April 23, 2024

Called to Fellowship

U.S. and Thai students follow God’s call to love and serve Him

by Emmy Duddles

When Lawan* was a young teen, she received a book in the mail about Jesus. Even in her urban neighborhood in Thailand, she had never heard the gospel or met anyone who followed Jesus. When the book asked her to pray to receive Christ, she immediately accepted Him as her Savior. She spent years trying to find a Christian who would give her a Bible so she could grow deeper in her faith, but there were none to be found. 

During her freshman year of college, Lawan attended an English conversation group that Envision Bangkok was holding in their coffee shop across the street from her university. When she met Tou Lee and Tang Thao, the Envision Bangkok site coordinators, they told her they were Christians. She immediately rejoiced, saying, “I know who God is! I received Him when I was a teenager. About two years ago, I was praying for a Bible, but I couldn’t find one. I thought God gave up on me.” 

At the time, Envision Bangkok was hosting a team of young college students who excitedly went out to find her a Bible. When they gave it to her, Lawan started crying and hugged it close to her chest, rejoicing in the fact that she could finally learn about this God she had already fallen in love with. 

It has been roughly 11 years since Lawan received her first Bible, and she has become an integral part of the team at Envision Bangkok. She continued to attend their events throughout her time at university, became an intern, and helped host short-term teams. Now, she continues to serve with Tou Lee and Tang on the leadership team for their church. “She’s just blossomed and grown into a woman of God who loves Him and serves Him well,” Tang says. 

Building Relationship

Tou Lee and Tang have been reaching university students, like Lawan, through the Envision Bangkok site for over a decade, largely by facilitating short-term trips and internships with U.S. Alliance college students. 

Whether it’s one week or one year, U.S. college students are building deep relationships with their Thai peers through simple, everyday activities—inviting them to dinner, baking cookies, playing dodgeball or laser tag, or going to the movies. These small gestures allow U.S. and Thai students to have deep conversations about life and give many opportunities to talk about faith. 

Tanai* came to a game night at the coffee shop to improve his English, and quickly, members of Envision Bangkok’s church invited him to life group where he heard the gospel for the first time. He had been attending events for months when one of the Envision interns locked himself out of his apartment. Tanai went over to hang out with the intern while he waited for a spare key. They spent the evening together, along with one of the church members, talking about life and Jesus. 

When Tanai expressed that he wanted to accept Christ, the intern texted Tou Lee saying, “What do we do? Can you come?” Tou Lee responded, “You know what to do. You can do it!” 

The intern and the church member led Tanai to Christ and had him pray the sinner’s prayer. When they were finished, Tou Lee told them, “Now it’s your time to disciple him.” They began a weekly Bible study on Romans with Tanai, and he was completely changed. Tanai is now going to seminary and wants to be in full-time ministry. 

“God has taken a hold of his life, and he’s so pastoral,” Tou Lee says. “It’s been fun to see him grow in his love for the church and start serving on my preaching team.” 

Teams and individuals at Envision Bangkok don’t always see someone surrender their lives to Christ or be baptized, but their impact is felt for years afterward. Many of the ministry activities that Tou Lee and Tang are able to host through their site were made possible by the work of teams and interns. “When we have interns, I want them to dream,” says Tou Lee. “We have been changed because of what God is doing.” 

Their children’s ministry, which just saw six children give their lives to Christ, was started because of one intern who spent much of her time playing with the neighborhood kids behind the coffee shop. A dodgeball tournament that another intern dreamt up was the catalyst for Envision Bangkok frequently inviting people to play basketball, soccer, flag football, and other sports as a way of building relationship. The church Envision Bangkok planted, which is reaching even more people with the gospel, was made possible because of the relationships these young people were able to build. 

Proclaiming Faith

When Oma* started coming to the church, she knew all the right things to say and had clearly spent a lot of time with Christians, but she was deeply resistant to the gospel. Envision interns and residents spent a lot of time with her, sharing their lives and welcoming her in. 

At a church retreat, Tou Lee led communion, saying, “If you believe in Jesus, we invite you to be a part of this.” All of a sudden, Oma got up and took communion. “We were all in shock,” says Tou Lee. “We shared the gospel with her again, and she said, ‘I’ve been believing this for a while. I just didn’t want to proclaim it.’” 

After she had been coming to church for some time, Envision Bangkok needed a local staff member to help run their teams. They hired Oma, though they were unsure of where she was in her faith journey. “But once she understood the vision and how to walk alongside people well, she’s been amazing,” Tou Lee says. 

Oma now serves in a multitude of ways with Envision Bangkok, leading small groups, discipling new believers, facilitating short-term teams, and serving with the church’s kids ministry. She not only pours out her heart to the kids, but also visits their parents, sitting with them in their homes for hours and listening to their struggles. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Tou Lee and Tang had to return home, so Oma ran their whole site and the church. “She is everything we want to see happen for Thai Christians, but also for our site,” says Tou Lee. “She’s doing a lot of work, but she’s also creating a lot of space for herself and God. That brings us a lot of joy.” 

Slowing Down with Jesus

Not only have Thai locals surrendered their lives to Christ, but the faith of these U.S. students has also been deepened in their time with Envision Bangkok. During any trip or internship, Tou Lee and Tang place a great emphasis on the discipleship of these college students. As well as other discipleship activities, like one-on-one mentoring with both Tou Lee and Tang, interns and teams are expected to have “Jesus time.” Every week, they go off on their own to spend three hours minimum with Jesus—to journal, read Scripture, and unpack their lives with God. 

“When they come back, the fruit that comes out of it is nothing we could ever create,” Tou Lee says. Many have been completely changed because they were finally able to slow down from their 

regular busy lives and listen to what God wanted to heal or redeem in their hearts.

One intern, Jason,* was the son of an Alliance pastor and planned to come out for a year to serve with Envision Bangkok. Jason’s father started writing Tou Lee lots of emails. Tou Lee was confused because they don’t normally interact with the parents of their interns much at all, but he soon found out that Jason had struggled in high school with alcohol and drugs. 

“I was kind of nervous,” Tou Lee says. “I wondered, What kind of kid am I getting? But we just gave him space to be himself and called out the things we saw in him. He’s an incredible person. The whole site, our community, loved him. The things he told me he struggled with months before weren’t even an issue here,” says Tou Lee. “As part of the Body, we get to see the good things in people and call them out of each other. It just took believing in him, and he soared.” 

Because of his time in Bangkok, Jason grew his confidence in who God says he is, and he decided to attend Crown College in St. Bonifacius, Minnesota, so he can pursue long-term missions. He didn’t plan on going to a Christian college or being in full-time ministry, but toward the end of his internship with Envision Bangkok, he said, “I just want to be doing this for the rest of my life.” 

“Our whole philosophy is to do whatever it takes to move people closer to Jesus,” Tou Lee says. “We’re a family on mission to grow deeper in love with Jesus and to go wide, sharing Him with the world. As we’re all pursuing this journey together, we’re asking ourselves and challenging our students, both U.S. and Thai, to be intentional in their relationship with Him. The end goal is Jesus—we just want to be like Him.” 

*Name changed

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