Thailand (MNN) – This story is about little known tribal groups in the mountains of Northern Thailand. Thanks to the partnership of Advocates Reach and FARMS International, these communities are thriving.
According to CIA World Factbook, 93.6 % of Thai people are Buddhist. Nearly 5% are Muslims. There is a very small representative of Christians in the country.
In situations like this, Christian leadership is extremely important. That’s what drew Michael Phillips of Advocates Reach to Northern Thailand. He wanted to provide training for Christian leadership. He expected to be training the Thai community. But when he sent out the call, they weren’t the ones who showed up.
Leadership training for the overlooked
“What happened was that we had these tribal people that came down out of the mountains. I didn’t even know they were there,” Phillips says.
But God used his willing heart to impact these communities. These mountain tribes are traditionally animists. In the past, when one of them became a Christian and shared the Gospel with family and neighbors, they were looked to for leadership. The problem was, they had no training and didn’t know how to study God’s Word.
Phillips says, “At that point, we started a program, the chronological teaching and started with Genesis, and worked our way through with the major doctrines to Jesus.”
The harsh life of mountain farming doesn’t leave a lot of free time. Picture these new Christians: not only were they studying the Bible for the first time and learning how to be a leader, but much of their time was already consumed by farming. It was a real problem.
Even more, Phillips says, “The tribal people, they’re really looked down upon by the Thai, so they have a very hard time getting ahead. So they are working out in these mountains.”
This is where FARMS International enters the story. Through their microloan program, these farmers were able to learn more efficient farming practices, and have the tools to make farming more effective.
Phillips says they have been faithful for the last 18 years to pay back the interest-free loans.
“With the FARMS program, it just really helped them get a start. And they were really good about paying back the loans.”
They have been able to increase their standard of living—they have better houses, and vehicles to get around. These aren’t just material accomplishments, but tools to give the pastors and leaders more time to minister to their communities. The community development is helping long-term, too.
“They have more time, they can raise their family, they can educate their kids. It’s just been amazing and it’s been going on for over 18 years and so we’ve seen amazing fruit through this program.”
In addition to helping individual families, these loans increase the impact of the local church. Once the loans are paid back, the recipients agree to tithe out of their income. This helps the local Churches with their outreach.
What started as a training center with six students and four churches nearby has grown into 30 churches and an international ministry. Phillips and his wife work with a Thai family and another couple from the states. They are growing their outreach in multiple ways.
Reaching into the darkness
Over time, the emphasis on education has grown in the area. This has meant fewer people in Northern Thailand attending the leadership training. So, Phillips and his team started praying for international ministry.
Today, they’re working with leaders from other countries who want to know how to lead their people to follow Jesus. It’s been an amazing journey for Phillips, his wife, and the team they’re working with in-country.
You see, in these other countries, it’s a risk just to be a Christian. Leading others to Christ? That’s even more dangerous. But, they aren’t deterred.
“They are just powerful in their faith. They don’t have a very high level of education, but a number of our students have been imprisoned for their faith. But, they’re moving on. Some of them oversee three churches, five churches, up to nine churches.”
Phillips says in some ways the persecution may be lessening, but it’s still a trial. Governments, for example, may view Christianity as an enemy. Phillips says sometimes people just disappear.
Because of the inherent dangers, they have to be very careful with how they interact with the Christians crossing the border. Fortunately, FARMS is a community development program that is very attractive to restrictive governments. It gives these leaders an excuse to cross the border, as well as practical training for their country.
Praying for the persecuted
“In Southeast Asia, I believe there is a move of God going on. And of course whenever there is a move of God going on, Satan would want to dampen that.”
Phillips says sometimes the persecution these believers receive is interference with their daily lives—things like poisoning livestock and water.
“It’s just an ongoing struggle for them. But people are coming to the Lord. They just need to be strong. Pray for strength.”
Please, do pray for this ministry in Thailand. Ask God to protect the believers who are learning how to lead their people in the Christian faith. Ask him to spread the Gospel throughout Southeast Asia.
You can also pray for Phillips and his team.
“This is my passion, my burden. We are moving forward in this. We believe God is moving dramatically.”
You can also support FARMS to provide community development and Gospel outreach opportunities. Click here to learn how.