Ashley Chestnut and team just returned home this week after serving with Brook Hills’ Long-Term Missionaries in Thailand. Their goal was to help strengthen the work of the local Thai church in that area. These are Ashley’s reflections of their time in Thailand.
Jet-lagged and already sweating profusely at 8:00 in the morning from the tropical heat and humidity, our team followed Pastor Ken into a school compound where we were told to expect 250 students and, instead, saw 2,000 Thai students K-6th grade sitting in rows in front of a stage. Someone handed us microphones, and all eyes stared at the eight foreigners on the stage expecting an English lesson. So what did we do? We started by teaching them the “Hokey Pokey.”
Let’s be real – in eight days in a foreign country, we are not in a position to invest in long-term relationships or to even truly help students improve their English speaking skills. A girl we met in the Seoul airport on our layover even asked us what impact we would actually have in the short amount of time that we would be in Thailand, and it prompted our team to ask that same question. Here’s what we discovered:
1. While trips such as ours do not result in mass conversions (especially when we don’t speak Thai), short-term trips are not about numbers. We came in wanting to partner with a local church and a native pastor, and Pastor Ken had five schools that he specifically wanted to penetrate with the gospel. However, because he did not have relationships with them, they were not open to him coming in to speak to the students or to give them Bibles. God used the fact that we’re American and were teaching English in their schools to esteem this local pastor in the eyes of school superintendents and local government officials who are now willing to let him come back to the schools and share. Because he provided this service for them for free, it has opened up opportunities for this local pastor and his congregation to share the gospel in places once closed to them.
2. God uses short-term trips to change those who go. One of our teammates had never been on a plane, much less out of the country, and for two of our team members, this was their first mission trip. Seeing poverty that is incomparable to what we see in Birmingham, walking into a market or school where all the people you pass are dying and going to Hell, and experiencing sacrificial hospitality by Thai believers who have so much less than us but who give so much more to make sure we’re taken care of – this changes how we think and how we live both here and there. Three of our team members feel called to either mid-term or long-term missions, and this trip is part of God’s process of shaping and preparing them for what He has for them in the future.
3. Short-Term trips provide unique discipleship opportunities. As we were eating dinner with some church members, one of the women asked me, “Is it okay to worship God and Buddha?” In our conversation, she explained how she had been a Buddhist for fifty years and how no one else in her family believes in Christ as Savior. With Buddhism and spirit worship so heavily ingrained in Thai culture, forsaking her spirit house and exclusively worshipping God is difficult for her to grasp and to do. Later, one of the girls on my team informed me that was the first time she’d ever seen someone share their faith. She had been trained in what to say when sharing the gospel and has been intentional in sharing with her classmates at Samford, but she had never seen someone do so. Her comment also reminded me of the discipleship opportunities that exist within teams who go on short-term trips and how such trips provide opportunities to further equip those who are going.
Overall, God showed us His sufficiency and His sovereignty while we were in Thailand, and He reminded us that while short-term trips are not about us, it’s also not up to us to decide what the effects of such trips should be. We’re just called to be obedient and to “glorify God by making disciples of all nations.”
Ashley Chestnut is on staff at The Church at Brook Hills where she serves as the Ministry Assistant for Local Disciple-Making. When she isn’t at work, you can find Ashley hanging out with her small group or cooking a new recipe in her kitchen. While her cooking is excellent, Ashley’s claim to fame is being able to look at a chicken and tell you how many eggs it’s laid. That’s right…she was the National Poultry Judging Champion for 4H in High School.