In Thailand, nurturing young adults' faith
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- Southern Baptist missionary Ruth Lapos visits a riverside village in Thailand on Saturdays to work alongside Thai Baptists in starting a congregation.
Ruth visited a young woman from the village one Saturday who had asked how to become a Christian during an English camp led by the church planting team.
This was a significant question from someone raised in a heavily Buddhist society where conversion to Christianity often can mean being disowned by family.
The young woman was a student from the Baptist Student Center in Bangkok, where Ruth and her husband John serve. Ruth followed up with her, praying with and encouraging her involvement in her hometown congregation.
Ruth had told the young woman that if she wasn't comfortable yet telling her family she was a Christian, she could wait for God's timing. But when the student had returned home from the camp, she had told her mother, "I'm a Christian now. I'm not following Buddha."
Instead of disowning her, the student's mother contacted the leader of the church planting team to say she had decided her daughter could follow Jesus.
"My daughter told me she's a Christian now," the mother said. "After she came back from the camp, her mannerisms are different. She acts like all of you. She's just so happy and just so helpful. She's changed. She's become a better person."
Teaching the Word
Serving at the student center has given John and Ruth Lapos, whose home state is Texas, front-row seats to witness Christ's impact on young people's lives.
Nearly 3,000 Thai catch Bangkok's Skytrain to their weekly English classes at the student center. John, undaunted by cerebral palsy, also has taught Bible studies at church starts consisting mainly of young professionals -- people with great influence in Bangkok.
"God, what can I tell these young professionals?" he prayed.
"Teach them the Scriptures, from beginning to end" was God's response, John recalled sensing.
So he went chapter by chapter through the Scriptures with the church's leadership team.
"Thank you for showing me how valuable and how rich the Bible is," said Goy, one of the young women in the class.
"There's no substitute just for the plain, simple Word of God," John said of "emulating what the Scripture is saying: Be salt and light; magnify the Lord and make people thirsty [for God's Word]. And I think one of the hallmarks of a missionary, of someone who makes an impact, is someone who lifts up the Word of God. And the higher you lift up the Word of God, the more difference it makes in people's lives."
The student center relies heavily on Southern Baptist volunteers, some of whom have dedicated much of their lives to its ministry.
Lorena Mayhugh, 92, had spent eight years teaching at the center. After returning to the U.S. to spend time with her son, she sent an email to John asking to return to the center. (See previous Baptist Press story on Mayhugh.)
"I'm only going to buy a one-way ticket," she said.
And she did, asking that when the time comes, she be buried in the only Protestant cemetery in Asia.
Oklahoman Doris Whisenhunt, a widow with grown children, decided to teach at the center for four months to help her begin the next chapter of her life.
Four months stretched into four years -- then into 10.
"Why did I do that?" she said to John about serving there. "Because God told me to go. And then God told me to stay."
When tornadoes hit Oklahoma this past May, John said Thai Baptists immediately asked what they could do to help. They took up an offering of nearly $7,000 for Oklahoma Baptists' disaster relief ministry. Students from the center joined in the offering because of the kinship they felt with Oklahomans, since many of the center's volunteers have been from Oklahoma. (See related story on Thai believers' giving to Oklahoma disaster relief efforts.) By late August, Thai Baptists had collected an additional $7,000 for Oklahoma Baptists' disaster relief teams.
It's a testament to those who have poured out their lives in service to reach the Thai people, John said.
"We see Thai people's lives changed, we see our own Southern Baptist volunteers' lives changed, like Doris and Lorena," John said. The student center, he said, is "just a wonderful place and we're just honored to be there."
The Lapos serve in Thailand through Southern Baptists' giving to the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (imb.org/offering).
When John first considered ministry overseas, he thought his cerebral palsy would keep him from living out his calling.
Eventually, he realized God was telling him, "John, no matter where you go, whether it's Indonesia or up some hilly streets in San Francisco, the bike cities of East Asia or the crowded concrete jungle of Bangkok, you're perfect for the place."
Before John and Ruth's wedding, his mother told them that when he was born three months premature and weighing only two pounds, the doctor told her to pray.
After three days of praying, she said, "God, save my son. If You save my son, I'll give him to You."
Later, John's mother became a Christian and kept her promise to God, being supportive of John's call to missions.
"As I look back on my testimony," John said, "from how I was saved in Houston and my mother was saved, and then all those missions experiences from college to seminary, East Asia, Indonesia and now Bangkok, God didn't send me to these places because I walked there -- because of my cerebral palsy. He sent me there because a long time ago my mom prayed and God honored it."
Susan O'Hara is a former summer intern with the International Mission Board. Kate Gregory, an IMB writer/editor, contributed to this story.