(OMF: 150 years of history, 8 years of history in Isaan)
In 1865 Hudson Taylor founded the China Inland Mission because missionaries until then only had proclaimed the Gospel on the coast of China. He believed that everybody should hear the offer of salvation! We are going to the people who have not heard about Christ yet. We are going, even if the going is difficult.
150 years later that still is what the OMF does. And eight years ago for me it was the reason to go from the coast of Thailand to inland, to Isaan. Millions of people in Isaan live in areas without a single church. “Jesus, yes, I believe he lives in the next village”, I once heard an older man say.
With gratitude I am looking back on those eight years. Our missionary team will welcome its 48th member in February. Eleven small churches were planted, and seven of them were the first church in their district. Together these churches have over 150 members. It is pioneering work: among all these people, as far as I know, only two were born in a Christian family.
But of course it is not about numbers. It is not about how long and how hard missionaries have worked. It is about the lives behind the numbers. It is about lives that were transformed throug the power of God’s Spirit. That is what we are seeing in Isaan. And we believe they are the firstfruits of a great harvest!
There is this almost blind young man, who as a child almost pressed his eyes against the television tube to watch a Christian children’s programme. A missionary told him the Gospel, and he became the first person to be baptised in the OMF ministy in Isaan. His growth in the faith was not without challenges, but by now he is involved in planting a new church.
There is this older man whose daughter had married a Christian in Bangkok. Now he wanted to know what the faith is all about. Months on end he studied the Bible with a missionary in his village. In the end he committed his life to the Lord. Now he is the elder in a church. He is telling about God to all the customers of his small rice mill. “Wonderful, wonderful”, they respond. But they do not dare to follow him yet on the path of faith.
There is this group op women in a sewing shop who started to study the Bible together. Their conviction grew that Jesus is the Saviour. Four of them were baptised at the same time. Together they are helping a very ill woman who came to the Lord shortly after them. They know what is means to be God’s family.
There is this former alcoholic who almost drowned in his despair after his daughter committed suicide. The good news about Jesus was the only lifeline that remained for him. But it held, and God’s grace pulled him all the way to a new life. He received forgiveness. He started to serve God. When you now see his beaming face when he leads worship, cannot doubt any longer that it is true: God brings change.
There is this girl from Birma, exploited as a migrant worker in a Thai factory. She was meeting together with other Christians to worship the Lord. When the leadership of the church fell apart, she kept the church going. And when she moved to another factory, after six months she sent the tithes she had faitfully saved so that her factory church could celebrate Christmas.
There is this couple of over eighty years old. After a long and full life they heard about the way to heaven. It was like the light was switched on for them. With rigid limbs they went under in the waters of baptism and they stood up to a new life- close to heaven already.
There is this young man who draws so well he got offers from abroad to work for companies developing computer games. But he wanted that his relatives would hear the Gospel. Now he again lives between the Isaan paddy fields. Three drawings a month result in a nice income to him, and the rest of his time he can devote to building up the church.
When you see things like these around you, you know an organisation can spend 150 years on nothing better than proclaiming the Gospel. And that we can spend our time on nothing better until Jesus returns. When one sinner turns to God, there is joy in heaven. No greater place than the mission field to celebrate that heavenly joy on earth! That is what we are doing when we are celebrating 150 years OMF.