Showalter, who was the featured speaker, shared story after story of believers from Pentecost to the present who, in the face of adversity, have borne witness and made disciples in confirmation of Acts 1:8, the theme verse for the event, “… you shall be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth.”
The participants were thrilled to hear stories of Asians taking the gospel to other Asians. They nodded empathetically upon hearing how early believers met in caves and in seeing photos of present day Kenyans meeting under trees. Groans rose as Showalter described the fortitude of the likes of Candida, Perpetua and Felicitas and Michael Sattler.
For the Lao participants, who have to be prepared to face adversity daily, including threats of injury and imprisonment, the material was especially relevant. One rice farmer and church leader said, “The gospel itself is a story of good emerging from great suffering. Why should we expect the story to play out differently in our lives?”
Showalter’s challenge was clear: “Are we ready in our generation to identify ourselves with the Anabaptists of 500 years ago? That is what it means to be an Anabaptist Christian!”
All participants related in some way to one of the Anabaptist mission entities with workers in Thailand, seven of which were represented at this meeting: Brethren in Christ World Mission (BICWM), Mennonite Church Canada Witness, Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM), Hopewell Network, Mennonite Brethren Mission, Rosedale Mennonite Missions (RMM) and Virginia Mennonite Missions.
The vision for this event and the two that preceded it in 2011 and 2014 was carried primarily by the Thailand Anabaptist Reference Council, a biannual meeting of field-based mission workers from the various Anabaptist agencies. The enthusiasm and planning initiative for such events is quickly passing to the local leaders themselves.
Pastor Nahtanong Silachotboriboon (Pastor Naht), a Mennonite Brethren leader from Chachaoengsao, is already beginning to think how she and the cluster of churches in her area might host the next event.
“I would prefer a format with less material and more discussion time,” Pastor Naht said, adding, “But this content was so excellent, affirming the validity of the small and the simple ways that we meet together as church.”
Agency contributions and a grant from the Mennonite Endowment Fund covered Showalter’s expenses and 100 preliminary copies of his book, Footprints of God: Disciples making disciples to the ends of the earth, translated into Thai. What is an Anabaptist Christian was translated into Thai in conjunction with the 2011 event with guest speaker Palmer Becker.
“From these stories, I realize that we are not limited,” said SomjaiPhantaa (Pastor Joi), Life Enrichment Church leader. “We can raise leaders. We can worship in homes. And every drop of blood that falls to the ground is like a seed that bursts forth into life. There is never a time when the Spirit stops working or the word loses its power.”
Carol Tobin is the Asia regional director of Virginia Mennonite Missions.
Photo by J* of some of the participants at the Third Thai Anabaptist Gathering.
*name withheld due to security