March 21, 2023

Rise Up Like Paul

Empowering young Thai pastors to follow God’s call

by Emmy Duddles

When Sittichai traveled hundreds of miles from his tribe in the mountains of Thailand to a Bible college in Bangkok, he struggled with confidence about where he should serve God. Three years into his degree, Sittichai attended an Alliance church plant in Baan Paeo, which access workers Ed and Sue Danneker had recently helped plant.

“We liked him immediately,” Ed says. Ed and Sue were looking for a Thai leader to pastor Mahapawn Baan Paeo Church and though Sittichai was just the man they had been praying for. “We saw all the qualities you need in a pastor—he loved God, loved people, and was eager to serve in whatever capacity was needed.”

From the Farthest Corners

The Dannekers began mentoring Pastor Sittichai, encouraging him and giving him space to sense the Lord’s direction. Sittichai started by serving in weekend ministries at the church and then did a nine-month internship. Once he graduated from the Bible school, he started serving as the full-time pastor of the church. However, he still wrestled with whether or not he was called to preach the gospel in this distant place and even considered going home to help his parents with their coffee orchard.

One day, Sittichai was reading through Isaiah. When he got to chapter 41, these words jumped off the page:

I took you from the ends of the earth; from its farthest corners I called you. I said “You are my servant.” I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:9–10). 

For Sittichai, this small city more than 300 miles away from his home in the m mountains might as well have been the ends of the earth. He excitedly came to the Dannekers and said, “God called me!”

“That was June 2021,” Ed says. “We have seen a clear difference in him—new confidence, new anointing in his preaching, new boldness in his leadership, and new vision for the church.”

Mahapawn Baan Paeo Church is thriving under Pastor Sittichai’s leadership. Even before he felt truly called to stay in Baan Paeo, Pastor Sittichai partnered with Ed to start a center for leadership development to train lay leaders in Mahapawn Baan Paeo Church. In 2022, two young women graduated from this program and started teaching adult Sunday school once a month. The church is now completely self-sustaining and cares for about 35 members every Sunday.

“We have an even wider, more positive reputation in the area,” Sue says. “Even though we’re only a church of 35, people know where we are now.”

This wide reputation is due in large part to Baan Paeo’s annual agricultural fair in December 2021. Over 1,000 people attended this event, and Mahapawn Baan Paeo Church was given 30 minutes every night for three nights to share the gospel and worship God for everyone to hear. They also had a booth just beside the stage where they were able to pass out donations and more than 800 packets of Christian literature with the name of their church. “God just opened the door wide,” Ed says.

Flourishing Gifts

The Dannekers have been church planting and raising up Thai leaders, like Pastor Sittichai, for many years. Mahapawn Baan Paeo Church was the fourth church they have helped plant, always working with local Thai churches to determine the next region to plant in and usually finding young Bible students, like Sittichai, to disciple to become the lead pastor.

“We have tried to be like Barnabas, the encourager,” Ed says. “We want our Thai pastors to rise up like Paul.”

“God has just been answering prayers,” Sue adds. “And we have loved seeing the gifting of these young men flourish over the years.”

Ed and Sue have also been working on soul care with these men and other lay leaders in the churches they serve. “Soul care has really helped people because there is such a spiritual darkness here,” Sue says.

“In the Thai culture, saving face is a big issue,” Ed adds. “It’s very hard for people to admit they have sin. They hide it deeper and deeper in secret, and they carry all this shame.”

However, as they have worked through soul care, Ed and Sue have seen great amounts of breakthrough. A young Bible student, Attapon, said to Ed and Sue, “In Bible college, we’re supposed to be talking about spiritual formation and aligning your life with what the Bible says, but nobody has been able to talk to me on this level.”

“Attapon’s the kind of guy who wants to be 100 percent for Jesus,” Ed says. “We were able to be really transparent with one another, and I saw him get free and experience healing, cleansing, and deliverance. It’s powerful.”

Soul care has also led to greater transparency between Ed, Sue, and Pastor Sittichai. When Pastor Sittichai has experienced hurt from them, he feels comfortable enough to tell them what happened and seek reconciliation.

“I love that we’re on that level,” Sue says, “where we can be vulnerable and honest. If he had kept his hurt in, he would have had a bitter heart. Instead, we left for home assignment as friends and at peace.”

As Ed and Sue have walked alongside these young men, they have taken great ownership over their congregations and discipled others. Pastor Sukprasan of Mahapawn Living Water Church, the third church Ed and Sue helped plant, was instrumental in planting Mahapawn Baan Paeo Church and took a large role in mentoring and developing Pastor Sittichai.

Pastor Sittichai and Pastor Sukprasan are now partnering together to plant a new church in Baan Bo, a small town of 30,000 with no visible church presence. Sittichai, Sukprasan, Ed, and Sue, all went on a prayer walk in the town with Attapon, who they will all disciple to become the pastor of this new church. “We prayed a blessing on the people that they will open their hearts to let the King of Glory in,” Sue says. This church plant will be launched this year, and Ed and Sue plan to partner with these three young men when they return after home assignment in June 2023.

“As I’m walking over the bridge near our church,” Ed says, “I often pray, ‘Lord, pour out Your Spirit on this town. May the wind of Your Spirit blow across this land.'” Please join Ed and Sue in prayer for the continued growth of the church in Thailand.

A Permanent Residence

Mahapawn Living Water Church, the mother church of Mahapawn Baan Paeo Church, previously rented a small storefront that was only large enough to fit around 40 people. The congregation was growing, and people were crowding inside to come worship every Sunday morning.

In the January/February 2021 issue of Alliance Life, we asked you to consider giving toward the purchase of a new building for Mahapawn Living Water Church. Because of your generosity, the project was soon fully funded!

Ed and Sue Danneker worked with Pastor Sukprasan to scope out a new building right in the middle of Mahachai, but the place had not been taken care of properly by the previous owners. The building and its necessary renovations were still within budget, so they decided to purchase it, knowing the location was exactly what they needed to share the love of Christ with this city.

After several months of renovations and a new coat of paint, the building was dedicated in March 2022. Mahapawn Living Water Church now has space to seat 80 congregants every Sunday and host community outreaches, such as Christmas events and clothes donations. They are also hoping to continue planting churches like their plants in both Baan Paeo and Baan Bo.

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