South East Asia

Discipleship along the Mekong River

August 08, 2019

“I was taught that if a Christian gets married, they must first sleep with the pastor.”

“I was never taught by my parents about love. They woke up, went into the [rice] fields to work and came home at night to eat and go to sleep. They never hugged me or said: ‘I love you.'”

“My parents are raising my son in the village because I cannot earn enough money there to support them. So I live in Phnom Penh and work and send money home. But my parents are Buddhist and I want my son to know Jesus. But he cannot go to church and my parents will teach him the traditional Buddhist things.”

These are just some of the challenges that Jesus followers in South East Asia face. In a region of 240 million people, predominantly influenced by Buddhism–where 60 per cent remain unreached with the gospel*, and with a lack of contextualised Christian resources, good biblical teaching or a presence of mature Jesus followers in many places–the local church struggles to equip their members to have an impact on their communities.

“I see many churches that just evangelise,” shares one Cambodian pastor, Vantha, “but they don’t look after people or train them in their faith.” OM believes that through equipping local believers, who already know the language and culture, and through seeking out where God is already at work and where he is extending an invitation to join Him, that we can see multiplying fellowships of Jesus followers share a message of the Creator’s love for all across a part of the world where many people have never even heard of Christ.

OM teams in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam have developed a strategy to collaborate together to work towards equipping disciple makers, who can make disciples, who in turn can also become disciple makers. Working in partnership under the ‘Mekong Reach’ initiative, these ministries aim to sow the good news about Jesus widely, disciple the faith of Jesus followers and see these local believers sent out within their home countries or neighbouring countries to demonstrate Christ’s love in a holistic way where Jesus is not known.

The teams in these five countries are equipping their staff to have a firm biblical foundation and to have the tools necessary to start small culturally-appropriate fellowships of like-minded people who want to learn more about Jesus. An area trainer with 40 years of ministry experience is developing curriculum that helps participants to study God’s word for themselves, looking at topics like what the full gospel is and how Jesus did ministry, and discussing how to contextualise God’s invitation for people to come to Him.

Already several teams have formed new fellowship groups who are studying God’s word together, praying with and for each other and enjoying good meals and conversation times. Some groups meet once a month in rural villages, some meet on a weekly basis, some meet in the homes of a team member, some meet on wooden platforms under traditional two-story farming houses on stilts. In some places, the group is made up of Jesus followers and those interested to learn more, in others the believers and seekers are led through different material separately. Each group is unique, working with the natural resources and culture around them, to create an atmosphere that is easily reproducible and doesn’t rely on fancy electrical equipment or other gear.

“There are many different kinds of discipleship, once a week bible study or bible school or training programs,” Jose*, an OM leader in Laos shares. “OM wants to do Integral discipleship–which is what is needed in this area. Not just teaching [students] the Bible but teaching them how to study God’s word, apply it to life and make decisions.  Across South Asia we need people who have a good understanding of God’s Word and know the purpose that God has for them–the will of God.”

OM is training young national leaders to think for themselves–something they are often not taught in school systems that primarily use rote memorisation–to make decisions for what is good and how to live according to God’s plan: which includes obeying His commands, demonstrating His love and speaking words of hope to those who have none.

*statistic from Joshua Project