When early Protestant missionaries arrived in Thailand, one of the first things that they did was to build a school to teach the Thai people their own language so that they would be able to read the Bible for themselves. That is a core concept of Protestantism – that each believer can come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ without the intervention of a priest. Together with the concepts that a person is saved by God’s grace alone – not through good works that they may do – and that a person is saved by faith alone – not by any action of the Church – the idea that a saving knowledge of God comes through reading God’s word is a core principle of Protestantism. These three radical concepts that differentiate Protestantism from Roman Catholicism led to the watchwords of the Reformation: ‘sola gracia, sola fide, sola scriptura‘ and explain why Protestant missionaries build schools and teach literacy. It has been a strategy that has worked well for hundreds of years.
Our partner church in Thailand, the Church of Christ in Thailand, is not related to the Church of Christ or the United Church of Christ denominations that we know in the United States of America. The name, the Church of Christ in Thailand or CCT, was adopted by the organization that was formed when all the Protestant denominations working in Thailand in the early 1900’s came together to form one organization to coordinate the efforts of the Protestant Christian Church in Thailand. The CCT has twenty-five schools throughout the country that provide both basic education and Christian education to thousands of Thai children in grades K-12. My role as the Coordinator of Christian Volunteers in Thailand for the CCT is to find volunteers to come to Thailand to work with the teachers and administrators for the purpose of improving the way in which English is taught and used within our schools. Our greatest need is for conversational English.
Si Thammarat Syksa School was established in 1902 by early missionaries to South Thailand and the old campus still has a home that was used by early missionaries, now preserved as a museum. The last missionaries to live there were Harry and Jean Norlander, the couple that served just before my parents arrived in Nakhon Si Thammarat in 1964. The old campus, located across the street from local government offices and next to the city’s sports complex, now houses the regular Thai program of study. The new campus has the total immersion English program where all classes are taught in English by native English speakers. The demand for teachers is constant – so any college graduate with teacher certification and a TOESL Certificate is encouraged to apply. The school already has more than 30 non-Thai teachers. Volunteers coming to help with conversational English do not have to meet the same requirements as our teachers do.
I also visited a second school in Trang on the other side of the Thai peninsula. Trang Christian School was established in 1915 and currently has almost 2,500 students enrolled in grades K-12. I gathered with the teachers of English in the principal’s office to begin a dialog about what we are doing and why it is so important. It is the same dialog I have begun in every school I have visited and it revolves around one major theme: the impact of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, on our schools.
ASEAN has stated its intention to establish a community of nations in Asia similar to the European Union with one common language. That language will be English. Just over three years from now, English will be an official language in Thailand and, with reduced restrictions at border crossings, we anticipate the influx of people from many of the other ASEAN nations: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam. As these families move into Thailand and their children enter Thai schools, the 25 schools of the CCT will be forced to teach every subject in English. We are not prepared to do this now.
I have likened the coming demand for English to a tsunami. We know that it will hit in 2015 and that it will overwhelm all our available resources, but we are still “playing on the beach” and ignoring all the signs of this impending disaster. We desperately need native English speakers to come to Thailand to teach our children – and it is not just so that our Christian schools will survive. Having native English speakers as teachers draws non-Christian students into our schools so that we have the opportunity to share our faith with those who still do not understand why a life in Christ fills us with so much joy each day! Ajarn Surapong (pictured here) had the vision to see the coming tsunami and that is why his school has an English Immersion program. Most of our other schools are not so blessed. We have an uphill battle to fight and not much time to make the changes that are needed. I would love to have people to help me with this huge task. Won’t you think about it?
If the urgent need won’t convince you, perhaps some more photos will: