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Choosing to follow Jesus in Thailand


What if deciding to follow Jesus could mean being disowned?

There is a saying in Thailand: To be Thai is to be Buddhist. So much of Thai culture is integrated with Buddhism that it can be very difficult for people to consider something else, even if that something else isn’t another religion, but Someone that gives a life full of freedom from the merit-making cycle, and empowers them to do the good they want to do.

Bam* is a Thai youth who attends a boarding school in Roi Et, Thailand. She made the decision to follow Jesus, but she did not know if her decision would harm her relationship with her parents. She could risk being disowned by them.

Chris and Dora Barbee live and minister in Roi Et. Chris said, “We live and work at a welfare school campus through a Thai foundation. The goal of this foundation is to invest in the lives of kids. We try to teach them to think critically, and to help them find opportunities to be a blessing to their families and their community. We are praying and believing that the students will see the love and light of Jesus, and that He will empower them to be light in their community. That is our hope, our prayer, and our dream.”

Chris and Dora teach English at the school, give music lessons, and host a fellowship group in their home each week. Anywhere from 25-45 students gather in the Barbees’ living room every Tuesday where they sing, play games, and study the stories of Jesus.

This fellowship group has been going on for more than four years. Students who have chosen to follow Jesus are invited to join Chris and Dora for a discipleship group each week. These students have exhibited themselves as leaders and want to know more about following Jesus daily.

Bam is one of the students in the discipleship group. She attended English classes and later attended the fellowship group. During a summer Bible and academic camp, Bam decided to follow Jesus as Lord. She has been mentored by the Barbees and other Thai followers of Jesus.

As Bam has grown in her relationship with Christ, she has begun to invest in other students. She helps to lead the fellowship group, assists with English classes, and studies the Bible with Chris and Dora.

During one of the discipleship groups, Bam asked, “What do I need to do to be baptized?”

“We have never told the students that they need to be baptized,” said Chris. “We know the Holy Spirit will work things out in time, and we just want to be there to help mentor these students in their growing faith.”

Chris and Dora talked with Bam about her desire to be baptized and how it may impact her relationship with her parents. “We suggested that Bam ask her parents if they had seen a change in her over the years,” said Chris.

Bam did just that. Her mother responded that she had seen Bam grow into a leader, and that she had noticed Bam’s honesty and determination. Bam responded, “Then do you believe that I am mature enough to make my own decisions about my faith?” Bam explained that she had been following Jesus and that it was the Holy Spirit’s presence in her life that had helped her become the young woman she is today. Bam’s mother agreed, and Bam was baptized last October.

“Most Thai would say that religions teach people to be good,” said Chris. “We explain that, while the principles and teachings of Buddhism are good, people can never be good enough on their own. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit can people be seen as blameless before God.

“Through seeing Jesus move in practical ways, dozens of students in Roi Et have come to follow Him as Lord. We are so proud of Bam, and of all of the students who have chosen to follow Jesus. They will be able to impact their friends and family members for Jesus, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform this community.”

*A pseudonym.