As expected, the jump from Canadian winter to Southeast Asia’s tropical humidity is a mixed blessing. Even the Thais wipe the perspiration from their brows because the humidity is so intense.
Bangkok is a large sprawling port city interested by rivers and waterways, concrete raised highway, and city streets clogged with cars, trucks and motorcycles. There are people everywhere. Spaghetti-like black overheard wires, many illegal connections to city and cable services interrupt the view of the sky and buildings. Along most streets, permanent and temporary venders line the sidewalks with their goods. Every so often while plastic chairs and tables mark an eatery of some kind. The combination of colour, sounds, and smells gives the city a unique sensory experience.
As you drive down the street, you see small spirit houses which look like miniature Buddhist temples. Every morning someone is assigned the job of lighting incense and presenting an offering.
In a courtyard just off a busy street in Bangkok, various Lutheran agencies share office and worship space. To the right is the office where Dr. Len Harms, LCC’s former mission executive, works as executive director of Lutheran Institute Southeast Asia. This regional organization is currently providing theological education for pastors and deaconesses in Thailand and Cambodia. The second floor of the building is classroom space. Before my visit is over, Dr. Norman Threinen, professor emeritus at Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton (CLS) will arrive to teach. Many of the professors involved in the education program come from Canada. Dr. Stephen Chambers, also from CLS was here in January.
On the left is an area where The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod holds English lessons. The instructor, a lay person from St. Louis, uses the classes to build relationships with her students and constantly seeks opportunities to share her faith. Upstairs, a church meets for worship. Lutheran Heritage Foundation which publishes and supports the publishing of books and magazines in many languages has its regional office on the same floor. Just a few steps down the street is the Thailand office of Lutheran Hour Ministries. Here it is known as Journey Into Light.
Sunday’s service had a familiar ring to it, but not for the reasons you would expect. Confession and absolution, the sermon, offering, the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer were all there. But when it came to congregational song, I found myself humming along to tunes drawn from contemporary Christian music and other sources. The Hymn of Praise was a delightful medley of tunes including the refrain from “How Great Thou Art.” At another point in the service, the two dozen gathered for worship sang Keith Green’s setting of “Create in me a clean heart” — Psalm 51. And the final hymn came from a Thai hymn compilation published by the country’s very small Protestant church—
“I need thee every hour.” They sang the hymns heartily, following the words either on the projection screen or hymnal, and accompanied by two guitars.
Attending a service like this really gives you the sense of the worldwide Body of Christ. Our language and cultures are different, yet we are united by the love of God shown in the suffering, death and resurrection of His son, Jesus. I would love to have heard some of the indigenous Thai hymns. Apparently, they are quite beautiful. I’m here for another Sunday, so hopefully it can still happen.