As a Pastor in the rice fields of rural Thailand, Chansamone Saiyasak assumes many roles.
He's a cultural anthropologist, studying the Buddhist and animistic beliefs that dominate the northeast part of the country, known as the Isan region. Practices like consulting witch doctors are common.
He's a human rights activist. After more than 170 years of Protestant missionary efforts in Thailand, only about 1 percent of the country's 65 million people are Christians. When believers face opposition—many Thai derisively call Christianity sasana farang, the "religion of the foreigner"—Saiyasak publicly defends them.
He's also a provider. When local children need food or education—continual necessities in Thailand—Saiyasak and members of his ministry, Mekong Evangelical Mission (MEM), step up.
And when Sunday morning rolls around, he's a pastor-evangelist, sharing the Good News with those who attend his church.
Saiyasak, 44, was born across the Mekong River that runs along the eastern border of Thailand, in war-torn Laos. His journey took him halfway around the world to a church in Antioch, Tennessee, and a Ph.D. program in Brussels, Belgium. He now runs an organization in Thailand that oversees nine churches, multiple businesses, a seminary, a radio ministry, an orphanage, and a school.
When Eternity Touched Reality
In the 1970s, Saiyasak's family fled Laos in the wake of the Vietnam War. They lived in a refugee camp in Thailand for two years until being accepted into the United States and plopped by the government into a Nashville ghetto. Saiyasak was about 11 at the time, the oldest of seven children. His family spoke no English and were some of the few Laotians in the predominantly African American housing project. ...