It took just one believer to start the church!
Around 1962, WEC missionaries Duane and Jackie Olsen joined WEC Thailand. After mastering the Thai language, they became involved in distributing medication to leprosy patients in three Thai provinces. Some patients had to travel by bus, bicycle or on foot, sometimes for two days, to the shelter where Jackie distributed the medication. Bob Dixon, who was also a WEC missionary in Thailand at the time, recalls: “I went to one village and watched as Hannah, a nurse, got the maggots out of a man’s hand. The leprous hand, numb, had fallen into the fire while he slept. Arrangements were made for him to go to a mission hospital.”
As well as receiving medication, patients had an opportunity to hear the gospel. Duane set up a loudspeaker on the back of his old Landrover and in his gifted way proclaimed Jesus, then gave out tracts.
By God’s grace, one farmer believed and invited Duane to his house in the village of Khong Wilai to teach him. Duane’s excellent gift for presenting the Gospel communicated effectively to local people. It was reported if a person was in the next room they would think it was a native Thai speaker teaching. A thriving group started meeting and a new church was born.
Sometime in the 60’s the Olsens returned to the States on furlough. Due to Duane’s illness and death they were not able to return to Thailand. Tragically, there were no missionaries to take their place. The believers who had been meeting in Khong Wilai were attracted by the government’s offer of free land 35 km away in Thung Maha Chai, and all but one or two of them moved as a group to settle their own farmland. These believers continued a church in their new location, and many of them still attend the WEC church in Kamphaengphet city today. Several key leaders of the present denomination trace their roots to the first believers who had moved from Khong Wilai.
However, the unfortunate reality remained that the church in Khong Wilai itself had disappeared. For the next 30 years there was no evidence to show that any church had existed there at all. The few believers who did not move away with the others were ostracized and fell away.
In 2006 WEC sent a new church planting team to Khong Wilai. At first none of the missionaries in this team were aware that WEC had had a previous work in this village. There were no longer any Christians in the area, and everything had to be started new from nothing. As a result of persistent evangelism across wide areas of the population, new people began to come to the faith. The team rented a shopfront building called “Baan Phuen Thae” (House of the True Friend) in the main street of Khong Wilai to hold the Worship and Prayer meetings.
During times of evangelism and deeper times of conversation with new believers, the new missionaries began to realize that there had been a church here long before. We also became aware of an obstacle that now needed to be overcome: some of the older local people who remembered the previous church were warning the younger ones, “Don’t become a Christian. Soon enough the missionaries will move away and you will become the despised rejects of society.”
Thankfully, God has enabled the missionaries to remain at the task of strengthening and establishing the church in Khong Wilai. In time we noticed a warming toward our presence. When after 10 years this congregation outgrew their rented building, work began on building a worship centre that would be the permanent home of the church. People in the market began to remark, “You’re building that church? That means you are going to stay!” We have noticed a much more positive attitude toward the church and the believers as a viable part of the local community.
The Coronavirus pandemic compelled us to move and worship in the newly constructed sanctuary even though electricity, flooring and paint are not completed. It is an ideally airy building which enables us to worship freely. As funds become available, the church will add accommodation for a pastor, a kitchen, meeting and storage rooms and an ablution block.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, the Khong Wilai church has been looking for ways to help the local community. Throughout Thailand, there are cabinets called “happy sharing cabinets” that people who are in need can freely take from. Missionaries Danny and Connie Turner, who work with the Khong Wilai church, had the idea to set up a “happy sharing table” and fill it with fresh produce that they bought from local sellers. “That way the market vendors who have not been able to sell for weeks and the people both benefit, and we get yet another opportunity to share the love of Christ,” they wrote. The young people in the church were super enthusiastic about the idea and they were able to buy lots of fruit and vegetables to give away. When some Burmese workers passed by who could not understand Thai, one of the church girls looked-up the words “free food” on her phone and then called out after them in Burmese. They actually understood and came back.
More recently, the church felt they could be doing more to help people impacted by COVID-19. An unexpected and generous gift from an organisation in Germany for COVID relief gave them the opportunity.
They did not think that the virus had too deeply impacted their district, but as church members began to research their neighborhoods, they found that many families depended on income from sons or daughters who had lost their jobs in the cities. As they found needy people living in the most obscure village backroads, they realised that God knew where these people were all the time and that He sees each one. One brother mentioned that the girls who worked in the local Karaoke bar were going hungry because they had had very few customers since the pandemic hit. The lady who runs the bar looked shocked as church members came in with bags of rice and provision for them. Not only that, the church had a great deal of fun shopping and putting the relief packets together.
Planting churches is in WEC’s DNA and it is so encouraging to know that a church planted by WEC missionaries over 50 years ago has restarted and is faithfully meeting and growing. Not only that, it is showing God’s love to the community by reaching out with practical help.