Thailand is a nation with natural beauty, a rich culture, and a distinct religious heritage. Inhabiting “the Land of Smiles,” the people of Thailand are known for their warm hospitality and polite manner.
Thailand is the only nation in southeast Asia that was never colonized by a European power. It has been ruled by the Chakri dynasty since 1782, although in 1932 the nation became a constitutional monarchy. The year 2007 marked the sixtieth year of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s reign. Although the king does not preside over the day-to-day affairs of government, the people look to him with affection and respect.
While the majority of Thai are Buddhists, other people groups live throughout the nation. The southern part of Thailand is predominately Muslim. This region has experienced violence during the past few years as tension between various groups has erupted. The current government is negotiating with leaders of various groups in the south to bring peace to the region.
The largest ethnic minority group in Thailand is Thai-Chinese, and many Thai-Chinese play a large role in the businesses of the nation. An estimated 49 percent of the residents of Bangkok are of partial Chinese heritage.
Other groups include Hmong, Shan, Khmer, Karen, Mien, Akka, Lahu and other tribal groups that inhabit the northern reaches of the country. Missionary outreach has been most effective among these groups, while the ethnic Thai majority remain difficult to reach with the gospel, remaining loyal to their Buddhist heritage.
Adventists in Thailand
The first Adventist pioneer, R. A. Caldwell, arrived in Thailand in 1906 to distribute Adventist literature. More than 10 years later other colporteurs arrived and discovered Sabbathkeeping groups in Bangkok. A Chinese businessman, Tan Thiam Tsua, settled in Bangkok and helped establish the first Adventist church in the country. The early work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church grew among Chinese living in Bangkok. The Thailand Adventist Mission was established in 1919 by missionary families, those of E. L. Longway and Forrest A. Pratt.
The development of Adventist institutions has played a key role in the growth of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Thailand. Mission College offers four-year degrees in both Thai and English, and has added a master’s program. Several secondary and elementary schools operate in various parts of the country, with an active English language school in Bangkok. There are two hospitals: Bangkok Adventist Hospital and Mission Hospital Phuket. Mission Health Foods operates a factory that produces and distributes various health food products. Following the December 2004 tsunami, both ADRA/Thailand and Mission Hospital Phuket played key roles in the recovery efforts.
One of the biggest challenges to mission is in the Bangkok region, where only seven organized churches reach out to more than 10 million people. In 2006 several community outreach centers were opened to teach English to nearby residents. Each outreach center has a team made up of one foreign English language teacher and one Thai church planter.
Today more than 11,000 church members serve God in Thailand. The Thailand Mission, in partnership with Global Mission and other supporting ministries, has started 81 new congregations or companies throughout the nation. The new congregations, along with the outreach done by members, institutions, and churches, indicate that the future for the church in Thailand is bright with the hope of eternity.
Prepared by Rick McEdward, Adventist Mission director, Southern Asia-Pacific Division