I first started considering Nakhon Ratchasima (called Korat for short) when our family made the decision to temporarily transition back to the states in 2010 after 3 years of English-as-ministry in Bangkok. Throughout that time we were growing in our knowledge of Thai culture (and language, worldview, ministry, lifestyle, etc…) and we saw the huge need for more churches. Because we really only knew and practiced an English-as-ministry model in support of an existing congregation, we made the decision to return, re-tool, and re-launch as a long-term church planting ministry.
Korat is ideal as an initial launch city for a number of reasons:
- It is the largest city outside of Bangkok with a metropolitan population of over 400,000 people. As Thailand follows the world-wide trend of becoming more urban, we want to reflect the trend and be active in major urban centers. Korat meets that emphasis.
- Korat is also the capitol of the largest province outside of Bangkok (2.5M). We want to be urban, but also see the potential for multiple church plants in outlying areas, where currently 85% of that province’s people live–32 sub-districts with populations ranging from 182,000 to 21,000. So inside of Nakhon Ratchasima province, there is both a huge need and a great potential for a church planting movement to begin and spread.
- Korat is the gateway city to rest of Isan–the most agriculturally rich of the 5 major regions of Thailand, yet by far the poorest. If we have a commission from our Lord to minister among the poor, Korat is the chief city in the poorest region of Thailand.
- Korat is also a hub city through which flows 5 major highways. It is easily accessible to Bangkok, and travel throughout the province and to other areas in Isan is made easier by being located in Korat. Being highly mobile, able to help spawn ministries in multiple areas, we hope, will be a major feature of our work.
- There is already a small church of 2-3 families with a part-time, vocational minister working in the city. In conversations I have had with this minister (Khun Subin), we see an opportunity to help break a common, Israel vs. Goliath perception held by many Thai churches. Going to Korat, we will have a small base of brothers and sisters to work along side. We see this to be our initial “proving ground,” wherein our first 1-2 years will be marked by a fair amount of learning, trial and error, networking, necessary in the first stages of any new venture.
The region of Isan is largely identified as an ethnolinguistically distinct group, which itself is subdivided into other smaller groups who share similar cultural and linguistic identifiers. This poses a few initial challenges for us to overcome. Though we know and have interacted with a number of individuals from Isan during our time in Bangkok, we will have another learning curve as we move to that area and interact with the nuances in culture and language of Isan. If, through the guidance God’s Spirit and through the partnerships with existing congregations, we make the region of Isan as a whole a priority, then being centered in the gateway city of Korat will help greatly in our transition to the Northeast.
Mahawihan Temple near Sikhio in Nakhon Ratchasima, dedicated to a historically famous monk, attracts worshipers from across the province.
I cannot speak very knowledgeably in terms of receptivity in areas of Isan as we make this transition from Bangkok to Korat. This region has largely gone overlooked and we look forward to a harvest promised by God for those called according to His purpose. I also believe receptivity (or lack thereof) is an issue that has as much to do with culture as it has with the minister him/herself. Let me address what I expect to encounter regarding receptivity:
Historically, Buddhists are among some of the least receptive groups in the world. Without getting into a discussion of semantics, Buddhists are an extremely diverse group–as are Hindus, Muslims, and Christians for that matter. What we experienced in Bangkok can almost be described as post-Buddhism/humanism, very much along the same lines as what is happening among our own churches here. It was quite a complicated mix of old world animism, Theravada Buddhism, and modernism, along with the fatigue of living/working in Bangkok that was a major barrier. I am as quick to admit that our previous mode of ministry, though effective in bringing individuals to Christ, also served as a barrier to a more incarnationally focused ministry. We have seen from our first experiences in Bangkok from 2002 to our most recent work ending in 2010 a noticeable decrease of people who are seeking spiritually. Whether that can be chalked up to our own perception of a situation in Bangkok or something larger along the lines of a urban cultural shift, I cannot say.
We hope to find in Korat a somewhat simpler cultural, religious economic, and political situation than we experienced in bustling Bangkok. Generally speaking, in Korat people will be less busy, more religiously homogeneous and predictable, less politically distracted, and more open to both receiving and offering care to others. Bangkok is nothing if not all about the individual–ideal for singles, college, and professional ministry. Korat is ideal for our desire to be working within family units and close friendship circles. We want our growing family and household to be a model for other Christian families to set up house churches and small group Bible studies. These are some of the advantages we see in moving from Bangkok to Korat.
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We love talking about the country of Thailand and her need for the Gospel. Let us know if you have any questions or if you would like to partner with us in spreading the Good News throughout Thailand.