Feature

The Light of God

Thai men shine Christ's love for their neighbors

By and

“We are going to sell these fish, even though they are not the size we want them to be,” Montri tells the visitor. “They have stopped growing and are eating more food than we are able to sell [them for].”

Montri is showing a video team from the U.S. C&MA National Office around the community center he oversees. The fish, purchased for about a penny each, have been raised in a pond that can be built underneath the type of dwelling that is typical for this part of Thailand: a wooden house built on stilts, with the area beneath reserved for storage or livestock.

Even though they are smaller than expected, Montri thinks the fish will still bring about a quarter each at the market—quite a profit for a rural Thai family. “This is what I do every day,” Montri explains. “Everything we are doing is to help people who come and study God’s Word to also learn job skills to help care for their family.”

Montri’s business motivations weren’t always altruistic. He met EQ when they both were serving time in a Thai prison. But Montri had been troubled in his spirit long before he was in trouble with the law. When Montri was a child, his father died and his mother had to leave home to find work. The boy was left in the care of his aunt, who had no other children. “I had no schooling and pretty much did as I pleased,” Montri admits.

His substitute family became a group of friends who drank “a lot” and became addicted to drugs. When drunk or high, Montri didn’t have to think about his deepest pain, that despite his aunt’s physical provision, he was not loved. “My friends had a father and a mother, and when they had problems, they could talk to their parents. But I had no one, no one I could talk to for advice or direction.”

Yet even the numbing effect of the drugs and alcohol could not mask Montri’s spiritual hunger. He became interested in magical power and sought out witchdoctors and spiritualists. He even became a Buddhist monk, hoping to earn favor with his family and appease the spirits. “I thought that would make my mother happy, and then she would show love to me,” Montri says.

Montri continued abusing alcohol and drugs and was arrested and sent to prison. The experience behind bars squelched any self-worth the young man may have had. “It’s like you are not a person,” he says. “It’s like you are an animal that they do not see has any value.”

Montri was sentenced to 10 years for his drug activity. He determined that the best way to survive was to become a “model prisoner,” helping out wherever he could. As a result, his term was reduced, and he was transferred to the Sawang Din Daen prison. The move would result in the fulfillment of Montri’s longing for love and worth.

One of the inmates at Sawang had regular contact with Team Isaan, a group of Alliance international workers and national colleagues who minister to men and women of the Isaan people group. Members of the team developed a ministry to encourage men and women in Thai prisons and introduce them to the gospel. “That’s what I needed above all else,” Montri says. “Strength to continue on.”

Montri wrote to Team Isaan and soon received a visit from Alliance international workers. They met with Montri and a group of other men weekly for two months. Montri found faith in Christ and learned to let go of the darkness in his life. “It was like, ‘This is it! This is the light I needed. This is what I’ve been looking for.’” Montri even wrote a song about his conversion, titled, fittingly, “The Light of God.”

“I have found . . . a love that gave and asked for nothing in return.” With the assurance of that love, Montri finally found self-worth.

Team Isaan helped Montri study the Word, teaching him about the love of Jesus rather than indoctrinating him with religion. The members made sure that Montri understood that it was God who was central to salvation, not the teacher or the denomination of the international worker. Even if the workers left or were reassigned, the gospel would remain. “What I really wanted to know was God—His power, His creation of all things—and about sin,” Montri recalls.

Many other prisoners wanted to know Christ as well, and Montri took a personal interest in their spiritual growth and development. “I can understand the people in prison, because I was just like them.”

As Team Isaan taught him about sin and God’s provision for redemption, Montri shared the lessons with the other prisoners, asking that they join the Bible study. Sometimes, it took days of persuasion since many in Sawang had been turned off by previous encounters with Christians, but Montri succeeded in recruiting many men to join the group. They, in turn, talked others into coming to learn about the God of Creation.

Montri began to focus his attention on a young man known as EQ, who had been in the Team Isaan Bible study group but had not made a decision for the Lord. Wherever EQ went, Montri followed, talking to him and trying to teach him one-on-one, since a new prison work schedule kept EQ from attending the meetings. Even with the personal attention from Montri, the young man did not seem interested in the gospel.

Then, Montri told EQ what he had learned from Team Isaan about sin. “I explained that we had become sinners and had no way to escape that sin other than coming to God.” EQ made a confession of faith, and he and Montri poured over the Scriptures together whenever they had free time.

EQ was released from prison before Montri, but he did not forget his friend and mentor. He purchased new clothing for Montri and made plans to pass on the good news, vowing to reach his home village for Christ.

Prison officials noted the good work that Montri was doing among his fellow inmates and reduced his sentence again, to five and a half years. As soon as he was released, Montri joined Team Isaan and headed for a place where he knew the gospel was being preached: EQ’s village. The residents were already interested in what the men had to say, because they had seen the power of God in EQ’s transformation. A study group was formed and then a church, which EQ oversees.

“Something very important for us that we would like to do is to go to many villages in the countryside that the missionaries have not reached,” says Montri.

One of those villages is Ban That, a nearby community that had added significance for Montri; his mother’s brother, whom he had never met, lived there. The Lord had given Montri a vision of his uncle’s home as a house of God, so, even though a visit could reopen family wounds, he knew the team had to start there.

Montri’s aunt, his uncle’s wife, was an alcoholic feared by the other villagers because she was often visited by spirits. However, when she heard the gospel, she believed in Jesus and the spirits left her. She was later baptized.

The residents of Ban That had the same reaction as EQ’s neighbors: amazement at the change in her behavior. “Today, we see many people in that village interested in God because they have seen one who was in such a bad situation experience deliverance and salvation,” Montri says. “What has happened in these two villages is witness to the fact that God has led us.”

The community center established by Team Isaan was born from the desire of the national and international workers to show Christ’s love to the local Isaan people, who had been relying on seasonal labor to support their families. In addition to helping the people raise fish, Montri has started a cricket and mushroom enterprise to show the villagers how to supplement their income so they won’t have to find work in Bangkok after the rice harvest. “That is why we are looking for ways to help [them] develop skills that will allow them to work in their villages so they can stay home and share about God with their families and friends.”

A lifestyle of debt accumulation has been a problem for the Isaan as well. “Each day, they take in only a little bit of money, but they spend a lot,” says Montri. “They are forgetting the past, when our ancestors didn’t spend money yet were able to care for their families.” The farming skills taught at the center require a small investment but have the potential to generate enough income to meet a family’s basic needs in the off season.

“At the same time, people will be learning about God and the Bible so they can tell other people, so they can be saved as well.”

’Shroom Room

The market for mushrooms is very good—and Isaan love eating mushrooms. The type of mushrooms we are currently farming is a favorite.

In order to start a mushroom farm, a person must first build a mushroom hut. Then, the containers must be put together. Sawdust and mushroom “seeds” are put into a plastic bag and then steamed and heated. The most important thing is controlling the temperature so the most mushrooms will come out.

We water them just as God waters the plants in nature. After the mushroom containers are prepared, we will wait a month for germination.

After that, mushrooms begin to grow, and we will typically get 15–20 kilos per day if we have 3,000 containers.

That is how you do mushrooms!

—Montri

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