By Bec Oakley, SF Thailand
Recently we have been part of the Sports Friends training team for two very different trainings.
A few weeks back we travelled through the mountains to a small Karen village outside of Mae Sot, near the border with Myanmar. There were seventy participants from Karen churches in the region. Fifty had come to attend a Basic Training and twenty, who’d already attended a Basic Training, came for ongoing coaching training.
We returned to Bangkok to host our first ever Basic Training in Bangkok for just seven people. While we had hoped to have about twenty, seven didn’t feel like a failure and reminded us of the immense differences between the churches in hill-tribe areas and the church in Bangkok.
The Karen Baptist Convention is one of the largest and most well-organized denominations. While Karen people are by no means majority Christian, they have a significant Christian presence and most Karen people have plenty of opportunity to interact with Christians. The church, like the people group, experiences poverty and disadvantage and is struggling to work our ways to reach the younger generation who have opportunities that are so unlike anything their parents experienced. They have been really excited about Sports Friends’ training. While young people may have multiple points of contact with the church, ongoing sports teams make young people feel like the church cares about the things that matter to them and provides great opportunities for discipleship by leaders they understand and respect.
In Bangkok, the percentage of Christians is much lower and their presence in the community is much less visible. The church is more fragmented and the diversity of churches can sometimes be a hindrance to creating networks and relationships. The seven people who came are all working in communities where an invitation to join a sports program is likely to be the only opportunity a young person might have to come into contact with the church.
The rapid growth of sports ministry in hill-tribes is something to be very excited about, but we are also very aware of what it looks like to try and take the gospel to much less reached areas. We are trying to keep these two things in balance as we make plans and share vision throughout the country. We are very blessed in the last twelve months that our strong denominational partnerships with hill-tribe churches has led to two new sports ministry coordinators being appointed by the denominations. This has freed up our national staff to recently run trainings in the much less reached areas in North-East, Central and Bangkok.
Please pray for all seventy-seven, who all matter to God and that this little tiny seed in Bangkok might be the start of something great.