Speaking English opens hearts in Bangkok

Santisuk English School Bangkok, Thailand

The city of Bangkok, Thailand, is home to 8.3 million people and several religions. With people moving to the bustling city for work, there is a special convergence of Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and Hindus. Like any major city, Bangkok is colorful and bustling. Buddhist shrines decorate many streets. Buddhists leave fake money to their gods and even sodas with straws as offerings. This is where Converge missionaries Steve and Nopaluck Cable started Santisuk English School 25 years ago. Recently, they opened their fourth campus. Director of mobilization for Converge International Ministries Glenn Herschberger and his wife, Sue, who coordinates short-term deployment, flew to Thailand to see the school’s impact.

“It was really interesting to see people choosing to expose themselves to the gospel because they want to learn English,” Sue said. “Learning English makes their lives better but yet they don’t realize what they are seeking. God is making himself known in a really dark place in a subtle way.”

The Herschbergers experienced an English class at SES and were taken around the city by Abbi, a 19-year-old teacher. She took them to a larger, Buddhist shrine downtown. These shrines are elaborately decorated with flowers, tiny statues and food for the gods. Bursts of color litter the streets from the flower vendors and smells of spicy, smoky food from carts linger in the air. While Abbi took them to the landmark shrine, she wouldn’t go in.

“She said it was dark and hopeless,” Glenn said. “These people are praying and worshiping an unknowable God, who isn’t even a God, it’s an idol.”

“The smell of incense was suffocating. The flowers, dancers and musicians just overwhelmed us,” Sue said. “Worshipers and tourists squeezed through the gates to pay homage or click photos. After three minutes, Abbi was right. The hopeless and meaningless worship of idols was really sad.”

Most SES students come from Buddhist backgrounds. To be Thai is to be Buddhist, Steve Cable often says. Glenn says they are open to other religions because they believe there are multiple paths that lead to nirvana. In fact, while they were visiting, two monks signed up for classes.

“They go around and read Scripture. The teacher reads it out loud first, then the students read the same passage again,” he said. “As she was reading, she asked the students to circle and underline words they don’t understand. Then they talk about the meaning of it.”

Teaching English through Bible stories

SES holds a strong reputation in the community. Students don’t just learn English, they are cared for by their teachers. Sue says this isn’t common.

“No one goes into classes saying they need to believe the Bible,” she said. “Students hear the Word and see the care they get from their teachers and that they truly want to help and encourage them. It’s just not typical to care deeply about students’ lives.”

The teachers at SES come from all over the world. Some are former students who used to be Buddhists and are now Christians. Some come from churches in the States and others have come from predominantly-Muslim countries who cannot go home. The Herschbergers met a few Iranian men at a church service where Glenn preached. He gave a message on Galatains 5 and finding freedom in Christ. Many students attend this church, some who are not believers. At his service, three people accepted Christ, including an Iranian man and a Chinese refugee.

“The Iranian men are now refugees. They told me they had accepted Christ and now they can never go back home,” he said. “The more I talk to people around the world, the more I see the amazing work of God in countries where we would never think people are coming to faith. But they are.”

To keep this strong ministry going in Bangkok, SES needs teachers. Sue encourages anyone who has a heart for missions to pray about it. Teachers can serve from a few weeks to several years. The students are like any other students. They just want to practice their English and have fun, she says.

“You don’t have to be a teacher to teach English,” Sue said. “You just have to speak English and know how to read and reach out to people. You will receive training and all the supplies you need your first week in Thailand. They appreciate all careers. All you need to do is have a teachable spirit and love people."

To learn more about serving at SES, email Sue at susanh@convergeww.org.

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    Point - September 2018

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