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Mekong Valley Evangelistic Ministry

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“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

At 4880km, the Mekong River is Asia’s most significant transnational river system and one of the world’s six major rivers. The river basin encompasses an area of 810,000km2 including China’s Qinghai, Tibet, Yunnan, and Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The Mekong subregion has an area of 2,330,000km2 . A river brimming with life, it boasts of rich resources and a massive market for commodities. Yet the Mekong River is also a river of darkness. Its lands are under the bondage of poverty, Buddhism, drugs, prostitution, HIV, incessant wars military governments, and frequent famines and floods.

Generally, the countries of the Mekong Valley ban missionaries and public evangelism. This unreached region falls within the ‘10/40 Window’. The people are “poor, imprisoned, blind and oppressed”. How are we to preach the gospel to them? Jesus has set us a good example of holistic missions. “He went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” He also preached to the Samaritan woman by the well, who then went back to witness to her people.

In order to begin evangelistic ministry in the Mekong Valley, it is necessary to win the local people by helping them believe and accept Jesus as their personal Saviour. They should then be nurtured, admonished to obey the Lord’s commandments, and equipped to become soldiers for Christ. Furthermore, we need to inspire in them a love for their own people so that they can be sent to preach the gospel to their own folk. They should also be encouraged to be independent, self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating.

Listed below are the present evangelistic ministries carried out in the Mekong Valley:

Children Gospel Ministry: ‘Seed of Hope’
The United Nations published an article in 2000 entitled Sexually Abused and Sexually Exploited Children and Youth in the Greater Mekong Subregion, which highlighted the rampancy of sexual abuse and exploitation of children and youths in Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Yunnan China by criminal organisations. Studies show that these children willingly offered themselves to the sex trade and their numbers are increasing—a result of poverty, material temptations and a lack of basic education.

In 1998, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) released the report Urban Poverty and Children in Asia: Issues and Initiatives. It revealed that in the Mekong Valley, at least 25% to 45% of the urban poor rely on their children for their income, which is mainly used to buy food. In other words, the livelihood of a family depends very much on child labour.

Due to poverty, war, drugs, statelessness, human trafficking, death of parents and other factors, these countries have many needy children requiring aid. There are about 70 000 orphans in Myanmar alone. There is hence an urgent need to save the children. The most practical method is to set up orphanages and to provide children with bursaries. Apart from providing them shelter, it is also necessary to care for their physical needs. Education must be provided, so schools are built if there are none nearby, and teachers are engaged to teach the children. More importantly, pastors and co-workers are sent to live with them, preach the gospel to them, study the Bible with them and counsel them so as to meet their spiritual needs. On Sundays, the schools and orphanages are transformed into premises for church and Sunday School. In addition, the person-in-charge visits the relatives of the sponsored child and invites them to attend the worship service. A new church is built if attendance increases. When the children are grown up and ready to dedicate themselves to the Lord, a Bible school can be established. Experienced pastors can be engaged to train the students and encourage them to share the gospel to their own people upon graduation.

According to our experience in the ‘Seed of Hope’ ministry over the last 30 over years, the benefits of building orphanages and schools include:
1. Renewal of lives: giving new hope to children.
2. Positive influence on society: good life testimony.
3. Becoming soldiers for God’s Kingdom: preaching the gospel to one’s own people.

Life-Influence-Life Ministry: Student Centres
Education is not widespread in the Mekong Valley. After graduating from primary school, many children help their parents with farming and looking after their younger siblings. Some even have to work for the livelihood of the family. Students who want further education have to go to the cities, because there are usually no secondary schools or universities in the villages. In the cities, only a small number of children are fortunate enough to stay with their relatives. Many students have to live in small rented rooms or temples. If Christians can set up student centres in the cities to provide free lodging and live with these students, the Christians can influence the lives of the students. Through worship, Bible study and discipleship training, Christians can share the gospel with the students and hence bear the fruits of the gospel.

Poor students can apply for subsidies, while the more well-to-do pay for their own living expenses and may even be asked to pay for accommodations as well. As for the older students, apart from leading them to God, leadership training is important, especially in Cambodia, the killing fields, where there will only be a future if there is education and the gospel. The students can be nurtured to be like Jesus and His disciples through the development of their spiritual gifts, worship, ministry and discipleship training and hence bear the fruits of the gospel. This will not only rebuild individuals, but also renew the society.

Investing with five loaves and two fish: Overcoming poverty and building up self-esteem
The Mekong River is synonymous with poverty. Poverty leads to starvation, despondency and dependency. Implementation of micro-enterprises helps the locals to become self-reliant.

Micro-enterprises aim to assist churches and ministries of various mission fields move towards independence so as to achieve self-reliance, self-support and self-propagation. One way is to set up funds in mission fields which allow local churches, co-workers and believers to apply for interest-free loans to start small-scale businesses that can help solve their financial problems. The person-in-charge surveys the needs of the locals and decides on an area of investment for that particular area, such as rearing goats, chickens, pigs, or cultivating rubber trees, palm trees, peppercorns, vegetables or coffee beans. Courses on horticulture and animal husbandry are conducted. These courses may even teach the making of soap, noodles and secondary products of soy beans to enhance the locals’ livelihood. Once the business is successful, the applicants return the loan to the fund. The person-in-charge also teaches them to offer part of their profits to the fund to assist the needy.

Adopting minority groups: Strategy of evangelism along the borders
There are more than 200 minority groups in the Mekong subregion numbering 750 million people and scattered over the mountains and valleys. They worship spirits and are under the bondage of the forces of darkness. Many have never heard of the gospel. Individual churches need to work together with mission organisations if they want to win the minority groups. Each church can adopt at least one minority group and provide it with prayer and financial support. It would be even better if the church can send missionaries to start mission work and plant churches. If possible, brothers and sisters can organise short-term mission trips to preach the gospel to the locals. If every church in Asia were to adopt a minority group, soon will be the day when the following words of Jesus are fulfilled: “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

On the other hand, believers have to work hand-in-hand with organisations in evangelism. Believers should support the organisations in prayer and finances. The organisations in turn get in touch with the people in charge of the ministries in the Mekong Valley and become gospel partners with them. Besides prayers and financial support, both sides should also collaborate in the planning and reviewing of projects so as to maximise the effectiveness of their work.

Unorthodox missionaries: Using creative means to enter restricted countries
1. Tentmaking: Countries in the Mekong Valley are developing and are hence in great need of resources from other countries. A Christian on assignment from his or her company can enter these countries legally and in the midst of work, share the gospel with the locals. Professionals can also enter such regions and evangelise while engaged in their profession in such places as medical clinics, specialty shops, kindergartens, childcare centres and English tuition classes.

2. Drug Rehabilitation Centres: The Mekong Valley is a haven for drugs. Addicts are found everywhere. Currently, some organisations are sharing their drug rehabilitation programmes with local governments and have successfully introduced Christian rehabilitation methods. With the support of the local authorities, drug rehabilitation centres have been set up which advocate the authority of Christ as power for addicts to break free of the bondage of drugs.

3. Mobile Training Schools: While it is impossible to establish seminaries in remote border areas, mobile schools can be set up with 1 or 2 resident veteran pastors and a team of temporary co-workers. They can take turns going to distant areas to train evangelists, meet physical and spiritual needs and encourage local believers.

Foreign pastors can take time off to enter the Mekong Valley and share their understanding of the profound mysteries of the gospel with local co-workers. It is surely a sweet thing to be able to fellowship with one another in the spirit.
Holistic evangelical ministry

With the various ministries mentioned above, we aim to establish indigenous communities of faith by winning, nurturing, equipping and finally sending nationals. We also seek to empower them to be self-reliant, self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating, so that they can eventually be sent to evangelise among their own people.

In short, the Mekong Valley is awaiting Christians to develop, sow, cultivate and harvest. Back in the days of Jesus, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’” (Matthew 9:36-38). Today, if you are willing to be sent, He will make a way for you. There is no hard and fast rule in evangelism. What is most important is to trust and obey God, have the heart of Christ and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we strive to save the lost.

Have you heard the cries of the Mekong Valley? Have you heard God’s call? Are you willing to say, “Lord, I am here, please send me”?

Rev Paul Chang

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