In the familiarity of small-town life in the Western world, churches vie for the attention of Christians. But catch a flight halfway around the world to Thailand — the heart of Asia — and the scene is altogether different.

A nation of 68 million people, Thailand is overwhelmingly Buddhist. A familiar expression states: To be Thai is to be Buddhist. Buddhism in Thailand is a unique mixture of traditional religion, Theravada Buddhism and Brahmanism — a potent array of false faith when sharing the gospel. A sizeable Muslim population also lives in the southernmost provinces and in the larger cities. Combined, these factors have made Thailand a spiritually resistant field for many years. Recent statistics indicate that after nearly 200 years of Christian ministry among ethnic Thai, only about 1 in 300 has any connection with a Protestant church.

Committed followers of Christ in Thailand might struggle to find brothers and sisters of like faith. But at the end of their search, they will be rewarded. Though small, the Thai Christian movement is growing vigorously, giving evidence that this traditionally resistant people is reachable for the Master.

A national vision
This new era of growth is clearly tied to the work of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostals have actively ministered in Thailand for 60-plus years. Finnish Pentecostals came in 1947, followed by the Scandinavian Pentecostal Mission and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. The first U.S. AG missionaries to Thailand were appointed in 1968, and the following year Dr. Wirachai Kowae founded the Thailand Assemblies of God.

Currently the Thai Fellowship includes about 5,000 to 7,000 believers who attend some 150 churches. Believers are engaged in a variety of ministries that extend from Bangkok’s metropolitan sprawl to some of the nation’s most remote villages. While the church may be small compared with other national fellowships, an aggressive push to plant churches promises greater growth in the near future. The national church has targeted all 76 provinces in the nation for a church planting. With nearly half of these provinces lacking a single Christian congregation, just one church plant represents a major evangelistic advance.

The Thailand Assemblies of God Bible Institute in Bangkok has recently taken on new life thanks to a strategic partnership between the national Fellowship and AG World Missions. As funds become available, the campus will undergo major remodeling and construction of a new dormitory and classroom facility. Students and faculty are already moving forward, using whatever resources are available. Just a year ago, only eight students were preparing for ministry. That number has tripled this year, with 40 students expected to begin studies soon. The rise of a church planting movement depends upon called, trained, mentored and Spirit-empowered leaders, and a growing number of believers are making themselves available for the work.