Thailand, a country of rushing rivers, lush forests and tropical monsoons, is a deeply spiritual country. Most of its 66 million inhabitants are rooted in Buddhism. And though the gospel is growing throughout Asia at an ever-increasing rate, in Thailand only a fraction of one percent of the population—0.7 percent, to be exact—is Christian.
Bangkok, a city of over 9 million people and the nation’s capital, is a popular tourist destination and one of the world’s most exotic cities. In fact, in 2011, Travel + Leisure magazine named Bangkok “the world’s best city.”
This is the context in which Andy and Christina Opie, Foursquare Missions International (FMI) missionaries to Thailand, find their calling to plant churches. The couple has lived in Bangkok for four years. They desire to rapidly reproduce Christian Thai leaders who can transform the nation. Currently, Andy notes, there are fewer than 350 evangelical churches in Bangkok, and very few with more than 150 people in attendance.
When it comes to Foursquare’s Four-Stage Development Model, Thailand is in various stages. Among the nation’s major cities, Andy explains, Thailand is in stage one, the “initiate” stage, meaning believers are evangelizing and discipling new Christians. However, among the “hill tribes,” the indigenous people living in the north who are not ethnic Thais, Foursquare is making greater inroads. Therefore, Andy says, because of this and the fact that a national church has been set up and is operational, The Foursquare Church in Thailand overall is at stage three, the “expand” stage, where the goal is to make responsible, reproducing congregations.
How did you end up as a missionary to Thailand?
Andy: We first visited Thailand as tourists, partly to see how well I could function in the city context as a blind person. To make a long story short, one day we took a boat ride, and I fell in love with Thailand. I wrote about that personal experience on my “Ask the Blind Pastor” blog.
Beyond the connection to Thailand and a passion to serve the people, we love serving in a place that has not been touched by the gospel yet. I believe God led me to the place He wanted—a place where I can express the fullness of who God created me to be.
What challenges do you face living in Bangkok?
Andy: With such a large population, it feels as though people are everywhere at all times, day or night. Also, Bangkok has some of the worst traffic in the world, along with suffocating tropical humidity.
As a blind person, I remember the trepidation I felt in venturing too far alone during my first year in Thailand. The sidewalks are narrow, and the traffic and obstacles are daunting, even for someone who has sight! But now, I will go almost anywhere by myself. Often my life becomes a testimony far more than anything I say to the people in the church through a sermon or Bible teaching.
Relationally, the toughest challenge in Thailand is the length of time it takes for a Thai person to trust foreigners. In Asia, relationships are forged over many years. At first, one can mistake the quick superficial friendship with a deep connect, but heart connection takes years to establish. Therefore, we spend a long time establishing credible relationships with the people in order to help them walk out their journey toward faith and then into discipleship.
What does your typical week look like?
Andy: Our primary role in Bangkok is raising and training the Thai people to plant new churches throughout the city and country. Right now, the biggest chunk of our week is dedicated to language learning.
Aside from language learning, we spend our afternoons at the church office to connect with the people in the church. This allows us face-time with the key people in the church. In Asian culture, the value of relationship means we spend a lot of our time in person with people to build consensus and vision. In the evenings, we visit the small groups in order to train the groups on how to grow in Jesus. This sounds busy, but we make sure to take a day just for our family and a date night each week.
We work to push the church into streams of evangelism in this urban center. When we go onto the university campus and begin relationships with students, we find that few have ever heard of Jesus. They may know of Him as the Christian God, or the God of the foreigners, but they have little to no knowledge of God’s story. In this city, evangelism starts at the most basic levels and happens through relationship.
Are there short-term missions opportunities in Thailand?
Andy: Short-term teams are welcome in Bangkok. We are looking forward to our first team coming next spring to help us connect with university students in our community. Teams provide a shot of energy to our ministry and set an example of servant leadership. When teams come with a right heart and right attitude, they can offer a significant amount of help. We welcome people who want to come and walk alongside us for a week in Thailand and pray over the ministry happening here.
How can people support your ministry?
Andy: We view our financial supporters as our ministry team. We commit to work diligently in Thailand and pray for those on our team. In turn, we rely on those who commit to partner with us financially and pray for us.
We were church planting for almost a year when we were asked to pastor the main Bangkok church, Our Home Chapel. Our primary church plant team members are the ones that are church planting in Phuket.
We want to see the slum children’s ministry funded well to offer holistic aid to these families. We give them Jesus and offer them skills and hope for a future. We are hoping to raise $1,680 monthly to take care of the children.
We also want to establish job training for students and young people. We want to help people get on their feet and support their own families with microenterprise.
How to Pray for the Opies
Andy: This year, our first child came, a beautiful daughter, Eliana. We appreciate prayers for our family as we raise Ellie in a different context than we had imagined a few years ago. Also, pray that Christina and I can grasp the Thai language more proficiently in order to minister to the Thai people at a heart level.
We are already sending our first church plant to Phuket. Pray for the launch of small groups throughout Phuket in apartment complexes, shopping centers, community centers, slum communities and anywhere that people gather.
Finally, pray for the political stability of Thailand. There is a spiritual battle of discord throughout the nation. Pray for God’s presence and power to thwart the plans of the enemy and restore the Thai people into a deep and healthy community.
How You Can Bless the Opies
In addition to donating to the Opies and their church planting efforts, our Foursquare missionaries are always encouraged by and grateful for any correspondence they receive. Whether it’s a gift sent on a holiday, or simply a letter or note of encouragement, you can make a difference by expressing your support in a practical way.
To send correspondence to Andy and Christina Opie, email them, or write to them at the following address:
Our Home Chapel
16/1 soi Ramkhamhaeng 30
Huamark, Bangkapi, Bkk. 10240
By: Amy Swanson, a pastor’s wife and director of women’s ministry at New Life Church (Santa Barbara Foursquare Church) in Santa Barbara, Calif.