Ride the van with me!
It is a 7-8 hour journey (642 km) north from Bangkok to our annual Christmas outreach in the village of Sam Ngao. It is mid-December and the cool season. We set off around 5am to allow for food stops on the way and even road closures. As we travel, let me tell you the story of how Christmas came to Sam Ngao.
Around 2006 Y and E, a WEC missionary couple from Finland, moved to the Sam Ngao region to pray and work to see a local church begin and grow in the area. A new friend they made owned a local radio station, and Y asked if it would be possible to broadcast a Christian program. Permission was granted to place daily half-hour Christian programs with good content. Local Christians were to pay for the airtime.
So began an initial outreach with a program called “Heart Friend”, partnering with FEBC Radio International-Thailand in Bangkok. The radio team sounded local, the contact address was local, and a local person delivered the programs on tape to the station.
One day I received a surprise phone call. “We have three male listeners here in our home who want to know more about Jesus. May we please call this house the Heart Friend Home?” In the excitement of what God was beginning the idea for a Christmas outreach in this home was birthed, and the FEBC staff began planning.
The first Christmas outreach in Sam Ngao took place on a Saturday evening in the open space underneath Heart Friend Home. On Sunday morning the Heart Friend programmer and radio team shared in the worship service – again under the Heart Friend Home.
Later Heart Friend Home started renting a building, which became the location for Heart Friend Church. They asked the radio team to come for a large open Christmas gathering on the front lawn. After the journey from Bangkok the stage and the sound systems were set up. Preparing balloons with local Christians was fun. The programmer took a van with loudspeaker around the village lanes inviting people to come. Bangkok people joined local Christians to give out invitations at the evening market.
Thai people love music, song and dance. The event started at dusk. As people arrived they registered their name and received a name tag, then the games began. (‘Pass the parcel’ is fun in a mix of adults and children). Children, youth and parents vied with each other in competitive games and songs on the stage. Song sheets were available for friends to sing along. Neighbours left their shutters open to listen – and sometimes the temple across the road would compete.
Then all was still and quiet as the story of Jesus’ birth was acted out with the soundtrack. Immediately following that, an evangelist in the team talked and linked personal testimony with the birth story of Jesus and also drew people’s attention to a large red cross. Opportunity to meet Jesus was given and those who wanted to could fill in a form to say they would like to do Bible studies with the church and the radio team.
Soon we will arrive for this year’s celebration, now held at the church plant built by the Sam Ngao believers. Once again it will be on the stage out on the lawn. As in every year, each person will take home a small gift, including song sheets, Christian booklets, maybe a radio or a t-shirt or a cloth bag. A clear presentation of the meaning of Christmas will be given, and grace and thankfulness will abound as people meet, chat and ask questions over bowls of fresh hot noodles prepared behind the building.
And on Sunday there will be some new faces in the worship service. To God be the Glory!
GS was a WEC missionary in Thailand and served some years with FEBC in Bangkok.