by Peter Ferry
As we read the Word of God and consider the lives of the men whom God called to serve Him, they have one thing in common. Each one of the Lord’s servants trained others to follow them in serving the Lord. Moses was succeeded by Joshua, Elijah by Elisha and the latter trained the sons of the prophets in schools set up by Samuel. The Lord Jesus called His disciples and taught them by both word and example. As the Church expanded, Paul chose Timothy to be with him (Ac. 16:3) and later he wrote to Timothy, telling him to pass on to faithful men what he had learned (2 Tim. 2:1-2).
Those who serve the Lord in other countries, who have the joy of seeing men and women become Christians, need to invest time in equipping them to continue the work. Some years ago my wife, Peggy, and I were invited to return to Phuket, Thailand to help in the local assembly. The mission workers who invited us were faithful servants but as they were getting older, they felt the need for someone younger to help them in the work. Before accepting their invitation, I told them of my burden to train young Thai people to serve the Lord and they were delighted to have me do this. Previously, the preaching and teaching had been done by foreign workers and it was they who arranged camps and special meetings. From time to time, Thai or Chinese evangelists and Bible teachers visited and their ministry was appreciated.
Invited to Serve
We first gathered the young men and women, and told them that they would be responsible for one meeting a month. One brother would lead the meeting and another would speak. All could be involved in singing and someone could give a testimony. The young people were excited about this but said that they needed guidance. We met together to arrange the programme, which we had fun doing. When I asked the brother chosen to speak what part of the Bible he would use, he replied, ‘I will read Luke 15, but what should I say?’ Seated around a table we prepared the message together. This happened month after month until they could all prepare their own material.
Today, those young people are mature Christians who teach at least once a month, some almost every week. This process was replicated by the women and now the sisters in Phuket have a weekly meeting and four of them take it in turn to speak.
Those who serve the Lord in other countries, who have the joy of seeing men and women become Christians, need to invest time in equipping them to continue the work.
Sent Out to Serve
Workshops on various subjects have also been held. These have included seminars on worship, personal evangelism and preaching outdoors with posters and tracts. The workshops are interactive and those involved practise what they have learned before taking it out to the market places. On one occasion, as we were witnessing at a large market, one of the young women came asking for help. She had given a tract to a Muslim man but could not answer his questions. We both went back to the man and the girl listened as we talked together. It is important that the mission worker makes room for others to serve the Lord and does not wait until they are word perfect. As all of these converts are from other religions they need to learn what biblical terminology means. The Bible is translated into Thai but words like ‘sin’, ‘worship’ and ‘grace’ have different meanings for Buddhists and Christians. One who is starting to serve the Lord should always do so in tandem with an experienced worker. The girl who met the Muslim was serving the Lord but she was not on her own. She was able to come for assistance and knowing that an experienced worker was with her gave her confidence.
Recognising & Encouraging Gifts
There is no single method for training nationals to be servants of the Lord. Much of my time is spent mentoring in small groups. Three times a week, different groups come to me for Bible teaching with each group studying a different book of the Bible. These times are special as questions can be asked and answered in a personal way. The sessions are important for Christians who want to serve the Lord, teaching them how to study and use material to teach others in turn. Two sisters come for help in preparing their teaching at the weekly meetings for women. It is good to invite Christians to help in various tasks and, little by little, to let them take over. Some types of outreach, which I started years ago, are now the full responsibility of Thai believers. The mission worker must be willing to provide opportunities for nationals to exercise their gifts and to encourage them to serve the Lord.
As leaders are recognised in the local church they must be allowed to exercise their leadership. In the early days the mission workers baptised new believers. As the Lord raises up local elders they should be encouraged to take over this role, so that believers do not think that only mission workers can baptise. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in every church and then left the local church in their care (Ac. 14:23).
As the number of assemblies in Thailand increased, brother Amnart, a full-time worker, was concerned about the need to train leaders in each fellowship. He proposed a mini Bible school to be held in Phuket, where we have accommodation for students. For the past three years we have had three, two-week sessions of Bible teaching for students from rural areas. The sessions are arranged before and after crop planting, and after the harvest when farmers have more free time.
We share the teaching: I teach for three hours in the morning on the New Testament, while Amnart teaches in the afternoon and evening on the Old Testament. During my survey of the New Testament, each student receives outlines and background material from a survey of the Bible that I have written. Part of my teaching includes New Testament Church principles. Amnart has written material on the Old Testament, which is distributed to the students. I thank the Lord for Amnart, who was one of the first young people I trained when we came to Phuket. He is a keen student of the Word and the Lord is using him in many parts of the country. Last year we had 17 students, mostly from the hill tribes of northern Thailand.
As the assemblies are now in the care of local believers, I am today one of the elders. I take my turn in teaching and, as there is more than one assembly in Phuket, I am
in a different venue each Sunday. Being a national in itself does not guarantee blessing in the Lord’s work. Like the apostles whom the Lord trained, they need to ‘tarry in Jerusalem until they receive power’. The apostles were not filled with the Holy Spirit only once but again and again (Ac. 2:4; 4:8, 31). Mission workers should always be training others with a view to them taking over the work. Amnart used to accompany me when I preached in other provinces. He is now teaching in places where I previously taught. Each week a team from the assembly visits an old people’s home. I started the work there and some of the local Christians went with me week by week. When they were used to taking part in the outreach, I withdrew and left it to the local team. If the Lord had to take me out of Thailand, the work would go on without interruption. As Paul demonstrated with Timothy, mission workers should step back when the Lord has raised up Christians in the local church to take responsibility. I am free to accept invitations to minister the Word in other parts of Asia knowing that Thai brothers and sisters are serving the Lord. As a Senior Worker my years of service may be drawing to a close, but I have confidence that the Lord’s work will continue until He comes again.
- for the mini Bible school, the teachers and the students
- for Peter, Amnart and other church leaders as they train others
- for the believers to be grounded in the Word
- for assemblies in the Hill Tribes of north, the Sea Gypsies in the south and new Thai-speaking assemblies in other areas.