“Please pray to your God for me. What was his name? Jesus right?”Daew (แต้ว)
She looked at me with eyes of despair as she softly spoke these words, surrounded by her co-workers. I responded, “I will pray to the Lord Jesus who is in heaven for you. I will try to come back later so we can talk again”.
Her name is Daew (แต้ว – a type of perennial). She is originally from North Eastern Thailand and works in sales at a clothing store (Jim Thompson). Daew was always friendly and open to teaching me Thai/Isaan. Business was usually slow, so her and her co-workers were so cheerful when a stranger like me shows up. Because of this opportunity, I made sure to visit often. Thai’s are very relationship focused, moreso than I think us Westerners. So a ‘woman at the well’ experience won’t do it most of the time. Great diligence, and compassion is required to win the heart of a Thai.
Today I visited Jim Thompson again. I’m always amazed at the colorful designs Jim Thompson offers as they offer a very Thai yet modern take on things. High end and fancy, but affordable enough for a tourist. Daew and her co-workers warmly greeted me, and we began chatting. The topic I chose was “surgery”, because that’s what I was learning in school. Do Thai women like to have surgery to make themselves beautiful, I asked? They all agreed and shared their views. Daew said Thai women like to augment all parts of their body, and make their skin whiter as a way to make themselves beautiful. “See how big her butt is (pointing directly to a coworker)? Many white foreigners like that”. I was shocked at how blunt she was, but everyone just laughed it off. So I shared some funny Thai news stories on surgery gone wrong.
Daew eventually changed the subject. She told me about how the store relies on tourists and the lack of them impacting the business. She was worried that the store might be forced to shut down and that all of them would lose their jobs. So Daew asked for prayer (stated in title) with a nervous smile, trying to retain composure. I wasn’t sure what to do, and the request came as a surprise. I forget that Thai’s are very open to having others pray and bless them, regardless of religion. But I was afraid my Christian lingo wasn’t up to par yet. So I decided to follow up later.
A few days pass, and the Lord impressed upon me to follow up. Daew was there again sitting with a colleague, friendly as usual. So I got another chance to get an update. I never know when these chats may be the last. Many acquaintances have suddenly disappeared from their workplaces. My friend ‘Bob’ disappeared from my favorite place that makes spaghetti, then another male waiter from an upscale bar in Siam Paragon recently. Here today, gone tomorrow. The urgency to spread the gospel is ever present.
Daew told me about how much worse business has gotten. Over the past few days, literally 0 customers came to the store. She shared that management decided to close this particular branch of Jim Thompson, effectively laying off all its staff. Daew, obviously upset over losing her job told me she didn’t know what to do next. She had worked there for 8 years, and her colleagues were like family. Soon it would soon all be gone with no place to go next. I sympathized and said it was like a Thai proverb called “fleeing the tiger to run into the crocodile”. Basically caught between a rock and a hard place. Then I also reminded her that I had prayed for her as promised to Jesus who is in heaven.
This gave me a chance to talk about the topic of heaven. Daew openly told me as a Buddhist she believes her merit will bring her to heaven in the next life. One of the Buddhist’s concept of heaven is a higher plane of existence full of gods and angels. That is one level of heaven though not yet Nirvana. An “improved” earth in the sky one could imagine, and she believed she would live out her next life as one of those higher beings. Perhaps she was doing this to save face with her coworkers who might be listening, or she really believes that. I am inclined to believe it is the latter.
“Can I ask, what is heaven like for a Christian? Isn’t it the same as a Buddhist?” She asked. What a question. “Heaven for a Christian is similar but also very different” I said, borrowing a trick I heard from a Thai Christian. I shared a bit about how for Christians we won’t experience suffering and that its a place for all those who have put their faith in the one true God, Jesus Christ. “I believe I will go to heaven not because of my good merit but because of my faith alone.” Then our time ran out as Daew had to go for her afternoon break so we ended there. As of this writing, all of Bangkok went into lockdown so I did not have a chance to revisit since.
Daew also represents the attitudes of many Thai people of today. They feel as though they are satisfied with their own merit and do not need a savior, someone to pull them a lifeline. At least until a calamity as such runs into their lives. Unless the Holy Spirit awakens their senses to a point of desperation, much seed will fall on hard soil. Please pray for the Thai people that this difficult virus situation would turn many hardened hearts toward Jesus.