2017: Bangkok, Thailand

The commission met at the BWA’s Annual Gathering, July 5-7, 2017, in Bangkok, Thailand. Topics of each session are described below. 

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

 

Dick Worley and Jarkawan Kinghirunwatana

 

Session 1: Baptist Heritage in Thailand

Wednesday, July 5, 2:00-4:00 pm

2:00-2:15 – Introductions and Updates on Commission Members

Brian Talbot, chair, opened the series of meetings with a reading from Psalm 100 and prayer, followed by a welcome and the introduction of those who were in attendance. Brian then introduced our Guest Presenters.

2:15-3:00 – Baptist missionary and church-planter, Dick Worley (USA) presented his paper, “History of Baptist Ministries in Thailand.”

Dick Worley came to Thailand as a missionary in 1959. He spent 35 years in Bangkok and its environs, and retired in 1995. In 1959, there were 750,000 people who lived in and around the city of Bangkok. Now there are more than 10 million people here, and the city is almost completely new. Since their retirement, Dick and his wife return to Thailand to spend a number of weeks every year encouraging the churches and continuing the ministry here. After extending a warm welcome to Thailand, Worley gave an overview of the political, economic, and religious history of the country.

History

Early Thailand (Siam) may be described as a number of tribal villages and cities, originally populated by migrants from southern China. The Ayutthaya were the largest group and formed a northern power structure in Thailand. Siam is the only southeast Asian country not colonized by a foreign power. The Dynasty of the Rama Kings was popularized by the story of Anna Lewonowens, who inspired movies about the English teacher and her time in Rama King Mongkut’s court between 1862-1868. The Rama Dynasty came to an end in October of 2016, when King Rama IX (Bhumibol Adulyadej, 5 December 1927 – 13 October 2016), died. He had been conferred with the title King Bhumibol the Great in 1987, and was the ninth monarch of Thailand from the Chakri dynasty. Reigning since 9 June 1946, he was at the time of his death the world’s longest-reigning head of state, the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history, and the longest-reigning monarch having reigned only as an adult, reigning for 70 years, 126 days. The mourning drapes and memorials across the city indicate the citizens’ deep grief and respect for his reign. The country will stay in mourning a full year until October of 2017.

Baptist Work

Baptist work in this mostly Buddhist and Hindu area began early when Ann Judson visited the refugees taken into captivity by the Burmese. She was the first to translate portions of the Scripture into Thai. At the time, a severe famine in southern China had pushed refugees across the border into Siam. In 1833, half of the 500,000 people who lived in Bangkok were Chinese. This area became a training ground for missionaries headed to China for ministry.

Among the earliest Baptists who came to Bangkok were John Taylor Jones, who was sent by the Judsons in Burma in 1833, followed by William Dean and Dr. Dan Bradley, who came from Singapore. Bradley was a single missionary. Dean and his wife, from Ohio, also came, but she died in childbirth while they were in Singapore. After she was buried, in 1834, the two were boarding ship to come to Bangkok when they were set upon by pirates and speared in the wrist. Surviving that ordeal, Dean started the Baptist church in Bangkok in 1837. It celebrated 180 years last Sunday. It began in a storefront and Chinese who lived on junks (boats) became believers and joined the church.

The next missionaries who came to this area were J. J. and Henrietta Shuck, who went to Hong Kong and started the first Baptist Cantonese-speaking church there. Dean started the first Det Chu-speaking church.  In 1860, there were 5 port cities in Hong Kong that opened up to Western missionaries. William Dean opened a Baptist work on the island across from Hong Kong (Dean’s uncle and aunt were missionaries there, and his uncle drowned to death while ministering).

In 1863, American Baptist missionaries pulled out of Thailand, and Southern Baptist missionaries did the same in Hong Kong. All of them transferred to the China mainland. William Dean carried on alone in Thailand, but the Lo Star church struggled. In 1935, Groesbeck purchased property and built a new church building, which was called the Mai Trichit Baptist Church, United Hearts, in Bangkok, and the church moved from the storefront to occupy its new facilities.

In 1957, the church became part of the Churches of Christ in Thailand, together with the Presbyterians and Disciples, which all held to the Nicene Creed. They had previously joined the 7th District of Presbyterians, but had split over autonomy of the Local Church. However, in 1959, they joined with more than 100 other churches and chapels to form the 12th District (that had started with 2 Baptist chapels). This is the year when Dick Worley came to Bangkok. There was great growth in music, Sunday Schools, youth programs, excitement in evangelism and expanding ministries. Language ministries and relationships with each other in the association flourished, with a love for Jesus as the key to growth.

The youth leaders in the churches became leaders in their middle schools (5th-12th grades). Worley became the Director of Evangelism for the 12th District and out of this work came Christian faculties, a boarding school that produced doctors and public leaders and earned a reputation for excellence in education.

There were also many churches in the north of Thailand now, about 27 of them, each with about 30 members, and calling pastors and becoming self-supporting. American Baptists have been working with the hill tribes since 1952. Now there is a Center for the Uplifting of Hill Peoples, which is an agricultural missions project to help them raise tilapia, improve water and sanitation, build schools, hostels, and medical facilities. There are two hospitals there now. They also train people in livelihood and survival skills. Now, in the north, the sex trafficking trade is rampant. This Center also helps when families feel their only options are to send their daughters to work in brothels in Bangkok.

The mission work in Thailand has resulted in the development of 3 seminaries with 300 students, some of whom also go to Singapore for further seminary training. To be admitted, a student has to be approved by the “Mission.” Now the Thailand Mission Baptist Fellowship is no longer American Baptist alone, but also includes Baptists from Australia, Sweden, Japan, the Philippines, and other places, all with good working relationships. The Southern Baptist Convention holds its Annual Conference here every year, and does outstanding work, mainly in Thai (beginning in 1949). By 1954, there were 7 churches, and by 1971, the SBC had the Thailand Baptist Association with a student center, bookstore, encampment, missionary houses, a media center, and a seminary.

Of recent years, the SBC group became more authoritarian in leadership style, and a young pastor became the Director of the 12th District. The Deacons of his church ruled the church, and that church attempted to rule the 12th District, even going so far as to ordain ministers, and require by a constitutional change that all churches turn over 10% of their property to be owned by the 12th District (Pod). Worley has been against this strategy and instead favors the baptistic autonomy of the local church. In the north, 600 voted not to accept this constitutional change. As a result, only 24 voted for it, and that church and its leadership pulled away. The remaining Baptists are seeking reconciliation.

Meanwhile, up in Chaing Mai, there are Presbyterians who have offered the Maitrichit Chinese Baptist Church a place among the 50 churches and chapels and 7,000 members of the First Pod, as well as insurance packages for their pastoral staff.

Read Rev. Worley’s paper.

3:00–3:45 – Presentation by Director of Mission Work, Jarkawan Kinghirunwatana, on “180 years of Maitrichit Chinese Baptist Church.” 

Pastor Jarkawan related his experiences. He was born in 1938 and was taught as a boy and youth by SBC missionaries, where he learned his excellent English skills. He worked alongside Dick Worley as a youth. In 1979, Samuel Koh, a lay businessman in Maitrichit Chinese Baptist Church, formed a Missions Committee to work among the Chinese nationals in local churches in other countries. It initially targeted Taiwan, where hundreds or Mandarin-speaking people were settling on the border. This work expanded. Now, after 38 years, there are 19 churches and chapels, and they are working to reach other Asian countries (like Laos, Vietnam, Burma).

This group has been helping the underground Burmese church since its inception, establishing schools in the refugee camps and training pastors for the work there. They work among those who are in prison and who are being persecuted by their government. They even have a family who trains people in the raising of sheep and supplying them with lambs to start flocks.

This group specializes in targeting the border crossings where trade happens between governments. The Thai-Cambodian border is one of these places, a kind of modern-day “Silk Road” that connects and supplies other trade ports like Turkey to the Middle East. Now there are Chinese in every country. The trade has made this possible. In this way, and through the grade of God, the Maitrichit Church is worldwide, and God has made it possible to take the Gospel along these trade routes to the rest of the world. Missionaries who came to China, but had to detour through Bangkok to train, have left a deep and strong legacy for Christ. Pastor Jarkawan has been a life-long member of this Church and gives thanks for the opportunity to direct the mission work with the 22 churches and 18 chapels it sponsors, totaling 4,500 members. This has been his lasting joy.

3:45-4:00 – A lively dialogue between the presenters and audience took place following the papers. 

Read Pastor Jarkawan’s paper.

 

Wado Saw

Session 2: Baptists in Myanmar

Thursday, July 6, 4:30-6:30 pm

Joint Session with the Religious Freedom Commission

4:30-4:40 – Welcome and Introduction of Members and Guest Speaker, Dr. Saw Wado

4:40-6:10 –Dr. Saw Wado presented “History of Baptists in Burma – Then and Now,” which was a look at the earliest work in Burma and how believers do their work together now, even in the refugee camp, where Wado lives and has ministered for most of his life. Wado teaches at the seminary in the Mae Lai Refugee camp along the northern border of Thailand and Burma.

History

Burma is a country of more than 100 different people groups and 56 million Buddhists. In the 1930s, Karen Baptist Christians were forced to build Buddhist temples and buildings because they had become Christians. Throughout the 1964-67 Burmese Civil War and following, Christians consistently have experienced persecution in this country. Missionaries had to leave Rangoon (former home of the Judsons) in 1962. Elections had gone well in 1960, but two years later, there was a coup d’etat and the nationalizing of hospitals, schools, and churches was imposed. In 1963, Communists were in the crowds watching those who celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Judsons. After the missionaries left, the churches grew to eight times their previous numbers.

From 1813-1966, American Baptists were in Burma. Then, in 2012, the political prisoners were released and trade restrictions eased, but still ethnic minorities suffer. In 2015, new elections eased the tensions still further, but Burma is at a crossroads.

Baptist Work

The Baptist work in Burma begins with William Carey, the British Baptists, and Adoniram and Ann Hassletine Judson, American Baptists. When the Judsons set sail for Burma, it was known as “The Golden Land,” with 135 ethnic groups populating the country. It was a poor country, but rich in its eco-system and beautifully lush. The Judsons arrived in 1813. In the first year, a church had been established with 10 members. Then the Gospel spread outward from Rangoon to the Karens, who lived along the border with Thailand. It then spread to the northwest border to Bangladesh, and reached the hill tribes. There were 3,004 baptized members of Baptist churches in 1860. Since 1900, churches established schools, orphanages, hospitals, and other entities to help alleviate social injustices. Through the missionaries and local leaders, a convention had been organized in October of 1864. In 1984, the name “missionary” was dropped from the convention name, and it became simply, “Burma Baptist Convention.”

In 1966, however, all missionaries were ejected from the country by the Socialist government. Beginning in 1988, the country was plunged into major upheaval, and chaos reigned. Burma initiated the Law and Order Restoration Council and protests occurred on the streets at the new restrictive impositions. Seminaries were allowed to continue, but without the missionaries. In December of 2013, the 200th anniversary of the Judsons happened in Rangoon.

Wado recounted the stories of Felix Carey, William’s son, who translated the Bible into Burmese, and helped with governmental negotiations, and of the Judsons and their rich legacy or sacrifice and effort. He outlined the work of Baptists among the “Karens – the wild cattle from the mountains,” with whom Adoniram had difficulty communicating, and how they came to Christ. The first convert trusted Christ as Savior in 1856 at 50 years old, and then another became asn evangelist. In just 12 years, there were more than 170 converts, and a strong Christian presence. “The Karen kick-started the Gospel movement,” he said.

The Ka-Chin, who were thought to be “dogs” by other Hill peoples, Wado reported, were evangelized by Swedish missionaries and 16 Karens, and soon 95% were Christians. More than 500,000 are now born-again, and of that number, 300,000 are Baptists.  Similarly, about 80% of the Chin people are also believers now, despite horrible atrocities committed against them. Pastors are routinely captured and their mouths slit open to their necks so they will never preach again. The missionaries, the Carsons, and Karen evangelists began preaching the Gospel to them. These are the people who came asking, “Where is our book?” of the missionaries, knowing that salvation was available, but they had never heard about how to obtain it.

Now, 200 years later, the church in Burma is still strong, despite the forced labor, rape, beatings, forced mine-sweeping units, and the torture and murder that has risen to the level of genocide. Through persecution, zero-tolerance, Burmatization, they are asked if God is still building his church. The answer is a resounding yes! The Church never wavers.

After a brief break, Wado shared a personal update of his ministry there in the refugee camp. He related that in 1975 his house was bombed, hit by shrapnel. Persecution then started in a crackdown associated with the Faulkland Operations, when people were displaced and cut off from their homes and villages. The military strategy was to divide and rule. Border guerrillas began to attack their own in 1995-1996. During the daytimes, Wado experienced the shelling of the Mae Lai Camp. He saw many people die, including one elderly lady and two children. Sixteen houses burned and many churches. Many refugee camps now exist with thousands of displaced people contained within them. In Mae Lai, where Wado lives, there are 37,000.

The US State Department in 2011 listed Burma as one of the worst regimes for Religious Persecution. It still exists today. Anti-Christian sentiment stirs up antagonism against Christians, who are blamed for all of the country’s problems. Whenever a village was attacked, it was always destroyed on the Christian side, but the Buddhist side was left alone. Religious freedom is fragile and mostly non-existent. It is difficult for people to move about or to go out for missions, preaching, education, and Baptist cries for freedom still need to be heard. Christians are still restricted and persecuted.

In the face of this hostility, the Karen Baptist Churches (Convention) have a Bible College and 11 ministry centers, most of which are in the refugee camps. There are 80 churches of Karens in the US alone, and many in England and Canada too. In 1993, Pastor Zoko Let was arrested and interrogated. His guards cut open his mouth to his neck so he would not preach again, because of the religious, political, and ethnic situation.

Please pray and come visit. The Mae Lai is the largest of the camps and the home of the seminary and the convention. There are restrictions associated with movement in and out, but the Karens can submit requests for permission for visitors to get in. Wado is in leadership in the Camp, and on the Board of Leadership. Sometimes the Camp is closed for weeks at a time and NGOs are given out for inhabitants. About 37,000 people live there. Wado has lived there 35 years.

6:10-6:30– The Question and Answer discussion was a deeply moving time, followed by prayer for Saw Wado and his people.           

Read Dr. Wado’s paper “Karen Baptists and Religious Freedom.”

 

work session

Session 3: Commission Projects

Friday, July 7, 2:00-4:00 pm

The Commission Works Together: Reporting and Planning Session for 2017-2020

2:00-2:10 – Welcome, Opening Remarks

Email addresses that bounced back were discussed and members volunteered to check with the members to see if everyone is receiving the Commission information.

2:10-3:10 – Review of Old Business and Commission Dialogue and Actions

Commission Website:

  • The Commission expressed its heartfelt thanks and commendation to Melody Maxwell, who has stepped in to serve as Webmaster since David Parker’s resignation of this role last year. He had served since the Melbourne Congress in 2000. He designed and placed our Commission’s website on the Internet, where it still houses the work of the Commission in electronic form.
  • David Parker had spoken in 2016 about the need for someone to come alongside and take the reins of the website, give it a new look, and expand its reach. The goal for the website is to have a central place that is at the same time content-rich, simple to use, and downloadable from anywhere in the world. The Commission members will need to continue to contribute content on national histories to its resource pages, to provide lists of Baptist resources in geographic regions, and explore new studies in Baptist life (for example, how Baptist “Identity” is defined and perceived globally; see below). The group agreed that these were crucial areas of work that need to be accomplished this quinquennium.
  • The Domain Name has been switched to a new company, and funded by anonymous gifts from Commission members through the year 2020. David is holding the remaining year of payment until the company will receive the next installment.
  • In the discussion that followed in 2016, Melody Maxwell agreed to shoulder the responsibility for the Commission’s website. She has updated the site and will serve as the commission’s Webmaster until 2020. She and David will continue to work out the distribution of jobs between them related to the website.
  • Melody Maxwell refreshed the content and design of the web page, organizing the materials under new categories. Therein is collected the commission’s work together, resources, Minutes of the Sessions and Assignment Reports. She has tagged the presentations by region, year, etc., and placed google map links to the different parts of the world where Baptists and their histories are presented in location. She has also included the collected websites and key books with language and other site information. She wants to include a section on Member information as well, where we can list news, publications, and perhaps even prayer requests and updates.

History and Heritage E-Resource Pages on Website

A. History Summaries Section

  • The members discussed the ongoing status of the brief histories now contained on the History page on the website. An earnest desire for every Baptist group to be represented still drives the work forward. Some individual groups within countries were captured from the BWA Archives, but others are still needed. David Parker will serve as the champion of this work team. He will check which groups are finished against the master list of BWA affiliated members, and see which ones still need histories, which ones need more information, and which ones are sufficient to remain as printed.
  • David will send this list to Commission members, who can choose to write the brief histories, which should be a few hundred words with two-to-three pictures for each history submitted.
  • We will discuss next year the possibility of translating these histories into other languages, so that everyone may benefit from the information
  • Melody will check to see what histories still need to be written.

B. Heritage Resource Section

  • The website contains a section of “Resources” that may be of help to all Baptists, particularly those writing or doing research on Baptist history. Several lists of resources are already posted, but David Parker and Melody Maxwell will take on the updating of resource lists from around the world. Each Commission Member is asked to take care of this assignment covering his or her own area. Please go to the website at http://bwa-baptist-heritage.org/ and look to see if your geographic region is represented.
  • The goal is to survey all available Baptist history libraries, repositories, archives, and websites in your area of the world and make an annotated list (if possible), relating what is contained in the holding, and where it is located. If it is an electronic source, please send the web address of the list or repository to David or Melody.
  • Special commendation was given to the resource list compiled by Baylor that covers the USA. It is listed on the website and can serve as an example.

Baptist Identity Project

  • The Commission thought it would be helpful in fulfilling its BWA mandate to explore the concept of “Identity” among Baptists globally. In approaching such a project, several questions may guide the boundaries of the undertaking:
  1. What it means to be “Baptist” or “Baptistic” in each cultural and theological setting.

This might involve collecting a representative range of testimonies of Baptist identities from around the world. These could aid Baptist identity classes where they are taught and help to create a better understanding of baptistic convictions that vary among Baptist constituencies within the same country and in different countries or continents.

  1. How Baptists have expressed their “Identifiers” (Distinctives) through the 400+ years of our heritage.

This question might involve mining Baptist historical texts, linking to or copying websites from global Baptist bodies and arranging by geography, topic, theology, or theme those elements of “identity.” It might involve compiling a chart comparing and contrasting differences, commonalities, or principles, among Baptists of the world.

The Commission’s website could be a portal to significant statements from Baptist conventions, fellowships, federations, alliances, universities and schools, and churches regarding self-defining “Identity.” Allowing for diversity, what are the elements that express Baptist identity or principles that are common to all Baptists? Is there any short list that all Baptists would “own” as “self-descriptive?”

Another view could be from those who perceive Baptists from the outside of the Baptist circle. How do others see Baptist Identity?

  1. Do we need a book that explains BWA’s impact upon the world on an international level? How Baptist ideas/principles have shaped or ‘blessed the world’?
  1. Members were asked to contribute to this project by locating and submitting identity statements, or distinctives, or “best practices” of Baptists. Different approaches to different issues or categories, or topics, would be another perspective. We were asked to think about creative page links, where we could submit testimonies, videos, interviews, what it looks like to “be a Baptist” in a specific country or group? Identify Baptist groups that have been “left out,” or rendered silent. Ethnic voices must be a part of this project. Karen Bullock agreed to receive materials and begin work on organizing this identity project, perhaps with a PhD  student’s help.
  1. Karen Bullock shared a report of the initial phase of this project. She and her student, Ryan Denison, began by polling the BWA membership roster and asking for information about updated information regarding persons directing this work, addresses and contact information, whether and where there are archives, descriptions of materials contained, whether or not a web page exists and the accessibility of the collection. The reports may be located on the Baptist Heritage and Identity’s website.

Book Review Project 

  • David Parker has kindly championed the book reviews for the website. He encourages members to continue to submit reviews on a wide range of Baptist history. He serves as facilitator to invite Baptists from across BWA to contribute short reviews of key Baptist works produced in their parts of the world.

Upcoming Zurich Annual Gathering in 2018

  • The Commission agreed to focus substantially on the Anabaptist and Baptist connections in the sessions, and to solicit papers dealing with this subject. There may even be a joint reconciliation between Swiss Reformed Church and Baptists planned by BWA.
  • The Commission indicated a desire to arrange for a tour to take place before or after the Zurich Annual Gathering that would visit major Magisterial, Anabaptist, and Baptist sites in the region. Stephen Stookey and Karen Bullock agreed to submit to the Commission a sample of sites to be visited and discussed regarding their inclusion. Everyone is encouraged to submit suggestions of sites for the trip.

Summary Statements from 2017

As the Baptist Heritage and Identity Commission closed its final session, members were asked to articulate what we have learned this year and what we might communicate about our time together to Baptists unable to attend. The  results were three:

  • In the first session, the story of the Mai Trichit Baptist church’s experience in the 12th District reminded us of the significance of remembering our Baptist Identifiers. The authoritarian leadership structure that sought both to limit the work and require a portion of the assets of a local Baptist church served as a case study to demonstrate what can happen when we lose sight of our heritage.
  • The second session impressed upon us all a sensitivity to the Burmese Baptists, for whom being Baptist is more costly than most of us can imagine. This session broke our hearts for them, causing us to remember and pray and work on their behalf.
  • The last session was a call to vigilance in preserving our Baptist family story.