Anabaptist groups and individuals gathered together Oct. 8-12, 2018, in Chonburi, Thailand for the 4th Thailand Anabaptist Gathering (TAG). It was a rich time together of lively worship, creative worship dances from the Isaan region and interactive teaching.
Thai Mennonite Brethren leaders and MB Mission missionaries planned and hosted the memorable time together. They took almost a year for the planning process, as TAG meets together every two years.
At first the planning committee thought there would be about 50 participants, but as October grew closer, more and more groups signed up. In the end, almost160 people join together for fellowship with their Anabaptist family. Two Cambodian Anabaptists from the Mennonite Brethren in Poi Pet joined the retreat, as well as two Pakastani asylum seekers from Bangkok. A group also travelled down from Laos, and it was a joy to see everyone making new friendships and memories together during the game times.
TAG groups represented the Brethren in Christ, Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM), Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Church Canada, Rosedale Mennonite Church and the Hmong 9th District Mennonites as well as the Mennonite Brethren. Generous donations for speakers, translated Anabaptist materials and the retreat venue came from Mennonite World Conference, EMM, Mennonite Endowment Fund and the two Thai foundations the Mennonite Brethren operate in Chonburi (TMBF and Abundant Life Foundation). Groups travelled for hours by public bus, van and train to Chonburi; some were on the road for more than 14 hours.
Sammuk Christian Academy, a Baptist boarding school in Chonburi, was the venue for the event. Participants slept in the girl’s and boy’s wards in big open rooms with simple mattresses on large platforms.
On Wednesday, participants piled into vehicles and drove to the nearby Bang Saen Beach. They found a shady place under palm trees and on a busy government holiday with people all around them, 10 Southeast Asian Anabaptists gave their testimonies publicly. They shared bravely how they turned from sin and idol worship to follow Jesus. Then out in the ocean, each person was baptized by someone from their own church, while hundreds of holidaying Thai people watched curiously.
Those on the shore cheered as they joyfully sang “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” in Thai. After the baptisms, the group gathered again in the shade for communion with sticky rice and a Thai juice for the elements. Some of the group were inspired and began witnessing and handing out tracts to people on the beach who were interested.
Cesar Garcia, general secretary of Mennonite World Conference, Sandra Baez, Garcia’s wife and administrative assistant, and Victor Wiens, from the International Community of Mennonite Brethren and MB Mission, were the speakers. They covered topics of Anabaptist theology and reliance on the Holy Spirit. They spoke about the Anabaptist focus on: 1) Jesus is the center of our faith, 2) the community of God is the center of our life, and 3) reconciliation is the center of our work. They also covered where Anabaptists can agree with Calvinists’ ‘Tulip’ theology and where we cannot. The teaching times were full of small group discussions, short skits and impromptu testimonies.
Pastor Nantanong, conference minister of the Thailand MB Conference, says, “I understand now the idea of the priesthood of all believers and why the Anabaptists encourage everyone to lead and have input. It is a beautiful picture of the body of Church.” She is excited to use this concept in her own teaching and discipleship.
Every morning after breakfast, the group started their day together with a time of corporate and fervent prayer. SE Asian believers pray out loud, altogether at the same time, and the passion is contagious. The TAG participants prayed for their personal communities and for Thailand and SE Asia to experience revival and a great coming to Jesus for the masses.
Cat Band, led by ‘Boat’ from the MB group, led in times of worship each day and throughout the week. Cat Band is a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ in Thailand, and participants were thankful for their ministry. A highlight in each session was a special song and testimony from a different Anabaptist group. The crowd joined in and danced with the traditional Thai dances from northeast Thailand and Laos.
They heard testimonies from new believers who were saved from drug dealing and mafia life and cried with their brothers and sisters from Laos as they heard about the persecution they endure for the sake of the gospel.
Please continue to pray for the churches and believers in Thailand and the surrounding nations. We are thankful for unified hearts and deep bonds of friendship that were formed at our gathering and are asking God to use this for his glory and to bring many to faith in Jesus Christ.
By Karen Huebert-Sanchez, serving with MB Mission in Chonburi, Thailand.