NAKHON SAWAN, Thailand — The banners advertise a free
medical clinic with American doctors, and a Thai man looks at the signs, trying
to figure out where to go.
But his interest stretches beyond the clinic being conducted by volunteers from
He finds a Thai woman in the crowd who looks like she knows what’s going on and
asks, “Where do I register to be a Christian?”
The woman can’t believe her ears. Just an hour earlier, the village’s
vice-mayor welcomed the volunteers from “Joplin’s tornado” then reminded the
150 villagers that they were all Buddhist.
“These people are Christians,” the vice mayor pointedly
The vice-mayor told his neighbors they are welcome to take all the free
medicine the Americans give, but under no circumstances should anyone become a
Christian today. Then he led the entire village in praying and offering
sacrifices of incense, flowers and juice to the Buddha statue he placed in the
middle of the clinic area.
The lone Thai Christian in this village isn’t surprised by the declaration. She
endures daily abuse because of her faith. Neighbors and family call her “crazy”
or claim that she is “disloyal to her country” because she does not follow
traditional Buddhist teachings. She is not easily deterred, though.
She wakes up every morning at 4 a.m. to pray for her village and the six other
nearby villages. In fact, she’s been preparing for a day such as this for years
when fellow Christians come to help spread the gospel. A day when, despite the
vice-mayor’s warning, six neighbors pray to receive Christ as their Savior and
seven others agree to meet in her home to hear more about this “free gift.”
“Thank you,” the woman tells the volunteers from Forest Park Baptist Church in
Joplin, tears streaming down her face. “Thank you for not letting the tornado
keep you from changing the fate of my village.”
When the EF-5 tornado hit Joplin on May 22, Paul and Dianne Eckels say it never
occurred to them that they should cancel the church’s ninth mission trip to
Thailand, which was just weeks away. The mile-wide tornado ripped through six
miles, or one-third, of the Missouri city, killing more than 150 people and
destroying more than 8,000 homes and businesses.
“My first thought was, ‘who’s dead and who’s alive,’ on the mission team,”
Dianne recounts. “After I found out, I talked to Doug and Cheryl (Derbyshire)
in Thailand to ask them to pray for our city and church members. They said they
understood if we needed to cancel our mission trip.
“Honestly, it never occurred to me to not come — never!” the team leader
Others on the team echo the same sentiment. Only two of the original 16 could
not make the trip, and then only because their passports were blown away in the
storm when their house was destroyed. Replacements did not arrive in time for
them to board the plane.
Most on this team are returning volunteers and understand the value of teams
like theirs in villages normally resistant to the gospel. Meshelle Thompson, a
five-time volunteer, explains the American presence often helps give
credibility to local Christians and opens doors for the Thais to share more
about their faith. If the team had canceled, it could have caused a “black eye”
for the Thai believers.
“I’m not about to let a tornado be the reason someone gets persecuted,” says
Thompson, a kindergarten teacher. “If anything, my family encouraged me 10
times more than normal to go on this trip. We just felt like it was something
we needed to do, it’s important to share the Gospel and not miss an
Normally, when Forest Park travels to Thailand, people in the Asian country
have no idea where Joplin or even Missouri is located in the States. But, bad
news travels fast — even halfway across the world. Paul Eckels says many Thais
expressed sympathies to him about Joplin’s disaster. The Thai Baptist
Convention, in fact, donated money for Joplin relief efforts through the
Missouri Baptist Convention.
Twirling his finger around, Paul shows how he and a grade school principal
talked about the tornado. The Missourian pulled out his phone and shared photos
with the man. Though the principal’s English was limited, the two men talked
about Paul’s team coming to Thailand to share God’s love — something the
principal never would have talked about with just anyone.
“This disaster has united us with people around the world who have also endured
hardships. Simply by our presence here, we are able to communicate how much we
love these people, how important it is for us to be here and how much we value
them,” Paul says. “He (the principal) will be able to relate to the kids that ‘the
tornado people’ came to love them and tell them why.”
Dianne Eckels is thankful the team pushed through the obstacles mounted by the
tornado to make the trip. She says it’s like something good is coming out of
their city’s horrible disaster. Because Thais recognize “Joplin” now, more
people than normal stopped to listen to their message.
“I feel like God pushed us on. It was through no energy on our part; we were
all tired with the tornado. God just put us in the flow,” Dianne says. “I’m
thankful that He did. We were able to help our brothers and sisters share their
faith in very difficult circumstances.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Rain is a writer/editor living in Southeast Asia. For more
stories specific to work in Asia, visit www.asiastories.com.)