Guest post by Larry Dinkins Despite being the most scrutinized pandemic in history, the Corona Virus leaves numerous questions unanswered. Many of these questions will no doubt remain unanswered, but there is one that topped the list with SARS as well ...
Despite being the most scrutinized pandemic in history, the Corona Virus leaves numerous questions unanswered. Many of these questions will no doubt remain unanswered, but there is one that topped the list with SARS as well as Ebola and remains the key question with this present virus: Precisely how did Covid-19 originate? The answer to this $64,000 question could go a long way in helping remove the source of the next potentially devastating global pandemic. Helping scientists in this task has been the work done by Chinese researchers in 2017 who traced the last Corona type pandemic (SARS) “ … through the intermediary of civets to cave-dwelling horseshoe bats in Yunnan province.” In the case of Covid-19 most research points to the wet-markets of Wuhan province that sell live animals like bats and pangolins. The mention of people eating such exotic animals is actually addressed in the Old Testament and has caused me to look afresh at what the Bible has to say about Old Testament dietary laws.
As a Bible teacher in Thailand I noticed that my students would do well reading through Genesis and Exodus, but when they got to a book like Leviticus they got discouraged and would often jump to the more familiar New Testament. Part of the reason is that they didn’t see how Jewish laws, like kosher eating, related to them. Yet a book like Leviticus could have helpful pointers for us living in the midst of our present pandemic - Covid-19.
By God’s design, Adam and Eve started out as vegetarians (Gen. 1:29-30) and then after the fall God allowed the eating of animals (Gen. 9:3). Later in Leviticus 11, Moses specifies both clean and unclean animals for the Jews, including birds, land animals and sea creatures. What is interesting is that God seemed to favor herbivores, those more docile animals that had hooves for mobility in fields and mountains as they consumed vegetation. The unclean animals fell more into the categories of carnivores (meat eaters) or omnivores (meat and plant eaters), many of which survived by scavenging and would be more apt to carry disease.
There are many reasons for the distinction of clean and unclean animals in the Old Testament, not the least of which was related to health. By having detailed laws about which animals to eat, how to drain their blood, and then clean and cook their meat properly, God was protecting his people from many of the diseases that affected the surrounding countries.
For 27 years of my life, I shopped in modern grocery stores and gave no thought to whether the food I put in my cart was edible or tainted in some way. I was confident that the regulations that my government had concerning meats and proper food preparation would keep me healthy. So, my wife and I were in for a shock after arriving in Thailand as we carefully filtered water, disinfected our lettuce with an amebicide, and overly cooked much of our meat. An incentive for this was our periodic encounters with amoebic dysentery, para-typhoid, frequent diarrhea, and the first two dates that I always jotted into my yearly calendar: June 1 and January 1 (Remember to deworm the family).
On top of that was the decisions we had to make concerning the exotic foods that our Thai hosts sometimes expected us to consume. I don’t ever remember eating even one insect in my previous life, but in Central Thailand I was served ant eggs, beetles, and grubs. I’ll never forget sitting with a group of young men on a Sunday afternoon as we watched muay thai boxing on the TV and the large bowl of treats that was placed before me to munch on. However, when I reached in the bowl expecting chips or popcorn, I discovered a bowl full of roasted locust! (I learned to pull off the legs first, otherwise they get caught in your throat). One provocative slide that was sure to get a “rise” from my audience was my two young sons holding BBQed rats on a stick (I always reminded the audience that these were “clean” rats from the fields that only ate rice). You also have situations when you happen to run over a large snake with your car, only to turn around and see someone picking it up to take home and eat.
Probably the most memorable dietary discussion I ever had was with my friend Bill who was co-teaching a class with me at the Asian Theological Seminary in Manila. At lunch we ate with the Filipino students and at the end of the cafeteria line was a large tray of what looked like brownies. Bill has been a missionary in Israel and has done evangelism with the Jews for over thirty years. He scooped up a “brownie” and put it on his plate. Just before he took a bite I said, “Bill, you do know that the “brownie” on your fork is actually coagulated blood.” Bill was taken aback and exclaimed, “Blood? What type of blood?” I replied, “Pig’s blood.” Bill was incredulous, but I reminded him of Jesus’ words in Mark 7:18-19, “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) Bill replied, “Yes, Larry, but pig’s blood isn’t FOOD!”
To this day, my Thai church after the service will often serve “Pork Soup with Pig’s Blood Jelly”. As I look down at my lunch I simply repeat a phrase a senior worker told me early on, “Larry, it isn’t wrong, it’s just different.” I’m also reminded that it is not my role to judge other cultures on secondary matters like food. A rabbi from the states learned this truth on a visit to a rural area of China. His tour director took him to the house of an elderly woman who had a picture on the wall of her with the rock star, Michael Jackson. The rabbi explained, “The tour director had brought Jackson to the village on a tour about a year earlier. In the house, the pop star saw an emaciated cat. He gave the woman a $100 bill and told her to feed the cat. After he departed, she did so. And then, when the cat was fattened up, she ate it. It’s the kind of story you don’t forget, and years later, when I became friends with Jackson, I told him the story and he said he remembered the woman and the village. He wasn’t happy to hear that the woman had eaten the cat. I told him that given the level of poverty in the village, perhaps she had no choice. Who am I to judge a poor woman and what she consumes to survive and feed her family?”
In the West we take access to clean foods and plentiful protein for granted. Yet in many parts of the world, people are willing to eat most anything that will give them the protein needed to survive. That is why it is good to study the teachings of Jesus alongside the dietary laws of Leviticus. Besides his comments in Mark 7, Jesus once said to his disciples in Matthew 15:17-20, “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” Jesus as a Jew adhered to the stipulations of Leviticus 11 and no doubt there are principles in that chapter that we would do well to take heed of as we seek to eliminate the all too frequent pandemics that threaten our world. However, there is a greater defilement that is a continual threat, affecting all aspects of people’s lives: the defilement of sinful thoughts and actions. Fortunately, there is an effective inoculation and cure for this defilement in the cross of Jesus. May God give us the boldness to share this cure globally with as many as we can before it is too late.
Kim, Samuel I., The Unfinished Mission in Thailand: The Uncertain Christian Impact on the Buddhist Heartland, Seoul: East-West Center for Missions Research and Development, 1980
There are not too many books on the history of the church in Thailand and my most common go-to books are S.G. McFarland’s Historical Sketch of Protestant Missions 1828-1928 and Alex Smith’s Siamese Gold, which brings the story of the Thai church up to 1982. Both books, however, do a better job with chronicling earlier Thai church history (pre-WWII) than post-war. Truth be told, Smith’s book does cover the post-war period, though he provides more information on evangelical missions working apart from the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT) than he does the CCT itself. Kenneth Wells’ History of Protestant Work in Thailand, 1828-1958 is somewhat useful if you want an official sanitized version of the American Presbyterian Mission and CCT in the post-war period but if you compare Wells’ book with Samuel Kim’s The Unfinished Mission in Thailand: The Uncertain Christian Impact on the Buddhist Heartland, it becomes immediately obvious that there is a lot of dirty laundry that Wells left out.
Samuel Kim begins his book with a couple of general chapters discussing Thailand, Buddhism, and the history of Christian missions in Thailand up through WWII, most of which you can easily find in the other books I’ve just mentioned. However, beginning with chapter 3, he begins discussing tensions between the American Presbyterian missionaries and Thai Christians leaders after World War II up through the late 1970s. It is this second part of the book that is the most valuable and forms Kim’s unique contribution to understanding the history of Christianity in Thailand.
According to Kim, the main sources of tension between American Presbyterian missionaries and Thai Christians in the post-war period were the liberal-evangelical divide and growing Thai resentment of missionary dominance in the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT). The period of time covered in the second part of the book roughly corresponds to the time period Kim himself served as a missionary in Thailand (1956-1978) and is the best part of the book because the author knew personally many of the people involved and was in the midst of many events that he discusses. I have read other books on Thai church history and Christian missions in Thailand, but Kim fills in some missing pieces of the puzzle that I have been looking for.
While the Presbyterian Church (USA) was becoming increasingly influenced by liberal and ecumenical theology in the mid-20th century, what were their missionaries doing in Thailand? Missionaries of the American Presbyterian Mission (APM) returned to Thailand after World War II at the request the Church of Christ in Thailand, the largest Protestant denomination in Thailand, which the APM had founded in 1934. But in contrast to many earlier generations of American Presbyterian missionaries, the majority of which had been largely theologically conservative, the post-WWII generation of APM missionaries had an agenda of ecumenism and community development which they actively advocated in the CCT, deprecating evangelism, and encouraging dialogue with Buddhism without any desire for conversion. Although the APM officially dissolved in 1957, with their missionaries becoming “fraternal workers” under the authority of CCT, APM missionaries still bore undue influence through personnel and the massive amount of money which they poured into the CCT, providing up to 70-80% of the denomination’s total revenue. Thai church leaders became resentful of the missionaries’ paternalism and eventually grew tired of their liberal agenda which, in the view of Thai church leaders, had not helped Thai churches to grow, either spiritually or in numbers. The number of American Presbyterian missionaries eventually dwindled as budget cuts were effected in the PC(USA) and they wore out their welcome among Thai Christians. For evangelicals who have doubts about whether the CCT is liberal by virtue of their connections with the PC(USA) and the World Council of Churches, a reading of Kim’s book reveals that even as the missionaries became more liberal, the vast majority of Thai Christians and their leaders remained essentially conservative evangelical, broadly conceived. It would be inaccurate to say that there were not any Thai Christians in the CCT with a liberal theological outlook on at least some matters, but it would also be inaccurate to say that the CCT is liberal because that is far from the case.
As he recalls these trials and travails, Kim offers his own evaluation of the events as an evangelically-minded missionary of the Presbyterian Church in Korea who worked within the CCT. Kim wraps up the book with several short chapters on positive and negative trends in Thai Christianity at the end of the 1970s, along with prospects for the future of the church in Thailand. Overall, I found this book very helpful in filling out my knowledge of what was happening in the CCT and the APM after WWII, while other streams of Protestant Christianity, both evangelical and pentecostal, were growing independently in the post-war period, wary of the CCT because of the influence of the liberal Presbyterians.
Although Kim's book is now 40 years old and out-of-print, it can still be found in some libraries and a limited number of used copies can be bought online. For those interested in the development of Thai Christianity since WWII and the challenges of indigenous church development, The Unfinished Mission in Thailand is a worthwhile read.
In January 1932, the Publication Department of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church (USA) sent Rev. Henri R. Rabb, a missionary in India, to visit Thailand to gather footage to make a short film about Presbyterian missions there. Arriving on Feb 2nd with his wife and 8-year-old son, Rabb visited Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Paul Eakin, the executive secretary of the Siam Mission, assigned Rev. Paul Fuller to assist Rabb in Bangkok, and Dr. D.R. Collier to assist him in Chiang Mai.
The resulting movie, linked below, was a 34-minute black-and-white silent film titled, “Siam, Land of the White Elephant”. The first half of the film shows lots of cultural material about Thailand - elephants moving logs, women weaving, farmers threshing grain, etc. The second half of the film focuses specifically on the work of the American Presbyterian Mission in Thailand (Siam). It includes many mission institutions and churches, including McKean's leper colony in Chiang Mai, McCormick Hospital, Prince Royal’s College, Dara Wittaya Academy, Bangkok Christian College, First Church Samray, Second Church (Bangkok), Fourth Church (Suebsampantawong), and the Loyal School (Bangkok). We also get to see rural evangelism and a church service conducted by an older missionary couple (whom I have yet to identify) as well as a missionary (probably Paul Fuller) doing open-air evangelism at Ban Phachi train station in Ayuthaya province. There are some Thai Christian leaders in the video as well, but unfortunately, only institutions are named in this movie, not individuals, either Thai or foreigners.
Video of Thailand in the 1920s is not plentiful and video of Thai Christians and missionaries and their work is even more difficult to find. For that reason, I was delighted to find this video in the archives at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia and didn’t mind paying to get it digitized because I believe this short film is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the history of Christianity in Thailand.
When people hear that I am working on a Ph.D, they inevitably want to know what it is about. Doctoral theses, by nature, are very specific and are often challenging to explain succinctly to people in a way that is both clear and understandable.
But recently I was presented with the challenge of summing up my Ph.D research in a poster. Is that even possible?
Every year, the city of Edinburgh holds a “Doors Open Day” where historic buildings that are not normally open to the public open their doors and let people in to have a look. New College, the home of the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh decided to participate this year, and the director of postgraduate studies put out the call for volunteers to produce posters of their Ph.D research to be hung up inside the New College building for visitors to look at on Doors Open Day. There weren’t too many rules for how to do the poster, except that it needed to interesting and attractive for the general public wandering through the building who might not know anything about the field we are studying.
It enjoyed looking at the various posters from other students and faculty. I was fairly happy with how my own poster turned out too so I thought I would share it here on my blog for those who are curious to know what I am spending my time working on here in Edinburgh and how it relates to my missionary work in Thailand.
I appreciate that few people actually read Ph.D theses but over time I hope to produce various articles, blogs, etc. that will give little nuggets of useful info and insight into the things that I have discovered with the hope that the fruit of my research will benefit others. This poster doesn’t include everything that will appear in my finished thesis but I hope that it serves as a taster of some of the major themes that I am looking at.
On August 4, 1851 a unique opportunity opened up for Mrs. Sarah Bradley and a couple of other missionary women in Bangkok. It was a chance that any missionary would have jumped at, but also one that needed to be managed well… which it wasn’t, as will be seen.
Despite the general neglect of women’s education in mid-nineteenth century Thailand, King Mongkut (Rama IV) invited Mrs. Mary Mattoon, Mrs. Sarah Bradley, and Mrs. Sarah Jones to teach English to his wives and other women in the royal palace. The king was a forward-looking and modern-minded monarch who was eager to gain Western knowledge from missionaries and other Westerners. Previously, missionary Jesse Caswell had been a private tutor to the king and as a result King Mongkut became quite adept in English and was eager for others in the royal household to learn English as well.
Accepting the king’s invitation, for more than a year, the three missionary women visited the palace six days per week, each woman taking two days. Teaching temporarily stopped in December 1852 after the illness and death of one of the young queens. When it recommenced in 1853, the teaching became more evangelistic than previously, due in part to the interest shown by the palace women themselves. The Mattoons’ annual report, dated Sept 30, 1854, recorded that very little had been done in English during the previous year, and the majority of instruction had been Christian content in the Thai language.
Just two days previous to the writing of this report, on Sept 28, 1854, King Mongkut summoned all the missionaries and European residents of Bangkok to question them about a scathing article about himself that had appeared in The Straits Times a couple of weeks earlier. The king was very angry about the article and felt certain that one of the missionaries was the unnamed source for the Singaporean newspaper article. Servants and employees of missionaries were arrested and then released after a brief detention, and the king very nearly ejected all the missionaries from the country. At this time the three missionary women temporarily ceased teaching, though after a few days, Mrs. Mattoon and Mrs. Smith returned to their teaching in the palace. This was short-lived however, and not many days later, no one would open the gate of the palace to let the missionary women in.
The exact reason for the termination of their teaching sessions is unclear. However, King Mongkut’s subsequent employment of a private teacher, Mrs. Anna Leonowens, to teach the palace women and children indicates a strong possibility that the king was displeased with the missionary women’s prioritization of teaching Christianity over English. In a February 26, 1862 letter inviting Anna Leonowens to come to Bangkok, the king wrote:
We are in good pleasure, and satisfaction in heart, that you are in willingness to undertake the education of our beloved royal children. And we hope that in doing your education on us and our children (whom English call inhabitants of benighted land) you will do your best endeavor for knowledge of English language, science, and literature, and not for conversion to Christianity; as the followers of Buddha are mostly aware of the powerfulness of truth and virtue, as well as the followers of Christ, and are desirous to have facility of English language and literature, more than new religions.
It is evident from the experience of the three missionary women and the subsequent terms of employment for Anna Leonowens that King Mongkut, while valuing what missionaries could offer, was only content to accept the help of foreigners if they gave the type of assistance that he desired.
King Mongkut never forbade evangelism per se. He was fully aware of the religious goals of the missionaries in his kingdom and he was happy to tolerate their evangelism, but these missionaries needed to know the appropriate time and place to share the Gospel. Missionaries were welcome in Thailand as long as they contributed to national development and modernization in ways desired by the Thai elite, and knew how to eschew proselytization in certain contexts.
The lesson that the three missionary women forgot was that if you are invited to teach English, then you need to teach English. If students are interested in hearing about Christianity, that is fine, but the missionary must use discernment to know whether that can be done with integrity during class time, or if it is better to defer it to outside of class hours. While it is important for Christians to be faithful in sharing the Gospel, it is also important to be faithful to even the secular or secondary tasks that we have agreed to. A failure to do so can both bring gospel opportunities to an untimely end, but will also reflect poorly on the character of God and the Gospel that we are verbally proclaiming.