Young woman in her twenties delivers a sermon at a service commemorating the 200-year heritage of faith
Image: Provided by Missionary Yeong-Cheol O

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The person in charge of today’s Sunday morning service is unconventional from the perspective of the Korean churches. Lay people are in charge of the Sunday service of Diberi Church in downtown Chiang Mai, including the moderator, the main prayer, and the preacher. The pastor only companies the piano and translates into Burmese for church members who do not understand Karen. The most shocking thing is that the preacher of the Sunday morning service is a 28-year-old young woman.

Such a situation is unimaginable in Korean churches. The general worship moderation and sermons are the pastor’s responsibility, and in particular, preaching in a Sunday morning service is the same as the senior pastor’s privilege. In a youth group Sunday morning service, young people may take charge of the worship service and prayer, but the sermon or preaching is the responsibility of the pastor. The role of young people in Sunday morning services is maybe a choir member. Apart from preaching, it can be said that young people are rarely considered as worship moderators or representative prayers.

How would it feel if members from a Korean church attended such a service (where the preacher of the Sunday morning service is a 28-year-old young woman)? They will seldom feel compelled to imitate. Some people may feel fresh about the service. However, not a few people will say that the church is out of order or inexperienced in preparation for worship. Many Koreans believe that once a church is sized and traditions established, it should be converted to pastor-centered worship.

If people listen to the contents of the church’s operation (Diberi Church operation) and the young person’s sermons, people can easily see that the above thought was a prejudice. Many of the church members (100 or so) attending today are from Myanmar. They are workers who came to Thailand to make money because Thailand is better off than poor Myanmar. Some are family members of patients who have come for treatment from refugee camps or Myanmar. Only a few are Thai citizens. May of the church members are the diaspora, who can be said to be the weakest in Thai society.

However, the dedication of the members of this church is beyond imagination. Most of the church members donate around 20% of their income. A full tithe is the basic, and they give generously for building donations, almsgiving expenses, and other ministries. Although poor, they bought land and built a church, and they built a shelter(s) for patients from the borders.

Their form of worship is traditional, but very serious, and thus my wife and I feel grace and we are challenged every time we participate in worship. Their devotion and attitude toward worship are much higher than those of Christians of Korean churches.

They are also maturing in their Christian traditions. Today is a Sunday to commemorate Ko Tha Byu, the father of their first faith. The gospel was accepted in 1828, making it nearly 200 years now. The Sunday service of Ko Tha Byu is a worship service that has been commemorated for a long time, and in Sunday service of Ko Tha Byu, the Sunday offering is given as an offering for the Evangelism Bureau of Karen Baptist Assembly. The reacher, Acherty , begins her sermon with a story about the first fruit of the Karen tribe, Ko Tha Byu. She said that we should accept and follow his evangelism and devotion today. The young man remembers the legacy of nearly 200 years of faith and shares it in her sermon.

▲ Acherty, preaching in the Sunday service
Image : provided from Missionary Yeong-Cheol O

This is not to say that a person in charge of a service in the Korean churches should be like the Karen church. Even the Karen church does not always offer youth-centered worship. However, the church does not just slogan the importance of young people. This church has cultural inclusivity and diversity so that young people can even preach on Sunday. This is in contrast to the appearance of the Korean church, but they (the Karen church) are not wrong. They are just different from us.

As the gospel is planted in other cultures, the essence of faith does not change, but the mode of expression changes. Christian history proves that this rather enriched the meaning of the gospel.

According to Professor Andrew Wells , one of the most remarkable events in Christian history was the transition to Greco-Roman Christianity. The church members scattered from the Jerusalem church preached the gospel in Antioch. The Gentiles in Antioch could become Christians without becoming Jews. A Christian who eats pork became possible. It was only after this incident that Jesus was understood as the “Lord,” the savior of all mankind beyond Israel. The genocide of the Jews in 70 and 135 A.D. completely destroyed the nation of Israel. Christianity was able to develop beyond survival because faith in Jesus crossed the boundaries of Jewish culture and became faith for Gentiles.

The Korean church is experiencing a great crisis in the face of various shocks that come like a tsunami. According to the Kukmin Ilbo in April 2022, the favorability of the church among the Korean people is the lowest at 25%. The Korean church is not in a position to claim the superiority of the Korean church in mission fields. Although the grace and blessings that the Korean church received were so abundant, the grace and blessings have not been continued. Today, the appearance of a young woman preaching at the Sunday service at Diberi Church presents a challenge to the Korean church members in this respect. Acherty , the young woman who preached is a housekeeper working in a Westerner’s house. Her background and education are low even in Myanmar. She took refuge in a refugee camp to escape the war and graduated from the Bible School there. However, her spirituality and devotion are as mature as the Macedonian church in Acts.

Although moderators and preachers in the Karen church are not like worship officials or people who are in charge of a Sunday service of Korean churches, the inheritance of devotion and faith is being passed on naturally to their descendants. It is the result of the belief traditions established in their way in their culture and history. The church is a fragile Myanmar immigrant diaspora community, but I envy their dedication and faith succession. I also envy that most of the church members are in their 20s and 30s, and there are many young children. Is it too much to claim that “They are poor and marginalized people, but among them there are aspects that the Korean church should imitate”? [Gospel Prayer News]

Missionary Yeong-Cheol O | After being sent to Thailand as a GMS missionary in 1995, he has been working as a professor at a local seminary for students and pastors. While serving the Karen Church, who are a minority tribe, he is interested in establishing a missionary church for the main ethnic group, the Thai, with the Karen Church.

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