The greater Chiang Mai area has somewhere between 1 – 1.5 million people. Within that area are 5 (fairly small) Thai congregations, a Hmong congregation, and a Lahu congregation.
There is also around 50 thousand foreigners living in the Chiang Mai area (as well as the constant flow of tourists) and they are the responsibility of the Chiang Mai English congregation and it’s attached Chinese group.
Cart/table public witnessing is only legal for Thais to participate in, which means that other avenues have to be used by the congregation to reach foreigners.
The search work involves taking a map (territory) and “searching”. Everyone seems to have a slightly different interpretation of the rules and process but it generally involves driving or walking through the area looking for homes/apartments/whatever that look like they house non-thais (some brothers go to every single house but we’re supposed to allow the Thai congregations to work their field). If you speak a little Thai you can ask anyone you see if they know of any “farang” living in the neighborhood. If you find any foreigners you mark and label the location on the map and add the notes to the back.
Taking a door goes like this: Walk up to the gate (virtually every house is fenced and gated). Yell out (no ringing doorbells) “HELLO” (in Thai) then “Is there anyone home?!?!” (also in Thai). If there is no response you wait a minute and repeat. If a non-Thai comes out you go into your presentation. If a Thai comes out you pray silently.
(walking back to the truck from a RV)
A phrase we’ve heard repeatedly is “you make your own ministry/territory”. Because English speakers are so scattered around the area, move frequently, and are often out and about, brothers and sisters try various avenues to reach people.
One Australian couple started 3 studies in as many months by putting a few things in their cart and walking around the Big-C supermarket engaging in conversation. One sister in the hall told us she started a study with her masseuse and has several return visits with other moms she sees at her neighborhood pool.
Challenges notwithstanding, the English congregation has been successful. The English congregation (then group) was formed 8 or 9 years ago and in that time has had more than 10 people from the territory progress to baptism as well as a few former witnesses living in the area reactivated. And much of that time was with a congregation sized between 10-30. Here’s a couple of stories.
Annelore is Belgian. She moved to Thailand in her early 20s and married a local. They settled in Chiang Mai, started a family, and opened a bed & breakfast and tour company. She had never talked to a witness in her life before 7 1/2 years ago when she met a sister in the English group. She began studying and was baptized a year later. She has been raising her 3 boys in the truth and her husband just attended his first convention.
A well educated Burmese man (I’m sorry we’ve forgotten his name) was part of a radical political group in opposition to the government in Myanmar. When his affiliations became know he was listed for execution and fled across the border into Thailand where he lived temporarily at a monastery. He also stumbled upon the brothers in the English congregation and made fast progress. Some time later after studying and progression to baptism he moved on to meet up with relatives in China.
(the kids table at lunch after service)
How about us?
On our first day out we worked with Annelore (see above) and her 3 boys Do (like Doh!), Milo (Mee-Loh), and Siko (See-Koh). We spent just over 2 hours in the search work with Chad working with the boys and Mel the girls. When someone came out of a house Do would start talking if they were Thai and Chad if they were anything else.
Annelore asked one Thai man if he knew of any foreigners nearby. When he asked why it led to a 40 minute conversation, the “why study the bible” video, some literature left and a future call to bring him a Thai bible.
After leaving that door we drove to a small mubaan (neighborhood) of 2 small blocks. The plan was for the boys to go one way and the girls the other and go until we ran into each other. However, at the first door Chad got into a conversation with a Chinese lady named Muyen.
She took the family happiness tract in English but said she didn’t know anything about the bible. Chad demonstrated looking up the scriptures using the jwlibrary app on his phone and then spent the next half hour answering her questions. She asked for a bible and when Chad offered to bring her back one in Chinese she said she preferred English. They arranged a time for the following week to come back.
Fast forward a week and we are working with Esther, a young Scottish pioneer serving in a small Thai congregation who was out with the English that day. The first 90 minutes involved searching through one way streets near the old city to find the territory and then walking through business districts looking for English speaking residents. We found a few and then headed back to bring Muyen her bible.
When we arrived, we find out she had invited some of her friends over to meet us. A family originally from Beijing who are also living in Chiang Mai. Her friend “Eddy” spoke near perfect English and translated in the cases where Muyen’s English skills failed. We gave her the bible and showed her how to use it along with theGood News brochure.
She, Eddy and his wife had many questions about the bible and Christianity. They had been taught that the bible was “from the western countries” and were surprised that it was translated from ancient middle eastern languages. Eddy said that you can find bibles in China but that he never got one because he was sure they had been modified by the state.
They were curious about the different “types” of Christian religions and were concerned that talking with someone from one “type” would anger another. We explained that they were free to do as they wished but we just wanted them to be able to learn about the bible and judge for themselves.
Through Eddy, Muyen thanked us for the gift and for “trying to teach her for pure reasons”. As we were wrapping up they said they had plans the next day to visit the “Chinese Christian Church” that some friends had invited them to and asked if they could also come “visit our church” next week. With much are twisting we agreed.
Here it gets sad… Although we stopped by another day and dropped off a map to the kingdom hall, Muyen and her friends were a no show. Chad talked to an Elder in the Chinese group and he confirmed what we feared; that it was almost certainly the “Chinese Christian Church” scaring them off. He told him that since the Chinese group had form at the beginning of the year that the church had brought in some Chinese missionaries to try and counteract our effect in the community. One of his return visits told him that a member of the church came and warned him not to talk to any “tall white men who speak good Chinese”.
Of course we haven’t given up on Muyen and her friends. We are planning on returning with a member of the Chinese group to check on her, confirm our suspicion, and try to allay her fears.
(the regular after service spot… Annelore on the right)
One more story from another day out… We are again working with Annelore and a couple of her boys and she tells us she like to take Mel to a return visit on a lady she had met the previous week in the search work. It took some doing but we finally find the house and Mel and Annelore walk in while Chad stays in the car with the 4 kids.
The call is a well-heeled and well educated Burmese woman who has been living in Chiang Mai for several years. She speaks excellent English and spends the next 30-40 minutes sitting on the porch asking Annelore question after question while Melanie does her best to find related scriptures.
If we remember correctly, Annelore plans on visiting her a couple more times with some English and Burmese literature and a bible while easing her into a formal study.