Remarkable interest in World Vision’s first Thailand conference, hosted by the Church of Christ in Thailand, shaped a historic meeting of 352 Christian workers July 20–24 in Bangkok’s Wittana Wittaya Academy. Unregistered observers lifted daily attendance above 500.
In a land where organized Protestantism claims only a dozen full-time pastors in 117 churches, and where Protestant membership totals only one-third the 60,000 Roman Catholic constituency, a “pastors’ conference” seemed to some leaders an unexciting prospect. But it drew the Christian task force in record numbers for Thailand’s most representative gathering geographically and denominationally. Many Christian workers had never before experienced spiritual fellowship across denominational lines. But even from Thailand’s borders 600 miles distant, traveling 30 hours over rugged highways, came missionaries and workers, their belongings stuffed into old suitcases, cardboard boxes or wicker baskets, in such numbers that Bangkok area delegates were urged to lodge at home rather than at conference grounds. Some workers came from distant Laos. Besides delegates from the United Church (Presbyterian, American Baptist, Methodist, Reformed) there were 30 Christian and Missionary Alliance, 30 Overseas Missionary Fellowship, 20 Southern Baptist, as well as displaced China Inland Mission workers, New Tribes Mission, Pentecostal, and Seventh-day Adventist. Delegates included 72 pastors and evangelists, 38 missionaries, and 86 elders who preside over churches organized somewhat along Old Testament authoritarian lines in consequence of long missionary effort based on geographic divisions rather than church-centered activity, and relying heavily on visiting speakers.
In many respects missionary achievement seems meager in this land of 19 million Thais and 3 million Chinese—a major Chinese community outside Red China. Bangkok’s Baptist church is the oldest Protestant church in Asia. Yet early missionaries worked 30 years for their first Thai convert. Main mission centers are scattered over a thousand miles, some being more than a hundred miles apart, and their work is often uncoordinated. Most congregations are so small that a resident pastor would be an extravagance. City churches are supplied in spare time by teachers, and rural churches by elders aided by itinerants. Theological training has been tapered to the laity. Missionaries long have been more interested in “staking out the field” than in planting churches and even mission boards have looked for regional stations more than for new congregations. Missionaries have concentrated on lepers and hill tribes. Some local efforts have relied on transfers of Christians and baptism of children rather than upon evangelization of the lost as the main source of strength, and city parish evangelism waned. Some liberalism is rampant, and the preaching of regeneration neglected for an emphasis on Christian culture. Some workers have been preoccupied with agricultural advances. But reliance on the “social gospel” has been gradually countered by Buddhist programs, including a “Y.M.B.A.” and “Y.W.B.A.” Mature ministers are needed to offset an acute lack of leadership. Even the 10,000 persons who have completed the C. and M.A. correspondence course on Christianity have had little or no follow-up. Some work still reflects the cutback of the 1930 depression and the isolation, dislocation and destruction wrought by World War II.
Another obstacle springs from the structure and temper of Thai life. Its predominantly rural society of small scattered villages, edging very slowly toward the cities, lack any marked urge for modernization and industrialization. Almost 9 in 10 farmers are landowners and land and food supplies are adequate. The local Buddhist wat (temple complex) stands everywhere as the center of community life. Buddhism dominates the religious, educational and social activities, and has integrated itself with Thai government, which is officially Buddhist. Monks set moral patterns, and support of these is said to gain spiritual merit. Two in three Christian churches in Thailand are located in rural villages, and Christian chapels seem inferior in size and dignity to Buddhist temples—one reason some Protestant leaders are promoting a “Protestant cathedral” in Bangkok through enlargement of Second Church to seat 400 persons. The only big city, Bangkok has one-tenth of Thailand’s population, half its 1,500,000 persons being Chinese. It is the residence of royalty, seat of government power, intellectual center, international crossroads and tourist haven. Its American colony, numbering 3,000, shows a rising rate of venereal disease and cirrhosis of the liver, a by-product of alcoholism. The vital center of Christian missions is hundreds of miles to the north in Chiengmai, where a 1960 crusade is proposed.
But the Church of Christ in Thailand now is assessing its opportunities afresh in a nation strategically important in the world political situation. Thailand’s fertile fields stretch across the only land routes from Red China and North VietNam to strategic Singapore. Rich in forests, rubber, rice and tin, Thailand (Siam) has never been a colony of any foreign power and is determined now to resist Communist infiltration and subversion. Recognition by Thai royalty has lent a prestige to Christian schools and hospitals for many decades, but not to the churches. Spreading interest in world religions is now leading to courses on Christianity even in state schools. Young people are turning from Buddhist traditions, eager to learn English. During Religious Emphasis Week at Bangkok Christian College, where 100 of the 2600 students are believers, 27 converts were won and baptized last year. Contrasted with the scarcity of Buddhist converts in some other lands, four of five Thailand Christians—20,000 in all—are converts from Buddhism. Some are former priests. The evangelistic outreach has accelerated as much in the past five years as in the previous fifty. Some churches have doubled their membership in this recent period.
World Vision speakers brought new confidence to pastors lacking prestige by reflecting to them the glory of the calling to the Christian ministry. They strengthened local leaders by deepening the dedication of elders and emphasizing the requirements of a virile lay witness. They pleaded for new theological depth and Bible study. They quickened interest in visitation evangelism. They stressed the importance of stewardship to Christians in a land faced neither by poverty nor overpopulation.
Thailand’s Christian workers opened their hearts to the visiting team. They scheduled seven sessions a day, with the rising bell at 5 a.m. and an hour of prayer before breakfast. With some 40 per cent of the delegates at home in English, the conference heard Thai and Chinese translations of messages by Dr. Richard Halverson, Dr. Paul Rees, Bishop Enrique C. Sobrepena, Dr. K. C. Han, and Dr. Carl F. H. Henry with untiring interest. And they returned to their lonely posts with new awareness that they are not as much alone in their Christian labors and concerns as they had long surmised.
Jazz For Devotions
The 6,000 delegates to the National Convocation of Methodist Youth, held at Purdue University August 24–28, had the option of attending daily 6:30 a.m. services in which John Wesley’s “Order for Morning Prayer” was presented in a jazz setting. Some ministers who attended weren’t as enthusiastic, Religious News Service reported, as youth delegates who said of the nine-man combo accompaniment, “It really gets you,” and, “It was strange enough to be interesting.”
Missouri Vs. Wisconsin
Delegates to the 35th biennial convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Joint Synod of Wisconsin and Other States voted to change the name of their 350,000-member body to the “Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.”
Meeting at Saginaw, Michigan, last month, the Wisconsin synod voted to continue in a “vigorously protesting fellowship” with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. A resolution was passed “to continue and accelerate with the help of God” negotiations with the Missouri Synod in an effort to restore peace.
Within the Wisconsin synod there have been repeated demands that relations with the Missouri Synod be severed on the grounds that the latter has engaged in certain “unionistic” practices (including sponsorship of boy scout troops, military chaplains, as well as fellowship activities with other churches). Both synods belong to the Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America.
In another resolution, the Wisconsin synod asserted its intent “to testify strongly against the offenses which are still prevalent” in the Missouri Synod.
Support For Ncc
At its 82nd annual convention, held last month in Detroit, the American Evangelical Lutheran Church endorsed stands taken by the General Board of the National Council of Churches which (1) declare that churches have a “right and duty” to study and comment on social issues and (2) oppose adoption of a “Christian Amendment” to the Constitution.
Conclave At Essen
Some 175 delegates from 16 nations were on hand July 12–19 for the first World Convention of the Church of God, held at Essen, Germany. Sunday evangelistic services drew audiences of 2,000.
• No liquor is to be served at any official Canadian government entertaining, according to a report from Ottawa, which added that Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, a Baptist, set the policy.
• Nashville Teamsters Local 327, cited by the McClellan committee for corrupt leadership, was defeated in its efforts to organize for collective bargaining 88 services employes of the Methodist Publishing House by a vote of 44 to 36, with eight votes challenged by the union and not counted, in an election held last month by the National Labor Relations Board.
• All three representatives to Congress from the new state of Hawaii are affiliated with Christian churches. Hawaii’s admission to the Union made it the first state in which non-Christion faiths are in the majority (Buddhists make up the islands’ biggest religious group and together with Shintoists, Taoists, and Confucianists, they claim a majority of the 600,000 population).
• Claire Cox, New York correspondent for United Press International, told a Catholic information seminar last month that the Catholic church has not been getting the publicity “it deserves” as a major religious group because “we do not receive much material from Catholic sources.”
• Christianity’s influence in Japan is much greater than statistics might indicate, according to the Rev. Sekikazu Nishimura, first Christian minister ever elected to the Japanese Diet … Evangelist David Morken planned an evangelistic campaign in Fukuoka September 17-October 4.
• Dr. Thomas A. Dooley, noted 32-year-old Roman Catholic medical missionary to Laos, was reported in good condition at New York’s Sloan-Kettering Cancer Research Institute this month, where he underwent surgery for a malignant chest tumor.
• A World Conference of Pentecostal Churches will be held in Jerusalem in May, 1961, by special invitation from the government of Isarel. The climax of the conference will be held on Pentecost Sunday in commemoration of the coming of the Holy Spirit as recorded in the second chapter of Acts.
• The Yankee network, an association of New England radio stations, cited youth leader Jack Wyrtzen last month in recognition of his “outstanding contributions to God, to America, and to humanity.” Wyrtzen’s weekly “Word of Life” broadcast originates from a Times Square auditorium.
• Democratic Senator Olin Johnson of South Carolina said on the floor of the Senate last month that the United States missed “a tremendous opportunity to teach the Russian people that we Americans depend on God in our daily living” when Vice President Nixon and his wife failed to attend church during their Russian visit.
• The Scripture Union, noted for its Bible reading plans, announced last month it has opened a “North American Division” in Havertown, Pennsylvania. The Scripture Union began in England in 1879.
• Nine students formed the first class of the Israel-American Institute of Biblical Studies in Jerusalem which began study August 31. All are graduates of U. S. colleges and seminaries. Their course lasts six months, whereupon a new group is scheduled to arrive from the United States.
• Several West German religious organizations are mapping plans to help find jobs for illegitimate children of German mothers and Negro fathers from U. S. occupation forces in Germany. There are some 72,000 West German children fathered illegitimately by foreign occupation troops, including 6,000 fathered by Negroes. Of the 6,000 about 1,500 will reach working age next spring.
• At a meeting in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the National Youth Council of the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. voted to change its name to “United Presbyterian Youth.”
• Dr. Albert Schweitzer is in Europe for a three-month rest.
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