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Building church among Buddhist temples
November 27, 2009
WINNIPEG, Man. — For the people of Thailand, the presence of a church building makes the Christian faith more visible, say Pat and Rad Houmphan, leaders of the Living Water Church in Borabu. And that visibility gives Christianity a new significance.
As joint Mennonite Church Canada Witness/Mennonite Mission Network workers, the Houmphans are engaged in long-term holistic Christian ministry within a culture that is intricately connected to Buddhism. More than 200 villages populate the Borabu district and most of those villages have Buddhist temples which serve as central gathering places for fellowship, worship and other community functions.
“It’s a very formal culture,” points out Rad Houmphan.
Before the Living Water Church was erected in 2007, the congregation met in homes or rented spaces. Without a building, Christianity was deemed unimportant by the surrounding community. “For the Thailand people, there was a lacking of something,” she notes.
Most Christian mission agencies with a physical presence are located in cities situated far from small rural communities like Borabu, thus having little influence upon them. But having a church building in Borabu has made a difference. “From time to time a non-believer from [a] surrounding area or town comes in to see what a Christian church looks like,” says Rad Houmphan. That curiosity opens the door for communication and friendship.
The Houmphans report that the presence of a church building in Borabu has even helped Christians living in distant urban areas share the importance of their faith with those living in Borabu county. They offer the story of Tonh as an example. Tonh was living in Singapore and working in construction when he became a Christian. From Singapore, he shared his newfound love of Christ with his wife and children, but it was the presence of the new Living Water Church building and Rad and Pat’s encouragement that prompted their baptism in 2009.
Although the new church building has caught the attention of the local community, many trials still exist for Christians in Borabu. “Christianity is seen as foreign,” says Pat Houmphan. “A Western religion.” In addition to personal challenges like changing bad habits that Buddhists may view as acceptable, Thai Christians face discrimination and isolation from within their communities.
Pat Houmphan maintains that it takes about five years for a new Christian to become fully rooted in faith. “We visit and encourage them in their work with God,” he says. As they become closer to God through a greater understanding of scripture, they develop the appropriate shields to hold up against adversity. “They get stronger to fence it [adversity] off,” he explains. The Houmphans are currently on North American Ministry leave, sharing news of their ministry and developing connections with North American congregations.
Planting seeds for independence
One of the largest challenges facing Pat and Rad Houmphan, joint Mennonite Church Canada Witness/Mennonite Mission Network workers to Borabu, Thailand, is how to make Living Water Church of Borabu sustainable.
The Houmphans know that one day they will leave their mission work in Borabu. “As a church planter, you give birth, you raise your children and they have to be independent,” says Pat Houmphan.
For the church to become independent, the Houmphans not only work on developing leaders, but on creating means for financial self-sufficiency in an economically challenged community.
A local cow-lending project loans church-owned cows to believers, who can breed the cow three times. They can keep the second and third-born calves, but the first-born calf and the cow are returned to the project to enable another family to reap the same benefits. This endeavour supports families, creating incomes that will in turn, support the church.
In addition the Living Water Church has a 40 tonne storage building for rice. They purchase rice from local farmers at harvest and then hold it to sell later on in the season when rice supplies fall and the price rises. Profits from this venture go to support the church budget.