The Kingdom of Thailand is a nation virtually unreached by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Known for centuries by the name Siam, it was renamed Thailand after a bloodless revolution in 1932 prompted a change to a constitutional monarchy. Today its 69 million residents largely identify as Buddhist (94.6%), followed by smaller populations of Muslim (4.3%), and Christian populations (1%). It is in fact the world’s second largest Buddhist nation.
Dr. Jariya Sornmayura was raised Buddhist, but her first encounter with a Christian was one she could never shake. At the age of four she noticed a Westerner pass her house while she was outside playing with friends. “Thai people respect foreigners,” she said. As a child, she viewed Westerners as rich. So when he walked by she would ask him for one baht (today’s equivalent of $0.033 USD). “He started calling me One Baht,” Jariya remembers. This went on for a few weeks until the man gave her a tract with the story of Jesus inside. It was the last day she ever saw the man.
For 24 years Jariya never met another Christian. “My mother went to the Buddhist temple every night after work,” she said. Because they were close, Jariya went with her mother more than her other siblings. There they’d pray, using the Bali language. “I was a very good Buddhist.” One day she noticed a new business going into an office across from her work. Only it wasn’t a business, but a church. “I was reminded of the tract I’d received when I was four. I had been so curious as a child, and it brought back all these questions I had. When they said the name Jesus my hairs stood up.”
For a nation like Thailand, where so many are without a gospel witness, the challenge to send missionaries and resources is great. How can people believe in Christ if they’ve not heard of Him (Rom. 10:14)? In Touch Ministries is dedicated to equipping Christian leaders in Thailand with the resources of our Messenger Lab—resource tools meant not only to encourage and disciple strong believers, but also reach the lost and water new seeds of faith.
In 2015, In Touch began providing the Messenger, a solar-powered audio device that houses more than 30 Dr. Stanley messages and the entire Bible, to ministries within Thailand through a Christian media organization called The Voice of Peace. From a single radio broadcast to the Tak province in 1965, Voice of Peace is today a broadcaster and producer of Christian radio and television programming, and an equipping ministry for all of Thailand.
Dr. Jariya Sornmayura has been the organization’s director since 2012. Through the outreach and prayers of that first church she visited, Jariya began walking with Christ over 35 years ago. After a career in advertising and publishing, she taught Western philosophy and logic at a university. This put her in contact with Dr. Viggo Søgaard, the previous director of Voice of Peace. From his overtures encouraging her to join the board, Jariya developed a heart for Christian media. “I kept thinking there might be someone else out there who had gone 24 years without hearing the name of Jesus,” she said. “I didn’t want anyone else to go that long.”
From villages that dot the mountains of northern Thailand to the nation’s largest cities, Messengers are reaching people where God’s Word and essential discipleship resources are scarce. They are especially useful for remote communities with little access to electricity and among communities living on the margins of society. In western Thailand, Messengers are used in refugee camps within the dense forests along the border with Myanmar. There, young school students benefit from the discipleship resources designed to help them grow in Christ. In the larger cities those who are experiencing homelessness and physical disabilities are forgotten. Among these crowded streets and sidewalks, Thai believers are dedicated to addressing food and clothing needs, packing the Messenger inside their gift bags in order to bring hope to the hopeless.
Though Christianity was first introduced to Thailand in the 1500s, the growth of the church has been minimal over the ensuing five centuries. One reason for this is the nation’s cultural ties to Buddhism: As is commonly said, to be Thai is to be Buddhist. For many, to reject this identity feels like a rejection of their Thai identity. But there is one cultural idea that Jariya finds very useful in sharing the gospel. “People in Thailand respect foreigners almost more than their own Thai brothers,” she said. “They will pay more attention to ideas from people outside of our own country.” This is one reason Dr. Stanley’s broadcasts have become such an enduring favorite on the radio. While the station translates the In Touch broadcast into the Thai language in order to overcome language barriers, they also broadcast the program in English. “Some want to practice English,” Jariya said. “They like his original voice. The message is very touching and helpful to so many people.”
Despite the challenge before them, pastors and Christian leaders like Jariya know their investment in the gospel will not return void. As they make the gospel accessible to every Thai individual, they look forward with hope to the coming harvest. “I tell my staff, ‘Just think of this as God’s work,’” Dr. Jariya said. “You are doing it for God. While we work behind the scenes, hopefully [the Thai] can see our works for the community and this nation.”
Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the LORD,
knowing that in the LORD your labor is not in vain.
—1 Corinthians 15:58
Through your partnership, the good news of Jesus Christ is going where it’s needed most. Through the tools of the Messenger Lab, we’re reaching the lost, making disciples, and equipping pastors and Christian leaders as they obey the Great Commission.
Photography by Adam Dean and Panudet Krualee