The last time anyone tried to establish a Christian church in Chiang Phang, Thailand, the pastor was shot and killed. That was 35 years ago, and not much has changed in the little village of about 4,000 people near Udon Thani in northeast Thailand. Buddhism is still the dominant religion, and children still walk barefoot down the gravel streets in what is known by missionaries as the “Barefoot Village.”
Today, however, things are getting interesting in Chiang Phang. Sixty-five children in the village received Christ through thinkSMALL, a ministry started by Foursquare Missionaries Gary and Paula Hays in 2007.
After their conversion to Christ, the kids began praying that God would bring them shoes. Just 24 hours after the children started praying, missionaries from Singapore—who were unaware of the children’s prayers—contacted local Thai thinkSMALL leaders to ask if they knew of any children who needed shoes.
On Christmas Eve, the shoes were delivered to the children in answer to their fervent prayers. The kids were grateful for the miracle, and in response are doing what outside missionaries and missions organizations could not do for decades: They are bringing Jesus Christ to the adults of Chiang Phang.
Immediately after the children received Christ, a Thai church team traveled to Chiang Phang to build a church in the village. From this new base of ministry, the church now has a Sunday school, a Friday Kid’s Club, an English school, music lessons and a children’s soccer team.
“The little village of Chiang Phang has a whole new future,” Gary declares with a twinge of holy celebration in his voice. Before this miracle, Gary says, the village had a “stranglehold of darkness” on the people. Today, the light of Jesus Christ is flooding the village, and more children and adults are finding Christ through the ministry of this first Christian church in 35 years.
Rough Road for Kids
It’s not just the gravel roads that are rough for kids in this poor village. While Chiang Phang boasts kindergarten through high school education for its children, most are not able to go to school. Instead, they are forced to work for about two dollars a day in the sugar cane fields, some walking at least 5 miles each way to fulfill their obligation.
It may be difficult for Westerners to imagine, but children who work in the fields are probably the fortunate ones.
“Most children in Thailand are viewed as a commodity to be used for the benefit of the adult community,” Gary explains. “Some estimates say as many as 70 percent of girls in villages, by age 12, are sexually molested by their fathers, uncles or brothers.”
Other children are sold or volunteered into prostitution in Bangkok and other major Thai cities to help relieve the financial burden on their families.
Poverty is widespread, and children—who make up about 30 percent of the population—are often viewed as just another part of an already overwhelming financial burden. Adults in Thailand seem to have little objection when groups like thinkSMALL come to town and entertain, babysit and feed their children, even if that means their children hear the gospel and receive Jesus Christ.
Reaching a Nation
In 2007, Gary and Paula started thinkSMALL in an effort to transform Thailand through its children. They began to partner with another ministry called Quest, which produced the original KidsQuest Gospel Shows, to offer children a message of hope through Christ.
Although Quest no longer exists, Gary and Paula’s thinkSMALL ministry still uses some of the original KidsQuest shows. In just four years, 20,000 children have come to Christ through these outreaches.
Follow-up and discipleship are significant elements in the thinkSMALL philosophy, and 19,200 of those children who received Christ are actively engaged in discipleship with Christian leaders. Follow-up teams are typically made up of a Christian adult and child who work together to help the new convert begin living as a Christian.
Christian adults train children through a two-year discipleship curriculum, and the kids are growing in their newfound faith in Christ. New converts are linked with Christian leaders and churches near where they live with the hope that their families will also come to Christ.
Apparently, the unique strategy of reaching children first is working. Since 2009, thinkSMALL has expanded throughout Vietnam and now is spilling into Laos and Burma. As of January 2011, there are four regional Thai training teams to help carry the ministry even further into unreached territories.
The national government of Thailand recently recognized thinkSMALL as an official Thai foundation. This designation allows thinkSMALL to take the full range of their shows into schools and other public facilities with the full blessing of the government.
The ministry has an operating license and is permitted to present the gospel to the nation’s students and teachers, and train them in drug prevention, sexual purity and combating child sex trafficking. Gary and Paula say they have trained multiple churches and Christian NGOs (non-government organizations) in the use of a modular curriculum designed to help children’s workers be more effective in serving at-risk children.
Gary and Paula point to these words of Jesus as they explain the holistic ministry for the children they lead: ” ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’ ” (John 10:10, NIV). To them, this ministry is about transforming a nation, one child at a time.
Why thinkSMALL Works
Gary and Paula are clear about why thinkSMALL is effective. They say that throughout the Bible and history, nations have been transformed by training the youngest generation.
“God has used children as transformational agents,” they contend, and point to examples such as David, Joseph, Miriam, Jeremiah, Gideon and the children Jesus used to teach His disciples about humility and to help feed the multitudes.
Further, they assert that God calls adults to protect children (see Matt. 18:6), to evangelize children (see Ps. 78:4), and to disciple children (see Deut. 6:4-9). Twice, they say, the Bible refers to the power of children in defeating the enemy (see Ps. 8:2; Matt. 21:16).
Gary and Paula say thinkSMALL trains church leaders to be aware of God’s calling for children and to have an increased commitment to reach the younger generation. Training teams are mobilized to help Thai children live for Christ and “flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:2).
The couple explains that through their commitment to Foursquare’s core value of worldwide, interdenominational evangelism, they work with Foursquare churches first, and with other churches and missions organizations, to reach and transform children with the gospel of Jesus.
Gary and Paula are sure the thinkSMALL ministry element of mobilization has merit for other nations as well, including the United States. Children are eager and willing to help adults in church by serving communion, working as greeters or cleaning the church before and after services, they maintain. They believe “children can be mobilized for prayer and to bless people at elderly centers, HIV centers, hospitals for the disabled, children’s hospitals, and in the slums.”
The missionary couple believes that what happened in Chiang Phang could happen around the world. What God did in that little Thai village, they say, is directly linked to Psalm 8:2: “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”
“We used to think big,” says Gary. “But we learned from Jesus the most powerful way to think big is to first think small.”
By: Rod Light, an ordained Foursquare minister and educator in Los Angeles