Thailand (MNN) — What do you get when you plant a seed?
You get a crop. And if you plant enough seeds, you get a harvest. Along the way, there's nurturing, weeding, and replanting.
That's exactly what FARMS International is experiencing in Northern Thailand. It's a Christian ministry that serves the church around the world by equipping families in poverty with the means for self-support.
Their first seed among the Lahu was planted in 2003. Since then, FARMS has been partnering with the Thailand Lahu Christian Churches association. The crop? Over 50 churches in Northern Thailand near the border of Burma.
As the harvest grew, seeds were replanted and the impact of the FARMS loan programs became visible. FARMS executive director Joseph Richter recently visited one of the projects. "One pastor shared how his $330 loan for fertilizers for his coffee plantation had resulted in a crop of over 2,000 pounds of Arabica coffee beans.
"He would be able to sell those for around $6,000, and this was a great benefit to his family," Richter says. While this physical crop is valuable, the spiritual crop has been invaluable. "When we asked him if they were doing any outreach, he said the church voted to use 40,000 baht of their tithes to the church to support a Lahu church-planting missionary in Burma."
The Lahu, like many of the hill tribes in Thailand, have their origin in South West China. They migrated from China into Burma but were eventually forced into Thailand due to severe oppression of the hill tribes.
Although many sources report that the Lahu are 20% Christian, the Joshua Project estimates that only 3% are evangelicals. Despite the small numbers, the Lahu Christians of Thailand want to reach their villages and neighboring countries with the Gospel. As evidenced by this small church in Northern Thailand, Richter says, "There's no limit to what the local church can do, given the proper tools and the proper incentive."
Aside from micro-enterprise loans and training, FARMS did some theological training at the Thailand Lahu Christian Church Bi-Vocational Training Center in Chiang Mai. This center has about 50 students in a four-year program designed to train them theologically as well as vocationally. The aim is to have workers trained to teach others the Scripture and support themselves when needed.
Some will eventually be sent as missionaries to even more countries with Lahu populations. FARMS will be helping the graduates with income-generating projects. Richter says aside from funding, "All of these programs need prayer because we see openness right now in Burma that wasn't there before. We also have opportunities where people can invest in programs like this."
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