Thai Baptists minister to U.S. tornado victims
BANGKOK (BP) -- The picture on Ginger Foss' Facebook wall spoke volumes -- crushed and splintered wood, mangled siding and battered belongings peeked out from odd spots beneath the giant pile. Foss, of Moore, Okla., survived the EF-5 tornado but her house did not.
The simple fact that Foss was able to post the picture was a miracle. Foss sought refuge from the 200 mph swirling winds in her home that did not have a storm shelter. The house crumbled around her as she pleaded to God, "Protect me, Lord! Surround me with angels!"
The post caught pastor Thongchai Pradabchananurat's eye. News of Oklahoma's deadly tornados in May had reached Thailand, but this photo and testimony from 8,873 miles away made the disaster personal for the president of the Thailand Baptist Convention.
Foss had served as a journeyman missionary to South Korea with the International Mission Board in the late 1980s and came to Bangkok to visit a group of journeymen that Thongchai supervised at the time.
"I saw that picture and knew that Thailand churches could not sit still. We needed to help," Thongchai said. "When one part of the body of Christ is suffering, we all suffer. There are so many Oklahoma Baptists that have sacrificed their time, money and lives for the sake of the Gospel reaching Asia and Thailand that we needed to show our love and support."
Foss' story quickly spread among Thailand Baptists, and church after church responded on behalf of Oklahomans affected by the tornados that destroyed more than 4,000 businesses and homes. The Thai convention collected some $6,850 for the Oklahoma Baptist disaster relief efforts.
"I'm deeply moved that my story inspired Thailand Baptist Convention's churches to give to the state of Oklahoma. My story is not uncommon for many Oklahomans on that day," Foss said, noting that Oklahoma is a state of strong community, faith and resolve. "What a wonderful blessing to our state from Thailand, and what a wonderful act of Christ-like love to our hurting communities. Thank you for blessing us!"
Reaching out beyond the borders of Thailand is a concept Thongchai and other Thai Baptist leaders have been trying to establish as a new model in their churches. The pastor said they want to follow the example of the Southern Baptist Convention in reaching out to those in need around the world.
Thongchai said most Thais grew up being told that they were weak and poor. If told often enough, the pastor said, they eventually start believing it. Receiving aid from America was always easy for them, but giving it back was a hurdle.
"We tell our churches that it doesn't matter how much we have. It's the love in our heart that we are really giving," Thongchai said, knowing that their donation might only be a drop in the bucket for the estimated $2 billion damage in the state. "We are learning to give and follow Christ's example of touching the nations beyond our borders."
Helping Oklahoma was a natural fit for Thailand. So many have traveled to the Southeast Asian nation to serve and partner in ministry that Thongchai affectionately calls them "our big brothers and sisters in Christ."
After the 2004 tsunami, Oklahoma Baptist disaster relief teams came to help Thailand during their time of need. Oklahoma Baptists literally have sat crying with Thais through their disasters and heartaches. This commonality was something Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin noted in a letter to the Thai convention.
"I know Thailand understands the lengthy process of recovering from natural disasters...," the governor wrote. "Thank you for the generous donation ... to the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team and your kind message of condolence, faith and support in the wake of our recent tornadoes. It is a great source of comfort to my fellow Oklahomans and me to discover so many people are thinking of us...."
Oklahoma Baptist disaster relief has entered the long-term phase of relief. At first, they offered food, water and clothing. Then, the teams responded to requests from 1,395 homeowners to help clear up debris. The next phase will be rebuilding.
Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said gifts from donors in the United States and around the world have topped $4 million for tornado relief. Every dollar, Jordan promised, will be used for those who have been hurt by the tornadoes.
And now, Thailand Baptist churches are taking up a second offering for Oklahoma. They know that recovery often takes months, even years.
Susie Rain is a writer living in Southeast Asia. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).