Assemblies in Thailand from Islands to Hill Tribes
Peter Ferry, Thailand [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The population of Thailand 1 is 67 million with 10 million people living in the capital Bangkok. Ninety-three per cent of the population is Buddhist, and five per cent is Muslim, with Christians making up less than two per cent. Animism is found in the tribal groups of Thailand but the worship of spirits is rampant, and spirit mediums are to be found in towns and villages all over the country. Demon possession is not uncommon. Thai people have no sense of spiritual need. When receiving a tract or listening to a word of witness, they reply, ‘Yes, all religions are good’. There is no saviour in Buddhism; everyone tries to make merit by good works. 2
How Assembly work started
The first record of assembly commended missionaries dates from 1882, when some from Malaya went to Phuket to study the Hokkien dialect of Chinese. In 1886 Mr. McDonald and Mr. Hocquard visited Phuket and found eight Chinese believers gathered in one of their homes. Two of these brothers were Ong Him, and Sun Leang. Ong Him, a cake seller, at great sacrifice to himself, bought a house for a meeting place. 3 This house, at 24 Thalang Road, is still being used today as a place of worship.
Dr. Horatio Amner lived and laboured in Phuket for some years from 1891 and saw blessing. Dr Amner engaged in medical work, while caring for the Chinese assembly and evangelizing the area. There were very few Chinese women in Phuket at that time and the majority of the immigrants married Thai women. Accordingly, Mrs. Amner learned Thai in order to reach these women.
Dr. and Mrs. William B. Toy, who went to Thailand in 1891 as Canadian Baptist missionaries, joined the assembly in Phuket in 1920, and devoted most of their time to reaching the people in distant villages, both in Phuket and on the mainland. Their knowledge of the Thai language was of immense help in the assembly and in evangelism. Dr. Toy also gave considerable help to Chinese Christians. 4
During the years of the Second World War there were no missionaries in Phuket. However, local Christians continued to worship and to witness.
A new lease of life
The expulsion of missionaries from China in 1951 led to some taking up work in other Asian countries. The work which is carried on today had a new lease of life when Reg and Marjorie Vines arrived in Phuket in 1952. Arnold and Betty Clarke joined the Vines in 1954 and, although they could not speak Thai, both couples were able to preach in Chinese. The Vines moved to Tungsong on the mainland where they started a new work.
Reg and Marjory started the distribution of Emmaus Bible Courses throughout the country, which they paid to have translated into the Thai language. A Thai Chinese brother, Kum Heang, worked with the Vines and together they visited every High School in the country, accompanied, at times, by other missionaries. Gospel tracts and Emmaus application cards were distributed by the thousands and adverts were also inserted in local newspapers, resulting in many studying the Bible by correspondence courses.
Meanwhile, though Arnold and Betty Clarke studied Thai, they also had a ministry in Chinese. The assembly in Phuket continued to use both Chinese and Thai for many years. Tracts were distributed in many villages and the gospel was preached in the open air, many hearing the gospel for the first time. However, it was in Sunday School and young people’s meetings that blessing was seen. Annual camps were also arranged in schools by the sea and many were saved through the camps. Betty Clarke also started weekly meetings for women which have continued to this day.
David and Doreen Hogan from Australia and New Zealand arrived in Phuket in 1958. Although involved in work with the Thai people, their main focus was in reaching the Sea Gypsies in Phuket. Sea Gypsies are found all over South East Asia and are divided into three dialects. The Orak Lawoi (Sea people) are the main group in Phuket and on other islands in south-west Thailand. There are also the Moken and Moklen tribes. The Moken live on their boats and move from place to place. The Moklen are more numerous and live on islands in Myanmar.
The Hogans lived among the Orak Lawoi in Rawai Village where they studied the language. Over a period of twenty years they translated the New Testament into Orak Lawoi. This was before computers were in general use and every word had to be recorded in note books. It was time consuming work to reference how they had translated a word on an earlier occasion. David Hogan sent lists of words to Peter Ferry in Krabi Province where there were Orak Lawoi villages to check to see if they used the same words. By the time the New Testament was translated and printed, an assembly had started in Rawai. Today, there are three Sea Gypsy assemblies, and this work continues to grow. The work of translation is now being done by a Sea Gypsy brother who translates from the Thai Bible.
Out from Phuket
Missionaries commended from UK, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand started serving the Lord in new areas in the early sixties. Peter and Peggy Ferry from Scotland and Malaysia moved to the province of Krabi to pioneer a new work. 5 Krabi province was both Buddhist and Muslim and had not been evangelized. Peter visited weekly markets by motorbike where he preached the gospel and sold thousands of copies of the Gospels. He and Peggy also witnessed in the town where they lived, distributing tracts from door to door. Many interesting conversations were had, especially about their inter-racial marriage! A Sunday School was also started in their house.
In 1964 Graham and Rinske Williams joined the Ferrys and they had years of happy fellowship in the gospel. Some people were saved, and, today, believers can be found in many parts of the province.
Peter and Jean Wilkinson from Bradford went to Thailand in 1962 and served the Lord in Phangnga Province, the nearest province to Phuket. The area had also not been evangelized. Peter preached the gospel in towns and villages, traveling by scooter and, sometimes, he was away from home for a week or more. Souls were saved, and, today, there are various churches and a new assembly in the province. Ray and Carol Dadswell also spent time witnessing in Phangnga. Workers from Australia and New Zealand also served the Lord in Bangkok where a small assembly was started.
The assembly in Phuket increased in numbers until the Old Hall became too small and believers were seated on the platform. As there is only one entrance, this was a fire hazard and all the believers began to pray for larger premises. For a year or more, the assembly met in a local hotel for worship on Sunday mornings. In August 2007, the Lord led a sister to donate a piece of land for the building of a new hall. Two weeks later a Catholic who owned an adjacent piece of land offered to sell it to the believers. They offered to sell the land below the market price and were prepared to accept payment in four instalments. After much prayer and discussion, the assembly elders decided not to borrow money but to trust the Lord to provide the resources for the building. The Lord answered prayer through the giving of local Christians and gifts from the UK and Malaysia.
In September 2009 the building of the new hall was completed and on Sunday, October 4th, the assembly gathered to remember the Lord for the first time. Part of the original assembly continued to meet in Phuket town, and now there are two Thai-speaking assemblies. Overall, assemblies are now functioning in twelve different parts of Thailand and every two years the believers gather for fellowship through camps for families, and for children and young people.
Local outreach in Phuket
Almost every day in the week believers are serving the Lord. On Tuesday mornings a group of sisters visit the elderly and those who are unable to get out to meetings. They read the scriptures, sing and pray with those they visit. Wednesday mornings brother Amnart leads a team who visit two other provinces where there are groups of believers, the nucleus of new assemblies. On Thursday mornings another group visit an Old Folks’ Home where they have a gospel meeting. Over the years people have been saved and baptized. In the afternoon Peter Ferry visits Sea Gypsies for Bible teaching, and on Saturday mornings a team conducts Children’s Meetings in another village. During the week both Amnart and Peter have a teaching ministry with three different groups.
Short-term Bible schools
In order to train future leaders in the assemblies, brother Amnart, a commended worker, has arranged fortnightly Bible schools in Phuket over the last couple of years. Most of the students were from the northern hill tribes. The students have classes for six hours each day four days a week, with Peter Ferry teaching for three hours each morning and brother Amnart teaching in the afternoon and evenings. The assembly in Burmah Road Gospel Hall, Penang, Malaysia, provided funds to enable the believers to build accommodation for one hundred. This is used both for Bible school students, for camps and other activities.
From a remarkably strong historical development of the assembly work in Thailand, there has sprung a continuing vibrant Christian witness across a wide range of groups and locations in the area, with assemblies seeing blessing in salvation and believers being baptized and joining local companies of God’s people.
1 Thailand means ‘land of the free’. Until 1939 the country was known as Siam and since 1932 it has had a constitutional monarchy.
2 This determines their future in the next life. Forgiveness of sins is also unknown; the law of Karma teaches that you must reap what you sow, good for good, evil for evil. Good does not cancel out evil. According to the law of Karma, Jesus died a violent death because of a violent act in a previous existence.
3 Ong Him said, ‘I am now 59. After I die, believers will have a suitable place in which to meet’.
4 He died in 1930 and was buried in Phuket.
5 Peter had met Peggy in the Taiping Gospel Hall when he was a soldier in Malaya. The Lord had called Peggy to the work and she was commended by the assembly in Taiping.
This article was written by Peter Ferry, who, with his wife Peggy, has been serving the Lord in Thailand and the region since 1959.