The Church of Christ in Thailand is hoping to recruit several hundred native English speakers to serve as volunteer teachers in its 25 schools and eight hospitals, said two leaders of the church Aug. 23.
The Rev. Rung Ruengsan-Ajin, vice moderator, and Elder Chusak Wuthiwaropas, treasurer, were here this week to meet with leaders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and learn more about opportunities for partnership.
The PC(USA) has dispatched mission worker Sharon Bryant to Chiang Mai to help facilitate the volunteer effort.
The PC(USA) has several mission partners in Thailand, but its primary relationship is with the CCT. PC(USA) presbyteries with mission partnerships with the CCT include Huntingdon, San Francisco, San Gabriel and Scioto Valley.
Christians make up about 1 percent of Thailand’s population, with about half of that number — 150,000 — belonging to the CCT. The mission of the CCT has grown a lot since he served his first stint as treasurer from 1982-1989, Wuthiwaropas said.
“At that time we had small money and office,” he said in an Aug. 23 interview with Presbyterian News Service. “This time we have a bigger building, more staff and more money.”
Wuthiwaropas began his current term last January after working for World Vision in Thailand for 22 years and Habitat for Humanity-Thailand for one year.
The CCT has about 1,000 congregations, eight hospitals, two universities and 25 K-12 schools.
In the past, American Presbyterians — who began working in Thailand in 1840 — served as volunteer teachers. Ruengsan-Ajin and Wuthiwaropas said the CCT hopes to revive this tradition.
The schools need native English speakers to teach English as a second language, but also for other subjects. Thai parents want to send their children to schools where they can learn English, and while many Asian teachers speak English, native speakers can teach students to speak without accents.
There is talk about forming an Asian Economic Community by 2015, similar to the European Union. There could be one currency and a common language — English.
But the CCT wants English teachers for more than economic reasons.
“It’s a channel for spreading the Gospel,” said Ruengsan-Ajin, who, prior to taking office as vice-moderator served for eight years as president of the Bangkok Institute of Theology, one of two theological seminaries operated by the CCT.
The church is also aware of its calling to continue serving the poor. Several of its hospitals serve low-income patients, and English-speaking volunteers could help build the ability of staff to communicate with more patients.
Ruengsan-Ajin and Wuthiwaropas also had some insight to share about denominational unity.
Four of the church’s eight hospitals and 10 of its 25 schools aren’t self-sufficient. To survive, they rely on money from the denomination’s central office. Congregations also tithe to the central office.
“Every year our hospitals spend a large sum on treating the poor, including Karen refugees [from neighboring Myanmar] at our hospital near the border,” Ruengsan-Ajin said. “We get some aid from our larger, wealthier hospitals. Likewise, our larger, more prestigious schools support the smaller ones.”
“In Thailand, we try to build unity,” Wuthiwaropas said. “The church, school and hospital are one body.”
The CCT expects to one day face the same decentralization that many U.S. denominations — including the PC(USA) — are now experiencing. But they’re trying to delay it by teaching congregations about church unity. The whole Thai church supports itself, not just individual congregations.
“We have one goal that we’re going to achieve together,” Ruengsan-Ajin said.
In a postmodern world, the concept of community has been lost in favor of individualism, he said. People want to claim their own rights, but what about the rights of the community?
“I think the church has to explain this phenomenon,” Ruengsan-Ajin said.
As in the PC(USA), many CCT congregations do not have pastors. “We’re working hard on lay training programs so we can have more skilled leadership for more churches,” Ruengsan-Ajin said. “About 20 percent of them are on the brink.”
And so the search goes on for partnerships that will help the CCT keep growing.
“We’re visiting with our best friends first,” Wuthiwaropas said with a smile.