Portable spotlights propped up on cinder blocks let smiles shine bright against the night sky in Thailand. Students and children bunch together in a circle laughing, dancing and doing hand motions to silly songs.
Paul Thompson exchanges high fives with children in the migrant worker camp. Boys crowd near their human jungle gym, wanting him to play and lift them on his shoulders. They crave attention, and Thompson gladly gives it.
Thompson, a member of Salem Baptist Church in Apex, is on a weeklong International World Changers mission trip with about 40 high school and college students from churches in North Carolina and Virginia. World Changers provides student groups and individuals a short-term missions experience as they partner with International Mission Board (IMB) workers throughout the world.
The joyous ruckus of singing and laughter from Thompson, the World Changers team and the children would seem to attract the attention of at least a few onlookers. But on this Tuesday night, their presence goes unnoticed to the world outside the migrant worker camp in northern Thailand.
IMB photo by Chloe Lewis
Members of the North Carolina team teach third grade students about different countries and their cultures. Many of the lessons they teach were prepared weeks in advance to ensure that the team was equipped.
That’s because the team is sharing the gospel among a people group that’s not only unreached with the gospel but is largely tucked away, hidden and invisible from the world. They work in construction and are transient, moving families and homes from one construction site to the next. To get to the Tuesday night camp, the team drives through an upscale neighborhood. At the back of the neighborhood they see homes under construction, and just across the street, the migrant workers’ tin, wooden and bamboo shacks –entirely out of sight from the main road, as are most camps.
They arrive at the camp and trudge through mud and puddles carrying lights, craft supplies, sound equipment and tarps to sit on. The team plays games, sings songs and shares the gospel.
As they help children and adults make beaded bracelets and tell the story of creation and salvation, Thompson sees just how easy it can be to show love.
“The man next to me is listening to the translator but looking at me,” Thompson said. “I was showing him how to do the bracelet. He wanted that eye contact. He wanted me to help him.”
In another camp Thompson meets a boy who stays by his side. They can’t really communicate, but at the end of the day, the boy asks the translator to tell him something.
“He wants you to come back,” the translator says. “He doesn’t want you to leave.”
Thompson graduates from North Carolina State University next year, and until this trip he never thought about serving overseas. But now, after seeing God work, he is considering it.
“God loves these people,” Thompson said. “Before the trip we prayed specifically that we would be welcomed by the people and that God would prepare their hearts.”
God answered those prayers as the team moved beyond surface-level outreach. They taught English at the migrant worker school in the mornings and invested time in getting to know the children. The principal of the school even invited IMB workers to continue teaching.
The team saw many children from the school in the evenings, when they shared the gospel, shared a meal and showed the “Jesus” film in different migrant camps. As a result, evangelism efforts are pushed forward in the four new camps where students served.
A number of migrant workers express interest in the gospel throughout the week. Several pray to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and hundreds hear the gospel for the first time.
Men lingering in the shadows, yet hovering near, eventually kick off their shoes and make their way to the tarp where team members share the gospel.
IMB photo by Chloe Lewis
As the week progresses, the team continues building relationships with the children by showing them the love of Christ. Grace Ann Carver, member of Salem Baptist Church and a teacher in North Carolina, gives the children one-on-one attention with one of their English activities.
They ask questions, wanting to know more.
“We prayed we would get out of the way this week and join God in what He was already doing,” said Justin Carmona, student pastor at Salem Baptist.
Carmona’s students joined students from Oak Grove Baptist Church in Clyde, and Corinth Baptist Church in New Kent, Va., in serving alongside IMB workers who have worked for several years with the migrant workers.
“I like knowing that when we leave, people will still be here; that this ministry will continue,” Carmona said.
Salem Baptist plans to be around to see what happens next, as the church is committed to partnering with IMB workers and the migrant worker ministry.
“We want to be part of [IMB workers] strategy,” Carmona said. “We want to come alongside in prayer for them. We also want to help financially, and send interns and teams.”
Carmona was surprised to see migrant workers so receptive to the gospel.
“A lot of the migrant workers might be raised Buddhist, but they aren’t really practicing it; they are going through the motions,” he says.
World Changers team member Sarah Crowley saw that receptivity firsthand. One night she talked with two women who prayed to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
“They kept thanking us. They told me they are so happy to be in the family,” said Crowley, a Salem member and freshman at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Crowley joined the team only a few days before the group departed. After plans for another summer mission trip fell through, Crowley felt like Thailand was where she needed to go but had no idea how it would happen.
So when Carmona asked if she wanted to take the spot of a student who couldn’t go because of health reasons, she said “yes.”
“This trip was exactly what I needed at this point in my life. I’ve learned God is hope in the darkness, and that Jesus can love through me,” she said.
“I think God is calling me to something bigger than I ever thought I could do,” Crowley explains. “But He can equip me. I think it’s time to start thinking about doing what God wants me to do, and not what other people want me to do.”
Trusting God to equip and following Him no matter the cost are valuable lessons, even for migrant workers who are more recent believers like Aom. *
The students meet Aom, an older woman who walks with a limp, when she shares her testimony with nearly 200 adults and children at the migrant camp they visited Tuesday night.
This time, instead of teenagers and children singing and playing, it’s the older woman who is in the spotlight. Aom shares how two years ago a World Changers team came to her camp, showed the Jesus film and shared the gospel. She then repented and believed in Jesus.
Some of Aom’s friends and family don’t want her talking about Jesus. But she isn’t afraid, she says, because the confidence of God is in her heart.
Migrant workers are coming to faith because of her testimony. She helped start a church in one of the camps, and she continues serving with IMB workers and World Changers teams in the migrant camps.
An eternal impact.
All because students answered, and continue to answer, God’s call to go.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Paige Turner is an IMB writer living in Southeast Asia.)