Restored by jungle conference
Three Scottish ministers and a Dutch pastor visited the North Thailand jungle in January to minister to Karen pastors. They were accompanied by Harvey Gutter, a civil engineer from Holland, who videoed the event for a film in support of the Karen.
The jungle north-west of Chiang Mai city is home to thousands of Thai-Karen families whose ancestors were displaced from the city as refugees several decades ago. Most of the Karen profess Christianity and there are three or four hundred congregations in the jungle, with an average size of about 200 people each.
However, as they are so isolated and very poor they are unable to travel into Chiang Mai for fellowship or, indeed, for anything else.
These Sgaw Karen tribes have the Bible in their own language, but no other theological books or writings. They are generally faithful to the Bible and in worship, but are in great need of sound teaching in the Scriptures. They have been targeted by several cults who claim to be Christian and this has led to much confusion.
Revs. Ivor Macdonald from Skye, Jack Plantinga from Holland, and George Macaskill from Stornoway have been going to Thailand for some years. This year they decided to hold a ‘Reformed conference’ in the jungle! No fewer than 80 pastors, plus elders and their wives, attended, and this number could have reached 300 if resources had permitted.
Only one translator/interpreter was available. The Sgaw Karen language is not well-known and it is a matter for prayer that more interpreters may be found. The group’s translator and ‘local organiser’ was Boon Chu Pongdamrongsap, who first met Ivor Macdonald at the Mae La Refugee Camp.
Boon Chu travels from Chiang Mai into the jungle regularly and ministers to these churches. He is in constant need of support and help. This conference was something he had longed for.
Hospitality – a strong feature in Karen culture – was shown to all the team. They were well fed with three cooked meals a day – albeit rice! – and given sleeping accommodation in homes.
The Karen churches have requested ‘good, strong Bible teaching’. Subjects covered at the conference were: church leadership; church history; God’s sovereignty and covenants; and how to study the Bible. The five ‘Solas’ were received with much approval.
The success of the experiment might be judged by the way the Karen, assured the team at the end of the conference, that they were most encouraged by the speakers from Britain because the teaching had restored them to their original faith (what they believed when they were first converted to Christ).
It seems that other ‘missionaries’ had led them astray for a while with strange teachings. But the delegates assured the speakers they had brought them back to true faith in Jesus Christ and the Bible.