Witness workers provide Thailand overview

February 15, 2024 | News | Volume 28 Issue 4
Aaron Epp | Associate Editor
Christine and Tom Poovong, pictured with their children, Joseph and Phimchanok, are MC Canada International Witness workers in northeastern Thailand. Supplied photo.

Two Mennonite Church Canada International Witness workers are at the centre of an initiative to train, mentor and support church leaders in Thailand.


Tom and Christine Poovong, together with Thai colleagues, form the leadership of Friends of Grace, a church planting network. The network opened the Friends of Grace Bible School in Roi Et in northeastern Thailand last month.


Thai pastors, who have studied in seminary, teach short intensive courses at the school.


“This is something that is very exciting for us,” Tom said during a webinar organized by MC Canada last month.


Courses and curriculum are still being developed. Meanwhile, Friends of Grace is inviting MC Canada to discuss how the nationwide church might support the development of this school.


Friends of Grace is a network of about 100 worshipping communities, according to Jeanette Hanson, MC Canada’s director of International Witness, who hosted the webinar. Nearly all these worshipping communities are house churches led by laypeople.


“These lay leaders are now wanting to go deeper and learn more,” Hanson said. “It’s really exciting to see.”


During the webinar, the Poovongs reported on a soccer ministry they are involved with near Khon Kaen, the village where they live. They are mentoring a family that started a house church in the area, and the family started the soccer ministry after local leaders yearned for the village’s young people to have a positive outlet.


They are connecting to other towns in the area to play games and organize tournaments.


“One of the things that all of the house churches are being asked by leadership of Friends of Grace is: ‘What has God given you to serve your communities?’” Hanson said. “[Congregants in Khon Kaen] thought, ‘This is a way we can serve our community, by starting a soccer team.’ They have really been working hard at that.”


Additionally, the Poovongs are translating course material for Journey, a program of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.


The two-and-a-half- to three-year online program is designed to be a place where pastors, those exploring ministry, church planters and other congregational lay leaders can deepen their understanding, test new skills and receive mentorship.


Twenty students from Thailand and Laos started the Journey program last fall. The Poovongs, along with Jonah and Meemee Yang—a couple supported by Mennonite Mission Network—are translating course material into Hmong and Thai, and supporting the 20 students.


The Poovongs, who are members of Trinity Mennonite Church in Calgary, Alberta, have served with MC Canada Witness for 10 years.


In addition to providing leadership to Friends of Grace, the couple have developed income-generation ministries, including MennoShoes and an Isaan food restaurant.


The Poovongs also connect with leaders of other Thai Mennonite congregations to encourage relationships and fellowship among emerging Mennonite communities across Thailand and Laos.


Mennonites in Western Canada will have an opportunity to learn more about these ministries, when the Poovongs visit Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta April 8-29.


Hanson encouraged anyone interested in hosting the couple for an event to contact their regional church.


The churches that make up Friends of Grace have spent a lot of time considering what it means to follow Jesus and be peacemakers, and Hanson is looking forward to Canadian Mennonites getting an opportunity to hear from the Poovongs.


“There’s a lot we can learn from these house churches in Thailand,” she said.

Christine and Tom Poovong, pictured with their children, Joseph and Phimchanok, are MC Canada International Witness workers in northeastern Thailand. Supplied photo.

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