Top Thai government officials pushed for tighter gun regulations and a renewed war on drugs last week after a mass killing at a daycare in northeastern Thailand killed 36 people, including 24 children. Meanwhile in the Na Klang district of northeastern Thailand, devastated families gathered at Buddhist temples to attend mass cremations for their loved ones.
The attacker, former police officer Panya Khamrab, also killed his wife and stepson before turning the gun on himself on October 6. Khamrab stabbed children sleeping in the daycare, as well as a teacher who was eight-months pregnant. The Royal Thai Police said it had fired Khamrab in June for possession of methamphetamine, and he was set to go on trial the day after the massacre.
Patompon Kong, academic dean of Chiang Mai Theological Seminary and pastor of Grace New Life Church, reflected on the tragedy and how to understand the worst mass killing in Thailand’s history.
The shooting incident at the Uthai Sawan Child Development Center has stirred up fear, confusion, anxiety, pain, resentment, and loss for the Thai people. Many have blamed it on a wide range of social, economic, and religious problems. But from the perspective of Thai Christians, the real problem is the sinful state of our souls. Thai society will be only truly saved by the gospel (Col. 1:15-20). Let us look deeper at each of these problems.
In the past 40 years, I’ve noticed Thai society change from an open-handed to a closed-fist posture. Before, Thai people were dependent on each other. It was common practice to be courteous to neighbors and show mutual respect.
But today, people only show kindness to those in their own circle. Rather than sharing, people scramble for resources. Differing political views are splitting up families, communities, regions, and the nation. This may have prevented Khamrab from receiving the help he needed.
News reports revealed that Khamrab often behaved aggressively, at times drawing his police gun and threatening people when drunk. He had abused methamphetamine since high school and continued to buy meth from drug smugglers while working as a police officer.
Khamrab’s relatives said he asked the mayor to help with his drug problem, but his request was denied because tackling drug addiction and smuggling was a massive endeavor local authorities could not solve on their own. He resorted to finding a solution by hurting others, his family, and himself.
Since the mass killing, people have discussed what pushed Khamrab over the edge. Some view it as a result of quarrels with his wife. Others pointed to his money troubles since getting fired from his job and the difficult economic climate in Thailand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many people questioned whether the country’s gun control laws could have prevented this event and whether only police officers should have the right to possess guns. Yet in many cases, shootings are caused by the unauthorized possession of guns. (About 40 percent of the guns in Thailand are unregistered.)
Some Thais believe the attack was a result of the country’s moral failings. In a country where Buddhists make up 93 percent of the population, the common mantra is that “every religion teaches us to be a good person.” The average Thai honors the beliefs of others. But if religious principles help society operate well, why did the shooting happen? Where were the religious doctrine and good morals?
It is incorrect to conclude that religious morality is not good; however, the average person does not follow moral principles when they face societal pressure. This causes many of the problems we see in Thai society today.
Although various government and private agencies have come to help in the aftermath of the attack, I cannot look at the incident and blame Khamrab’s actions on drug abuse or gun control or economic stressors. We have to look at the true roots of Thai society from a biblical perspective.
The problem in today's world is that a person’s behavior is merely a manifestation of his or her true inner state. Everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23, 6:23). There is no other way to God than the gospel (Rom. 5:8, John 14:6, Hebrews 4:12). Another mass shooting in Thailand took place in a military camp in 2020, when a soldier killed 30 and left 58 wounded. The incidents point to the reality that there are real problems that need to be addressed in Thai society.
Right now, Thai Christians are feeling sorrow, fear, and insecurity. Church leaders encourage believers to rely on God amid this incomprehensible tragedy. We encourage our brothers and sisters to always believe that God reigns over all situations. God’s plan is sovereign, and he instructs us to support one another through dark times like these.
The Christian’s immediate response to this event is to express condolences, grieve with our fellow countrymen, pray for God to help them make it through, and encourage those who lost loved ones. Yet if the Thai church believes the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is the answer to various problems, Thai churches also need to be more alert.
Thailand is a country where the gospel has not completely reached the population. Although missionaries have been preaching here for almost 200 years—from 1828 to the present—Protestants comprise only 0.75 percent of the country’s population of 68 million. Thai Christians must be vigilant in preaching the good news, witnessing, praying, and contributing to society by being salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16). They need to cooperate at all levels with both government and private agencies.
Major Thai Christian groups—including the Protestant Committee of Prathai, the Christian Cooperatives of Thailand, United Baptists of Thailand, and the Council of Churches of Thailand—have joined together and set a goal to bring 500,000 people to Christ by 2028, so the Christian population will reach one million in the country. They also aim for Thailand to have 10,000 churches and 10,000 ministry workers. To fulfill this vision and the Great Commission, there must be the cooperation of Christians both at home and abroad.
In the meantime, after this tragedy, we should focus on reaching out to the community and those who lost loved ones. One way to do this is through counseling and mentoring. In addition, churches will need to learn more about how to minister as a larger church body during tragedies like mass shootings.
One way the church can mourn with those who mourn is by organizing prayer meetings that are broadcasted online, so that Christians all over the country can participate. Christians from around the world can also play an important role in Thai society by praying, preaching, and witnessing to Thais.
Thai Christians continue to grieve this unspeakable tragedy. We will continue to be a witness and point people to Jesus during this difficult time in Thailand.