Thailand, with its lush hills, fertile valleys and undisturbed forests, is often called the Land of Smiles. For Rev. Somphon Srivichai, Foursquare national leader in Thailand, the nomenclature absolutely holds true—God is doing great things in this nation, so there’s a lot to smile about.
“I see the Holy Spirit moving in many villages and churches,” says Rev. Srivichai, who is affectionately called Pastor John. “People are being saved, baptized and baptized in the Holy Spirit. I have never seen the pastors and people in Thailand so excited about evangelism.”
The spiritual need is great in this nation, which boasts a population of more than 65 million. The majority of people are Buddhist—almost 95 percent. Most of the remaining are Muslim, at 4.6 percent. Less than 1 percent describe themselves as Christian.
“The spiritual warfare is subtle but very strong,” Neill Gilbert, FMI missionary to Thailand, told Foursquare.org in an exclusive interview. “Most of the Thai people profess to be Buddhist, and therefore pray for protection, good health and prosperity from several of the Buddhist gods. Thais do not become true Christians overnight. To be Thai is to be Buddhist, which means they love His Majesty the King, they are loyal to Thailand, and they follow the Buddhist precepts. Because of this, they can take years to finally make a decision.”
Neill and his wife, Diana, have been serving in Thailand since 2004. They are based in Mae Sot, a major trade hub on the western side of the nation, a gateway known for business dealings on a grand scale, both good and bad. Yes, gems and other items of value exchange hands here—but so do drugs, and people. The city, with a substantial population of refugees, is a den of human trafficking.
It is in the quagmire of human need, however, that The Foursquare Church is permeating and seeing God change lives, through ministries such as Home of Hope, which was birthed in April 2005. This refuge houses approximately 20 children, protecting them from being trafficked, providing a nurturing environment that includes biblical instruction and other educational opportunities, and teaching basic life skills.
Home of Hope also offers job training, such as how to make jewelry, weave bags, work in a coffee shop, and sell snacks and soda. When a second building is constructed on the land they own, Neill says, they will raise chickens, vegetables and fruit trees.
In Mae Hong Son in the far north, a second Home of Hope is located, called Happy Home. It starting in 2009 and currently houses approximately five children. Another safe house, in Mae Sot, launched last June.
People in need are also being cared for under Pastor John’s ministry. Once, while sharing the gospel near the city of Chiang Dao, he observed a few girls who were dressed far more provocatively than the cultural norm. Upon his inquiry, they told him they were forced to work in area bars or would face consequences from the witch doctor from their village—consequences including forced sexual favors. Pastor John intervened, and now a lady named Joy, a missionary, is taking care of them.
Neill and Diana GilbertOther young girls also have been rescued by Pastor John and are being protected in a safe house. Additionally, his ministry includes a hostel for boys whose parents live across the border in Myanmar. They attend a school for migrant children, which is under Pastor John’s supervision.
Kelly Hilderbrand, senior Foursquare missionary in Thailand, is excited about the many miraculous things God is doing in the nation. So much so, that he just published a book about it, called A Snake in the Kitchen, which is available at www.equipandinspire.com.
“We have a lot of ministry throughout the country,” he notes, “including six homes for orphans, a home for women rescued from human trafficking, a ministry to slum children, a college ministry … those are just a few of the things we are doing. We have children’s ministry, a ministry center in Bangkok, and a ministry to help churches start businesses to become self-supporting.”
Just as Foursquare is ministering in these crucial, practical ways, so God is moving in ways supernatural. In March 2009 in Chiang Dao, 1,500 people from various northern hill tribes came together for a Foursquare convention at which Pastor John was the keynote speaker. The results were nothing less than miraculous.
“Since this convention, there has been an outpouring of the Holy Spirit,” Neill Gilbert told Foursquare.org.
Kelly Hilderbrand reports that in one village, for example, an offering was taken for a group of young people so they could travel from village to village sharing the gospel—all on their own. In other places, believers who have been filled with the Spirit are telling everyone they know about it—and the fire is spreading.
Such news is enough to leave you beaming—adding one more wide grin to the Land of Smiles.
By: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer in Los Angeles