Thai Christians remain around 1% of the population, even after 400 years of missionary work. Most of Thailand’s churches are small (30-50 members). More than 6,000 of Thailand’s 7,415 sub-districts have no church! Nearly half of Protestants come from tribal groups (less than 5% of Thailand’s population), and not ethnic Thais. A lack of Thai leadership in the churches is one reason for slow church growth. Praise God that national leaders now have a bold goal to reach every one of Thailand’s 80,000 villages and neighbourhoods with the gospel! Pray for their plans: a national prayer network, leadership development, extensive research, community development ministry, all in addition to evangelism. Many church and mission leaders feel Thailand is ready for a breakthrough of church growth.
A truly indigenous expression of Thai Christianity must be developed. In a recent survey of Thai non-Christians, 89% said the Christian message was unintelligible. The gospel has never adequately shed its Western trappings and become contextualized, which is vital for it to do in a Buddhist culture with deeply divergent worldviews. Pray for Thai music, hymnody, art forms, worship patterns, architecture, and styles of leadership, Bible study and witness to be encouraged and developed under the Holy Spirit's guidance. This will not only make church more relevant to non-Christians, but it will also give believers new spiritual insight and grounding.
The historic lack of Thai leadership in the churches is part of the slow growth, the failures of rural churches and the lack of vision, but this is rapidly changing. Over 1,500 recently gathered for training with the Thailand Evangelism Committee (TEC). About 20 Bible schools and seminaries and 17 TEE centres operate in the country. Pray for the Bangkok Bible College (CMA and OMF), Phayao Bible Training Centre (OMF) and the many Bible colleges tied to specific denominations or churches. There are also a number of less-formalized training programmes such as YWAM's courses. Pray for the shaping of Christian leaders who demonstrate vision, integrity and wisdom and who assist in the flowering of a truly Thai Church.
The extensive sex trade, focused in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and Hat Yai, is profoundly embedded in Thai society. Millions derive income from this "industry". Estimates - none of which can be verified - range up to 2.8 million who engage in sex work. Some claim 10% of all tourist money is spent on the sex industry. Pray for:
- The girls involved (and the much smaller numbers of men). They are usually from poor, rural backgrounds and mostly from Isaan/the northeast, from ethnic minorities or from neighbouring countries, especially Myanmar. They are often sold into the sex trade by family members needing money or fewer mouths to feed. Their introduction into the trade can be brutal. Leaving can be nearly impossible due to "debts" owed to traffickers. Many others enter willingly, seeking an income higher than any other job would offer or the prospect of a rich foreign boyfriend or husband. All are at high risk of mistreatment and disease; all are in need of the redemption and unconditional love that Christ offers.
- Those who profit from the trade. Those who exploit others for their own gain must be brought to task. Pray for corrupt police and officials, the traffickers, the Chinese-Thai mafia, owners of the establishments where the trade occurs, relatives who sell the girls into indentured sexual servitude. Pray for moral conviction to fall upon them. Pray for this wicked flesh trade to be brought to an end.
- The users. Westerners and East Asians in their hundreds of thousands arrive in the country specifically or in part for sex tourism. Thai men who pay for sex outnumber both of these groups by far. Pray for blind eyes to be opened, and pray for the freedom these men also need from this vile practice.
- The government, which officially states opposition to sex tourism, but does very little to discourage it. Billions are tied up in the trade, and there is little willpower in the government to disperse the tangled web of the sex trade and the billions it generates, directly and indirectly.
- Agencies seeking to minister to those caught in the trade. Ministries such as Rahab and Nightlight work with prostitutes, providing care, counselling and vocational training for those wanting out. Many other groups work in anti-trafficking. It is a valuable and honourable battle, but a difficult one that cannot ultimately be won solely by "rescuing" girls or closing individual brothels.
Groups for sustained intercession:
Particularly needy groups of people include:
- Children in crisis. Over one million children are estimated to be child labourers in Thailand. This includes 40,000 or even more sold into the sex trade as minors. Many are from minority or foreign backgrounds. All forms of labour usually entail backbreaking hours, minimal pay and subjection to all kinds of abuse and ill treatment. There are tens of thousands of homeless street children. Pray for all involved in reaching out to these tragic little ones.
- HIV/AIDS sufferers. Thailand's infection rate is Asia's highest by far, with around 700,000 officially carrying the virus. The true figure could be double this. While the spread is being arrested by vigorous government actions, the combination of the ubiquitous trades in sex and drugs keeps new infection rates high. Churches must wake up to this crisis and minister love and life to the suffering and the bereaved.
- Students are responsive to the gospel, but they also demonstrate openness to many harmful influences. YFC, TCS(IFES), Cru and an indigenous movement called Yuwakrit see conversions and growth of groups on campuses. Evangelism and camps/retreats often receive enthusiastic spiritual response, but the large majority of the 1.3 million students remain unevangelized. Backsliding is a prominent challenge. Christian hostels for students, run by six agencies, prove valuable for discipling students.
- Buddhist monks number over 300,000 and enjoy a highly regarded position of honour in Thailand. The monastic institution, however, has been troubled by some high-profile scandals and is targeted by Islamist insurgents in the south. Pray for Christian outreach to them - many are true seekers and open to the gospel.
- Refugees. Thailand has long served as a haven for those fleeing upheaval in neighbouring countries. The most notable and needy are the 1.2 million refugees from Myanmar. Many are from persecuted minorities such as the Karen, Chin and Shan. Most are present illegally. These refugees face harsh exploitation, from dangerous manual labour to sex slavery. Pray for groups to reach out with compassionate, holistic ministry to these desperate peoples.
Of the 5.3 million Muslims, almost 80% are Malay speakers residing in the south. There are also Thai-speaking Muslims in most Thai provinces and 600,000 in Bangkok alone. Since 2004, the three provinces bordering Malaysia have experienced political tension, unrest and almost daily killings linked to Muslim insurgency. This is the only major Muslim population in Southeast Asia open for evangelism, yet after years of hard work, there are only a few small indigenous worshipping communities of former Muslims. The radicalization of Islam is affecting Thai Muslims and complicating outreach, and many seekers are held back by community pressures. Pray for local believers and for different agencies involved in outreach to Muslims in Thailand. Pray also for the Jawi Malay NT and Scripture portions and for a new BCC in Thai and Malay, all developed for Thai Muslims.
The tribal peoples, largely marginalized, are responding in significant numbers. This follows years of hard work by Baptists and WEC among the Karen, and by OMF among eight tribes in the north. The younger work of NTM in 12 tribes around the country is seeing results in tribal churches planted. Many workers are needed to win and disciple tribal peoples.
Chinese-Thai Christians are a significant minority in the Church, especially at the leadership level. The dynamism and financial clout of this community, if fully activated, could be a significant force for evangelization. As it stands, it is often deeply embedded in many of the structures of sin - prostitution, gambling and drugs. The Chinese-Thai community has in the last few generations increasingly intermingled and assimilated into wider Thai culture. Pray for more Chinese-Thai Christians to be called into serving in and supporting full-time ministry.
- Bible translation is still a major target for prayer. Work is in progress in several languages - main agencies being Thailand Bible Society, Biblica, SIL, NTM and OMF. Of 29 languages without Scriptures, 10 definitely need translation programmes. Of the four versions of the Thai Bible in circulation, a new version from 2007 is an effective study version.
- Christian radio remains very effective. Many Thai stations daily air Christian programmes. FEBC, Full Gospel Radio (The Way) and The Voice of Peace Studio prepare a wide range of programmes. Response is gratifying - from both Buddhists and Muslims - from FEBC programmes broadcast over 27 different Thai stations.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.