Missionaries in Chiang Mai

I was surprised upon moving to Chiang Mai, how many missionaries live here. They work primarily with the hill tribes of Northern Thailand and I’m not sure if I like it. I’m assuming the missionaries do great charity work, perhaps bringing education, clothing, food, and shelter to the ethnic minorities and outlying communities.

There are six main hill tribes that have migrated from Southern China and Tibet. They have preserved their traditional clothing and way of life and have become a popular tourist attraction. Many visitors go “trekking” through the mountains to see them. There’s an agreement with tours and I’m sure there is a mutual financial benefit for both sides but I can’t imagine going to visit say – Native American tribes in my home country as a zoo attraction.

The U.S. Peace Corps no longer work in Thailand because it is considered developed enough but what I am discovering is a lot of NGOs or Non-Government Organizations work in the area through HIV, hospital, orphanage and educational work. And it’s wonderful to see a group of happy and healthy children going on a field trip to the King’s Mother’s Garden and people from all over the world doing charitable work. But for the higher glory of God? Why not, eh?

The Western world has an illustrious career in missionary work gone badly and when I heard about the mission Christian population in Chiang Mai, I said, “Isn’t that so 19th century?” Even when I was in church, and the preacher spoke of spreading the word of God, tell your friends, etc. I felt very uncomfortable. I could not imagine telling anyone anything about what I feel is a personal relationship between God and me.

Religion isn’t a great brand of shampoo you want to tell your friends about; it should bring you to your knees in private not public. I hate the new wave of churches today full of power points, orchestras, and microphones. It’s nothing but a show. I don’t go to church to be entertained but it seems that is exactly what church has become. Missionary work feels like a similar show, a traveling circus of entertainers here to sell you the latest miracle in a bottle.

That’s why so many people are turned off by Christianity. Who’s in charge of marketing? They need to be fired. Don’t say Jesus, we assume too often to know what he said and then we use it for our own purposes. And the hill tribe people? If they are anything like my mom they will get baptized just to please the missionaries or in my mom’s case, her mother-in-law.

But God told me so. God tells us. If God wasn’t there to tell you how to think, what would you think?

But I know people who are missionaries in Chiang Mai and I have nothing against them. I guess the next step is to find some anthropologist to study this Christian Hill Tribe phenomenon. Because I’d like to get an answer that didn’t involve, “it’s good” or “it’s easy” from the hill tribe people when asked what they think of God or Christianity.

16 thoughts on “Missionaries in Chiang Mai

  1. Hi Lani, you make me ponder.Aren't we (bloggers) not also kind of missionaries?With a message to convey?Yet, I'm convinced our stories make people laugh a lot more than those about the redeemer.Just kiddin'; the above is loosely based on 'prayer' by Hans Teeuwen.

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  2. Missionaries have been working openly in Thailand for over 180 years. They are the reason Thailand has the best education, best hospitals, and even one of the best quality of life in Southeast Asia. It is condescending to think they are only working with hill tribes people or people in need. It is also condescending to think that the hill tribes cannot think for themselves. They have obviously seen something in the message of Jesus Christ that they have been drawn to. The percentage of hill tribe that are Christian is 12% of the population. The population of Christians in Thailand is growing much faster than the population growth. Many Thais are coming to believe in Jesus. Many will object and say that Thailand is a Buddhist nation, but the reality is that it surely is not a true Buddhist nation. It is more of a mix of Brahmanism, ancestor worship, astrology, and spirit cults. Ask any Maha Pra and they will acknowledge the same.

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  3. Christians are commanded by Jesus Christ himself not only to acknowledge him publicly but also proclaim him to the nations. It is a part of obeying him as Lord. Matthew 10:32, Luke 12:8-9, Mark 16:14-16, Matthew 28:18-20, Romans 10:13-15, 2 Cor 5:20, Matthew 24:14 and numerous other Bible passages show this clearly. Everyone has the free will to choose to obey God's message or not.

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  4. Hear hear, Lani! I couldn't agree more. Most MLM sales people and missionaries both have that same smile on their faces and look in their eyes and I want to turn and run away as fast as I can.I think the charity work they do is obviously needed, but do it unconditionally. Don't burden the needy with a sort of debt, that they should convert because of all these good deeds that the missionaries have done for them. How many convert out of feeling of debt? That's not right.

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  5. @Anon:There is no doubt that war, religion and politics have played significant roles in history and I mean this in the most positive sense.It seems though that Buddhism is more tolerant of other faiths and religions and Christianity is not.I think to be Christ-like, is to be compassionate, loving, and understanding.I also think we need to have a care when we say things like, if we didn't give them clothes, they would be naked…if I didn't give birth to my son, he wouldn't be alive.While these things may be true, does it need to be said? And if it is said, why?As far as hill tribes or Thais thinking for themselves, my mother was baptized but she is still a practicing Buddhist.Yes, I am half Thai. And Chinese which is where the majority of the hill tribes are from. Please don't assume, ever, that I think my own kind cannot think for themselves.When I asked a Chiang Rai resident why Thais were attracted to Christianity, he said because it was easier than being a Buddhist.Sounds like some thought was given into that.Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Your word choices were insightful.

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  6. @Amy:Good point. I think charity work should be given freely and unconditionally. Otherwise, it's just politics as usual.

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  7. An interesting post…garners some interesting comments.”[First] Anonymous” commenter attributes Thai education, health care, and quality of life to the influence of long-term Christian missionaries?Does that reconcile with the empirical evidence?In education, for example, the Thai alphabet, educational bureaucracy, and national curriculum barely resemble Western models…to assert some sort of cause-and-effect relationship, well, seems self-aggrandizing.Certainly, these faith-base & secular groups, altruistic or proselytizing [or both], contribute to the well-being of many Thais. However, I wouldn't think that these foreign groups have MADE Thailand the remarkable country it is, today.It would be interesting to investigate to what extent Christianity has penetrated Thai religious beliefs. I have seen a few Thai young people, wearing crucifixes, making merit in a Buddhist wat. I don't know if they considered themselves “Christians,” or if the crosses were affectations.Thinking deep thoughts for a Monday…Regards from Ken C.

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  8. Christians made and are making substantial contributions to health care and education in Thailand. Such facilities, as Saint Louis Hospital, Bangkok Mission Hospital, Camillian Hospital, Bangkok Christian Hospital were once considered to be among the best in the country. Major Christian schools and universities such as Payap University in Chiang Mai dot the map of Thailand. European and American missionaries introduced printing press, western surgery, smallpox vaccinations, taught foreign languages and wrote linguistic dictionaries.

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  9. Missionaries have also established many more orphanages, children's homes, homes for AIDS and HIV patients, and other mercy centers. They are actively working to stop human and sex trafficking and have teams of lawyers working to advocate for migrants and vulnerable children. They are the most active groups working with prisoners and their families. When those who believe in karma retribution have been reluctant or unwilling to help, the Christian missionary has always been there taking up the slack and showing mercy to all in Jesus' name. They have given his message of freedom, both in word and deeds, to the Thai people and left it to them to make the choice. They should be commended and not satirized or mocked. If you want to mock someone, mock the foreign sex tourists who come to Thailand in droves every day to exploit the poor, ignorant, and vulnerable.

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  10. Hi Lani, I try to keep an open mind, but I must admit that Christian missionaries make me uncomfortable. It is the way these groups focus on the vulnerable in a society. They say that they are there to help, but there is often a hidden agenda. I prefer my charity with no strings attached. I lived in a village in Phitsanulok for five years. There was a local Christian group that would give kids free gifts if they agreed to attend their services. I found their tactics quite cynical. They would even give gifts to the local families (blankets during the cold season) if they would agree to send their children to their English club where they would be taught bible stories. I received a lot of help by a charitable organization here in Thailand. They were Buddhist monks, but they made no song and dance about their religion. They were just gave me the help I needed, and there was no attempt to change my beliefs. I suppose this is what attracts me to Buddhist philosophy. It doesn't rely on a hard sell or free gifts.

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  11. This subject is like a piece of meat stuck in between my teeth…just like it does back home. If I want religion I'll find it, thank you. I don't doubt that missionaries have good intentions and do a wonderful job in helping those in need, however, it does seem to come at a cost. The cost of being subjected to a religion that is foreign and possibly unwanted in return for assistance and education. If I were in need of an education, food, medical attention and or shelter…I'd probably sing to anyone's tune.I don't see true Christianity as needing to convert those you are helping.BTW I had no idea Thailand had the “best education, best hospitals, and even one of the best quality of life in Southeast Asia.” I would have thought Japan, Singapore, Korea and possibly Malaysia would have been on par, if not better?Kudos to the wonderful overseas educated doctors and dentists, with dealt with while we've been here! And, a hello to many of the lovely bar girls who speak English better than most city educated, and communicate with tourists, because they've come down from the hill tribes where they were educated by missionaries.

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  12. The most “upper” ranked so called US Missionaries, you can recognize them living in huge fancy houses, maids, cars..4 or more “kids” on expensive Intl.Schools…are CIA employees!

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  13. Day by Day more and more from these people coming to Chiang Mai! they should do God`s work in their own starving country so much better…

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