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Death fails to stop woman’s witness
October 13, 2006
Borabu, Thailand — Though they shared the gospel in life, death, for several Thai Christians, has been an equally effective ministry.
Before her death from AIDS in October 2005, Tia Maxi had a final wish. She wanted to be remembered with a Christian funeral.
When she died, just two of Maxi’s family members were Christians – both because they listened to Maxi describe her faith experiences. For many in her village of Ban Pongpod, her funeral was their first direct exposure to Christianity.
By January, three months after Maxi’s death, family members asked representatives from Living Water Church in Borabu to help them start a cell group. Today, about 10 villagers meet every three weeks to talk about faith, God and the Bible. Three new members of that group have accepted Christ since it began.
One of those new members, “Grandpa” Yan Chansot*, accepted Christ just three months before his death Aug. 5. His Aug. 6 funeral – the second Christian service in the small community – raised more interest in Christ and the faith of the small group of believers.
Pat Houmphan, a mission worker with Living Water Church through Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network, said traditional Thai Buddhist funerals last several days and the gathering often also includes gambling and drinking.
Maxi’s funeral was very different. Houmphan preached, telling listeners that death reminds us of Christ. And Thai church staff showed the Jesus film.
Bao Maxi and Dao Chansri (Tia Maxi’s sister-in-law and daughter-in-law, respectively) said the replacement of betting and alcohol with joyful, peaceful singing at the funeral impressed many of the villagers, drawing them to look more closely at Christianity. When they looked, the relatives told Houmphan, many sensed the hope Christians retain in life after death.
Conversely, they said Buddhist funerals, without the promise of an afterlife, sometimes offer only desolation and hopelessness.
Most Thais believe that they must have dignity in death. Houmphan said many people in the Isaan region of northern Thailand and Laos believe that Christians do not have proper end-of-life rituals or burials, which degrades the death process.
“The Isaan and non-Christians are able to see that there is a place for the dead and there is actually a proper ceremony,” Houmphan said. “Through these Christian funerals we are able to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, life after death and the hope of reuniting another day” – all things not found in most Thai funeral ceremonies.
Most of the cell group participants are part of Maxi’s family. Houmphan said they first noticed the love and care in Maxi’s life, which interested them in her beliefs. The peace and joy they witnessed in the funeral ceremony gave them the final push to ask questions about Christ.
Born and raised in Ban Pongpod, a teenaged Maxi married and had two children with an abusive man. After they divorced, Maxi moved with her children to Bangkok so she could find work. She also found two more marriages, each of which ended in divorce.
Bangkok, during her 15 years there, became her source of both life and death. There she first heard about Jesus and became a Christian. There she also acquired HIV.
In late 2003, only a year after she returned to Ban Pongpod, Maxi made a hospital visit to Borabu. She saw Living Water Church across the road. She quickly got involved, becoming known for her cheerfulness and joyful singing. She invited church leaders to her home to talk about their faith with her friends and relatives, then invited those friends and relatives to join her at church.
Through those conversations, her mother, a cousin and Chansot became Christians.
But Maxi’s disease did not disappear. She became ill in March 2005 and died that October.
“Through Tia’s life and death, many have heard the good news and many more will,” Pat Houmphan wrote in a tribute to Maxi. “Surely, for a lady whose name translates to ‘short,’ in English, Tia walked tall in life and continues to do so in heaven.”
* In Thai culture, “Grandpa” and “Grandma” are titles of respect for the elders in the community.
From tapioca plants to church plant
-by Dan Dyck
Borabu, Thailand — A new planting of tapioca will help provide some income – and community relations – until a new church plant rises out of the ground on recently purchased land here.
When Pat Houmphan arranged to purchase the land, it had already been partially planted. The farmer had rented the field from a previous owner who had falsely claimed to retain the rights to the land. Once the church gained control of the property, church leaders and members decided to keep the plants in the ground until the January harvest.
Houmphan and his wife, Rad, together with others from the young church continued the planting and anticipate the harvest will bring in around $1,250 – enough to begin some development work on the property in preparation for a church building. They also plan to reimburse the farmer about $320 for the cost of the plants and his labor – an act they hope will build peace and goodwill with the farmer and the community.
In addition to this locally earned income, 10 Mennonite Church congregations in Canada and the United States partner with the Houmphans to support the Thailand ministry.
A 60-metre-deep well has been drilled and electricity is now available on the site. “We still need to put in a submersible pump,” Houmphan wrote in an e-mail update on the project.
Houmphan expressed thanks for the recent acquisition of a pickup truck. In a region of Thailand where transportation is both expensive and difficult, the truck serves as cattle hauler and bus.
“The church has been facing several challenges related to transportation,” said Houmphan, noting that vehicle rental costs are prohibitive.
Houmphan has started a cow- lending project to help local farmers boost their income by raising calves. When not transporting cows to market, the pickup converts to a bus for transporting locals to church services, emergency transport of persons to hospitals, and to get to church events they host in other villages.