‘Why has nobody taught us these things before?’ That was the comment from one senior pastor in his feedback on PTI’s first training conference to pastors [from the Karen people] in Western Thailand. Together with most of the pastors at the conference, he has never had any formal ministry training. Instead he has had to settle for attending a variety of seminars over the years. But until now none had ever focused on the essential task of how to preach the Word of God correctly.
This conference followed a request by Pastor Suradet, who works with Frontier Labours for Christ, which has partnered PTI in the past. He comes from the village where the conference took place and he was keen that the pastors in this part of Thailand received this training. It was conducted by Jim Winter and Simon Percy; whilst there they had to adapt to life in the village. This meant cold showers; eating cross-legged and sleeping on the floor; and watching as the food is wonderfully prepared, on open fires, without any of it becoming a burnt offering.
These Karen villages are located on a mountain range in Western Thailand, close to the countries tallest mountain where until 30 years ago or so, it was all but cut off from most of Thailand. The church there is still young, many of the older Christians are first generation believers, having converted from animist religions.
Initially it was hoped that 70 pastors would have attended but, sadly, numbers turned out to be lower than expected. This was at first somewhat disappointing, but with the benefit of hindsight we saw that this was clearly the Lord’s wisdom.
The remoteness of these villages has meant that, until recently, few inhabitants ever went to school and most are unable to read or write in Thai. Those who are literate were taught to read Karen by missionaries. The new roads and government boarding schools for their children indicate that this is now changing. But this lack of basic education meant that it was helpful to be working with smaller numbers, allowing us more time to explain and revise the teaching when necessary.
Result were exciting as the pastors quickly grasped and began to apply what they were learning. The compact size of the conference meant that those who attended went away excited, very keen to invite others to come and gain similar insights when we return, God willing, in 2015.
The conference began by reminding them that God calls church leaders to pray and to preach. And that they will be most useful to their congregations when they are able to feed them from the Word of God. So the week began with them learning how to prepare a sermon that is accurate and faithful to the original intention of the passage. As this was the first year, the passages covered all came from the gospel of Mark. Jim covered Bible text to sermon, whilst Simon did a Bible overview, showing the overarching narrative than runs through the entire Bible.
Although many of these skills were new to many of those attending, they soon got the hang of what was being taught and were keen for us to return next year and to share more with them.