Every Tuesday lunchtime at a university in central Bangkok, a small group of students meets together. They study the Bible, share and pray together and talk about how they can live for Christ on their campus. These students are not Thai, instead they come from Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar, China and Germany and they use English as they meet. They are part of a growing number of internationals coming to study at Thai universities.
Globally many students are now choosing to study abroad. The numbers are growing rapidly, especially in East Asia, with countries such as China, Malaysia and Japan aiming to significantly increase the numbers of international students studying in their countries in the next few years. Compared to other countries in the region, Thailand doesn’t have the same quantity of international students, but, still, the numbers here are growing, and universities are offering an increasingly wide range of courses taught in English.
International student ministry in Thailand started in 2011, when UFM missionaries Johnny and Ann McClean were invited by Thai Christian Students (TCS) to start a ministry reaching out to international students. The work remains small, but over the years it has been exciting to see international students introduced to the person and work of Jesus Christ, and for others, who come to Thailand already believers, to be encouraged and built up in their faith. At present, small groups of international students meet together at four universities around Bangkok.
Befriending and building relationships
Joy was brought up in a Catholic family in the Philippines. After finishing school she received a scholarship to study at a university in Bangkok. When she arrived she met a group of Christians at her university who really welcomed and befriended her, and, soon, she started attending Christian meetings with them. As she listened she came to realise that she had never understood the good news of the gospel, and, soon, she committed her life to Christ. She continues to grow in her faith, encouraged by the regular campus Bible studies and the Christian fellowship around her.
The international ministry is quite fragile and unstable and has seemed particularly so this year. Personally, I have often felt unable to fulfill all that is required as the only full-time worker. But I have begun to see how God works in our weakness; because through this situation God has begun to answer a much bigger request. Ever since international ministry started in TCS we have been longing for it to be more integrated, and for Thai Christians, especially students, to accept the opportunity, responsibility and privilege of reaching out to the international students in their country, city and campus.
As our weakness and inability has become apparent, others have got involved! It has been my privilege to work alongside some very gifted Thai students and staff, and see how they have begun to have concern for, and befriend, the international students around them.
This year, for the first time, some of the Thai Christian student leaders from the oldest university in Thailand came to help us at the orientation event for new international students. They spent time introducing themselves to the students and inviting them to the Christian club. After that, they joined some of the new students for lunch together, introducing them to some delicious Thai food. That was the beginning of friendships that led to one Japanese student coming to the campus Bible study each week, and developing an increasing openness to explore the Christian faith.
Pan is a linguistically-gifted second year Thai student, fluent in English and studying Japanese in his spare time. This year he has begun to get to know some of the international students who have joined the Bible study on his campus. He has helped to teach them Thai and they have helped him with his English and Japanese. These relationships have made him more aware of the international students in his faculty, and he now has a burden to reach out to them. He plans to join his faculty’s committee organising cultural events for exchange students, so that he can have more opportunities to get to know them and share the gospel with them.
This is still only the beginning, but we pray that increasingly Thai students and the Thai church will look outwards, and see beyond their own neighbourhood and nation, to others who also desperately need the gospel. We pray that international ministry, and welcoming and befriending internationals, might be the first step for many in developing a heart for global mission. It’s an exciting time!