Mennonites in Canada and the U.S. are helping to build a crematorium in the village of Borabu, Thailand, where Christians have run into difficulties using Buddhist crematoria for funeral services.
The construction at Living Water Church began in February and is expected to be finished this month, according to a joint news release from Mennonite Church Canada News and the Mennonite Mission Network.
With financial help from Mennonite Church Canada and Bethesda Mennonite Church in Henderson, Neb., the crematorium will enable Christians there to perform those ceremonies for fellow Christians. Thailand is a majority Buddhist nation where cremation is the preferred method of honoring the dead. Borabu is about 235 miles northeast of Bangkok.
Not having a crematorium at the church has prevented believers from performing Christian funeral ceremonies, and may even be repelling potential converts, said Pat Houmphan, whose wife, Rad, is a mission worker jointly supported by Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Mission Network.
Pat Houmphan was also supported by both agencies until recently, when he resigned to focus on a new business and ministry initiative in the area. He continues to work closely with Living Water Church, according to the news release.
“If you want to become a Christian, then you get threats and mocking that ‘you won't be allowed to use our (Buddhist) crematorium,’” Houmphan said. “Maybe this is a silly issue for the Westerner to understand, but it has a psychological impact when they hear that. It discourages them from wanting to become Christians.”
Houmphan said that several years ago, a woman who was a member of Living Water Church made it clear that upon her death she wanted a Christian service. However, her relative had to take her body to a crematorium at a Buddhist temple because the church lacked one.
“We didn’t have a chance to do a Christian service in our church,” Houmphan said. “We were able to do a very limited service in her village.”
The final stages of construction involved the building of a wall with individual compartments for urns. There will be also an area where loved ones can leave flowers.
Living Water Church contributed about 25 percent of the costs and the majority of the labor, but financial and labor support from Mennonites in North America was essential, Houmphan said. The Living Water Church council will oversee the crematorium's operations.
It will be available to non-Christians as well, Houmphan said.
“We also want to use it for witnessing,” he said. “In the village where we are, they don’t have a Buddhist temple there. We want them to know that they can use our crematorium without problems. We want to show love and care and that we respect the Buddhist faith. We want to have friends and have harmony in the community.”