by Keith Lihaven
Keith (MSC) is part of Crave International, which works alongside existing churches and ministries in Southeast Asia, to help strengthen their discipleship opportunities and strategies.
When we arrived in Chiang Rai we had few certainties. We had hotel rooms for a week, a little bit of savings, a solid support team in Canada and a short to-do list. We needed a home and a vehicle but, most importantly, we knew that our biggest need was to connect with a local church.
We wanted to use the gifts and abilities that God has given us, such as teaching, music, youth ministry and business, to support existing ministries. When we first arrived, we met with a few different fellowships; however, at the local fellowship we now serve in, we became aware that we had all been praying for the same specific needs. One of the church elders said, ‘We also want to serve you. So, if you have any needs, please don’t hesitate to ask because, believe it or not, 19 years ago, I was right where you are.’ What an answer to prayer! Not only were we going to have the opportunity to immediately serve the local church, but God had landed us a new friend to come alongside us as a mentor.
Within the first year we had fully integrated ourselves within the church team. Thai staff became our language teachers, we served alongside them in community ministries and God was opening doors for us on university campuses that we could not have imagined. They needed help with their English ministry and, although we felt fairly ill-equipped to help them in this work, we told our new church that we had been trusting that the Lord would lead us to a place where He could use us.
This past Christmas season, the church was asked to provide a speaker for a university Christian club outreach event. This was our team’s third time attending the event and helping out at our church’s stand. They asked if we would be willing to do the gospel presentation. What a humbling opportunity! Specifically, they asked if we could talk about how the gospel is a gift. So, alongside one of the Thai church staff members, we shared the story of Christmas and how it is a gift that must be received. And it was! After sharing, we gave students an opportunity to ask local believers questions and discover more about the good news of Jesus. A week later, one of the girls being baptised at our church was a student who had committed her life to Jesus at the event a week before. June* has now joined our church community and is being discipled by the young adults’ leader at the church.
Our ministry team has been on the field for just over two and a half years now. There has been little in terms of constants in our environment. As a team we have experienced success, terrible loss, frustration and inexplicable satisfaction. One of our original team members left to get married back home. The mother of another team member, Alexa, became sick with cancer for the third time and has since gone to be with the Lord. I don’t think that a single season has gone by where we have not thought, ‘Well, that was unexpected’ or ‘I don’t know how we could have prepared for that’. When life starts to go sideways, it is easy to throw your hands in the air and give up. Our team has been in reaction and learning mode since we got here. But that does not change who God is. Nothing does. It is this world that we live in that is unstable – God is the constant. In our experience, it has been in the trials that God has offered us the greatest opportunities for growth. We try to mark those moments as times when God has been faithful. It may seem odd to consider our moments of failure as ‘God moments’ but, in fact, it has been in those difficult periods when our team has discovered an even greater dependence upon the Father.
We believe that God called us here to establish relationships…and share the gospel with all who would hear it.
In those times of frustration and trial, people often ask us: ‘So, how long are you there for?’ It’s almost impossible for us not to hear, ‘Is this what you signed up for? Do you still want to do this?’ Our response to questions like this is: ‘Actually, we are pretty anchored in here, until God tells us to go elsewhere.’ When people ask if we ‘like doing missions?’ we say, ‘Yes, we love it! But we don’t do what we are doing based on likes or wants, but in obedience.’ During times of duress, we have a great opportunity to be reminded of exactly who is with us. As believers in Christ, we have a direct relationship with the great I Am!
‘Although Chiang Rai is now my home, I have lived in many different places within Thailand. My extended family live in the mountains of Tak, where there is a large population of Hmong people. It is about five and a half hours from Bangkok and close to the Myanmar border. From a young age, my siblings and I were forced to live in many different children’s homes due to my father’s trouble with drugs and the law. The first home that took care of us was a Buddhist temple. They allowed us to stay there for a time, but eventually we found our way to a children’s home. Some people may feel bad for me and my siblings but I am thankful because it was through the Christian homes that I was able to learn about and give my life to Jesus.
‘I graduated in May with a degree in linguistics and yet, more than anything, I wanted to find a job where I could serve the Lord. When the Crave team approached me to join them, I could not believe that God had chosen me for a role like this. I started helping the team in November 2019 and joined them full time in June 2020. My role is primarily to help with service opportunities, the mentorship of Thai university students and to teach the Thai language to each of the team members and international interns.
‘God has had His hand on my life and has provided for me every step of the way. It is now my pleasure to serve Him as part of the Crave team. I am still discovering a lot about how God has gifted me, but I love the journey He has me on and am excited for the future. Please pray for the millions of people in Thailand who have yet to hear about Jesus.’
When people ask us what we do, we often tell them ‘discipleship’. That includes doing whatever God has in store for us and whatever serves the local church best. Over the past years, we have helped out at dozens of English day camps for local schools, shared a Christmas presentation at a school for novice monks, hosted camps for children’s homes, and been involved in rescue ministries and church plants. We have spoken in churches and at conferences, joined construction teams and taught at universities.
In all that God has led us to do, we have continually partnered alongside the local church, because we believe that it is through the establishing of the local church, and the development of its leaders, that God will continue to expand His Kingdom within Thailand and Southeast Asia.
We aim to maintain the mindset that we are anchored in for the long haul. We believe that God called us here to establish relationships, learn a language, which is difficult but key to success, and share the gospel with all who would hear it. May God be glorified in all that we say and do.