Thailand: of bombings, change and hope

By August 16, 2016

Thailand (MNN) — Security has been beefed up at all of Thailand’s tourist destinations in the wake of the 11 bomb attacks last Friday.

(Photo courtesy Asian Access)

(Photo courtesy of Asian Access)

Although tourist security is on high alert, many in Thailand are back to business as usual.  Change is normal in the ‘Land of Smiles’.  After all, Asian Access’ (A2) Noel Becchetti points out; the country has survived 36 coups in the last 50 years.

Becchetti describes Thailand’s atmosphere as a complicated mix of politics, nationalism and sectarianism, and says any one theory right now about who is behind the attacks is pure speculation.

That’s not to say that people are careless.  Becchetti’s son, Evan lives in Bangkok with his family.  Becchetti says his daughter-in-law and grandson are visiting in the States, and Evan was supposed to be on his way.  He was trying to fly out of Suvarnabhumi last week, and because of the attacks, ran into a three-hour military security checkpoint.  Due to the tight security, Evan missed his flight and was advised that, as a foreigner, it might be wiser not to fly out.

(Map courtesy Asian Access)

(Map courtesy of Asian Access)

Here’s the short run down of what happened between Thursday and Friday last week:

*Four blasts over 24 hours in Hua Hin, a popular holiday spot for Bangkok residents and foreign tourists.

*Two blasts near the police station in Surat Thani, a mainland river estuary town where ferries bound for Samui island dock.

*Two blasts at Patong bay, the most popular beach on Phuket island’s west coast.

*One blast in Trang town that lies south of Lanta island. The town is an emerging tourist destination noted for its diving and island national parks.

*Bomb and arson attacks in Khao Lak and Ao Nang, Krabi, popular beach resorts in the province of Phang Nga on the mainland just north and south of Phuket island.

*Authorities also found unexploded bombs in some tourist spots.

Becchetti offers one area being investigated:  the attack could be related to a decades’ long struggle between the population that supports the monarchy, and the authoritarian military government and groups in the south with connections to Malaysia and Muslim extremists.  “This is a conflict that has been going on for probably centuries, frankly; a big tug-of-war.”  In short, there is potential of an insurgency itching for a civil war.

There are also rumors that Thailand’s king has secretly died and the royal family is keeping it quiet for the sake of stability.

“They’re suspecting that these people in the South are behind these bombs because things are beginning to converge.  One is Thailand is a monarchy.  Their history is a monarchy.  Even though the royal family, to some degree, doesn’t have any real power, it has a tremendous amount of popular influence.”

Then a wave of politics rolls in on a different front.  The attacks came days after Thailand voted to accept a new constitution that paves the way for an election in 2017, and guarantees the military’s power.  The vote was controversial because the governing document is similar to Myanmar’s.

“Thailand’s new constitution guarantees the military a certain number of seats in Parliament. They can veto anything they don’t like,” he says, adding that, “there’s a lot of unpopularity around that constitution being passed.”

Add to that the tensions with China, and the one year anniversary of the Erawan shrine bomb attack in Bangkok on August 17 that killed 20 persons and injured 125.  The shrine is a major attraction for Chinese tourists, by far the largest tourist group to Thailand.

(Photo courtesy Asian Access)

(Photo courtesy Asian Access)

Sound complicated?  It is.  “A lot of rumors are flying around, but there’s nothing really definitive, it’s just all these different streams of speculation going around at the same time”, explains Becchetti.

Even nationals are trying to puzzle out the truth from fiction.  Asian Access had been considering expansion into Thailand, because the Gospel workers are in a tricky field.  “Spiritually, people just kind of shrug Jesus off with a smile.  For the missionaries, it’s kind of like punching a wet paper bag. It’s that kind of a challenge.”

With things as seemingly chaotic as they’re described, what’s the plan now?  “This situation simply heightens the need for mature, spiritually-grounded Christian leadership.”

A2’s leadership team believes the ground is ready for planting. “In the last year or two, the sense has been that there is rising leadership that’s experienced, ready, and eager for what we have to bring, and could use it to their benefit.”

The timeline has yet to be laid out.  However, Becchetti says it’s not too early to start praying for what’s to come in Thailand.

“Our sense is if things are getting more chaotic, all the more need for the Christian leaders there to become better equipped, better encouraged, better supported and learn how to work together, collectively, to try to help be an influence in the country and to help spread the Gospel.”

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