A legacy of transformation and faithfulness is just one of the traits I love about our Alliance family. As we work on church planting and evangelism in the northeast region of Thailand (Isaan), we are perpetually reminded of the efforts of the C&MA workers who went before us. The Alliance was the first missionary group to this region, when in the 1930s workers crossed over from Cambodia into Isaan.
Recently, I had lunch with Pastor Prayut, a local Thai pastor with whom we partner in church planting. We sat at a typical Isaan restaurant—outside under a thatched gazebo. We ate sticky rice, meat, and raw vegetables with our hands.
As we dined, a U.S. pastor who was visiting us asked Prayut to share his testimony. Although we have now worked together for about one year, I had not yet heard how he became a believer. We were in for quite a tale.
The story is really about Prayut’s mother, Nudeng. As a teen, she had intestinal cancer. For four years she was confined to living in the hospital. She stayed in her bed and had a bag attached to her into which all of her fluids and waste would drain. At age 17, she already had four surgeries. She had been to an herbal doctor and the local witch doctor, and she had seen the Buddhist monks for healing. But nothing helped.
She was scheduled for a fifth surgery, which the doctor said would be her final surgery. After that, there would be no more use trying. Little did she know, though, that Jesus was about to radically change her life.
One day while Nudeng was at the hospital, an Alliance missionary named Elmer Sahlberg came to visit. When he saw Nudeng, he looked at her and said, “If you believe in Jesus, you will never die.” I assume he spoke in an eschatological sense, but Nudeng, having no prior experience with the teachings of Christ, took the words literally.
At this time, about 20 family members surrounded Nudeng because her final surgery was the next day. After hearing this news from Elmer, she asked her family, “What do you guys think?” She and her family agreed that they had tried everything else. The medicine and surgeries didn’t help. The local witch doctor didn’t help. The herbal doctor didn’t help. Maybe she should give Jesus a try. So there in the hospital, she decided to accept Christ as her Savior.
After Nudeng accepted Christ, Elmer left, and she fell asleep. While she was asleep, she had a vision of a man in white. He said, “I will heal you, and you will not die. You will be a testimony.” She then said that water came down from this man and flowed all over her. The water felt cool and soothing, and she felt well and warm inside.
The next day was the surgery. When the doctor came in, he gave Nudeng a shot of medicine to put her to sleep. But the medicine had no effect on her. He was perplexed. Then he noticed the bag that usually kept her bodily waste was completely clean. This confused him even more, and he asked, “Who cleaned your bag?”
Nudeng began to cry, and she responded through the tears, “No one. Jesus healed me.” The doctor was silent then took an X-ray. When the X-ray results came back, there was no sign of cancer. After a few more tests, Nudeng left the hospital where she had been a patient for four years. Following this miracle, all 20 people in her family came to the Lord.
Another piece of this story is the doctor said because of the damage done by the cancer and from all the surgeries, Nudeng would never have kids. As we sat there with Prayut, he looked up and said, “I was another miracle.”
“Do you have any siblings?” I asked.
“Yes, four more.”
I did not know Elmer Sahlberg (he passed away in 2006). But I know I owe that man thanks, because through his work we now have a ministry partner who is carrying on the work of the gospel in Isaan.
We will continue to build upon the legacy of the work done in Isaan. Though at times the work may feel slow and the surrounding area may seem dark, 2 Timothy 1:7 states, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”
Please pray that we will see the power of God change lives and that it will not only impact them but also change future generations.
Watch an overview of the Thailand field in the video below. Alliance international workers believe the most effective way to reach the Thai people is through national believers, with whom they partner to plant churches.