To be Thai is to be Buddhist?

Janet

I teach English to university students in Thailand. The majority of students are Buddhist and, although they are generally more forward thinking than others in Thailand, there are various factors that affect whether they feel they can accept Jesus. Most of these fall into two categories: ‘to be Thai is to be Buddhist’ and ‘community is more important than truth’. 

To be Thai is to be Buddhist

Students feel that ‘our’ good news is not for them. Also, they assume that what they see of westerners - religion, politics, behaviour of tourists, etc. - is Christian. One student has told me she is scared that if she accepted Jesus, she wouldn’t be Thai anymore. 

Community is more important than truth

I was reading the Bible with one student after she heard some testimonies on a weekend away. When she told her parents, half asking their approval, she was told, ‘You can study the Bible but you can’t change religion. Either we all change religion or no-one does’. 

Many Thais hear the good news and see that it can be real in the lives of westerners or Thais whose families are already Christian, but then ask themselves, ‘How is this going to affect my lifestyle and community?’ The question of ‘Is this truth?’ is secondary. One student, when asked what he thought about following Jesus, said, ‘I will ask my parents’.

To many, the alternative is to keep their interest or new faith secret. Most male students will be expected to enter the monastery for up to two months after graduating, to make merit for their parents. If they have started to follow Jesus, should they tell their parents they won’t become monks? Or should they go through the motions? 

It’s not difficult to talk to students about Jesus - they are very aware of the spiritual world. In times of trouble, stress or illness, the offer to pray with them is usually accepted. Indeed, it is often through answered prayer that students start to show more interest in God. Praying with our students is also a great opportunity to share truths about God and his love for them. 

So, whether we see our students make commitments or small but sure steps towards following Jesus, we know that it’s God’s work and we are privileged to be part of that.

Could you join Janet in this work, for anything from one month to two years? Email cchan@crosslinks.org to find out more.