Earning High Marks in Thailand
August 07, 2014
For the past 15 years, Mercy Christian School has taught the fundamentals of academics and the Christian faith to underprivileged children in Thailand.
Abject poverty and broken homes are an all too common way of life for many children living in the Ubonratchatani Province in northeastern Thailand. Out of necessity, parents leave their offspring in the care of grandparents or other relatives so they can work in distant cities. Some are never heard from again.
Other parents do their best to provide for the basic needs of their children, but all of their income goes toward food and shelter. Education is almost viewed as a luxury.
Banjit* understands the value of education. Raised by a loving but poor family in a Thai village, her prospects for the future appeared dim until her parents enrolled her in Mercy Christian School in Ubonratchatani. Even though her family was Buddhist, they chose Mercy because its academic programs surpassed that of the government schools.
The encouragement of her teachers and her natural eagerness to learn made the transition easy for Banjit. Year after year she excelled in her studies. She also committed her heart to Jesus Christ and grew in her faith while attending the school.
Now Banjit co-leads her church’s youth ministry. The second-year college student is majoring in education, and her parents could not be more thrilled. Banjit already knows where she wants to work when she graduates. She hopes she can combine her two passions—love for children and love for Jesus—to make a lasting impact on future generations of students at Mercy Christian School.
Breaking barriers through education
A majority of the students come from traditional Buddhist families, but many receive Christ while attending the school.
A Thai ministry started the school in 1999 to give children from rural villages the opportunity to receive a quality education and hear the gospel. Twenty children from surrounding villages comprised that first preschool class.
The school added a new grade with each succeeding year and now educates students from kindergarten through 12th grade. The current enrollment exceeds 1,000 students, and there is a waiting list for those who are turned away due to the lack of classroom space.
What is most remarkable, however, is the success of the school in a country where the saying “to be Thai is to be Buddhist” rings true. More than 95 percent of Thailand’s population is Buddhist, and about 80 percent of the students attending Mercy Christian School come from Buddhist families.
“It isn’t a difficult choice, when parents can send their kids to a school like Mercy and see them excel, or have them go to a public school in their village, where they won’t learn very much,” said Stephen van Valkenburg, Christian Aid Mission’s area director for Southeast Asia.
“This makes a big, big difference in reaching people with the gospel. What parent doesn’t want the best for their kids?”
The school is so highly regarded that some of the children travel upwards of two hours each way by bus from their remote villages to Ubonratchatani. Without assistance from the ministry, these children would not be able to pay the bus fees to get to the school.
Students attend chapel services on the sprawling campus, and a study of the Bible is incorporated into their classwork. The ministry estimates about 60 percent of the children become followers of Jesus Christ.
The school has become an outreach for parents too, as the ministry’s gospel workers visit the homes of the students and share the message of Christ’s love and salvation with family members.
A mother, named Tida, sends one of her children to Mercy Christian School. A native of Laos, she fled with her parents and brother during the Indochina War and resettled in Thailand. Her brother later became a Christian, but Tida maintained her Buddhist beliefs.
Her heart changed, however, as she learned more about Christ through special events at the school and from ministry workers. Tida prayed to receive Jesus as her Lord and Savior earlier this year. Now her husband is also contemplating this very important decision. The couple is considering enrolling another child at Mercy Christian School.
Following Christ can come at a cost, but that was a price the principal of Mercy’s primary school was willing to pay. The Thai teacher had excellent credentials when she joined the staff of the school. In fact, it was through her leadership that the school obtained accreditation with the Thai Department of Education.
“Despite the dishonor among her Buddhist relatives due to her teaching post in our ministry school, as well as a disadvantage in financial compensation, she has continued to serve as our primary school principal,” said the ministry leader.
“Now Mercy Christian School has become one of the top schools in Ubonratchatani Province. And the principal has received Christ and found eternal life,” he said.
Taking up their banner for the Lord
The ministry is also involved in discipleship training and church planting.
Children who excel in their studies at the school find even greater opportunities awaiting them. Through a cultural exchange program, top students at Mercy’s secondary school can go to the United States for a year or more to study at a Christian high school. The experience enables them to become more proficient in English, as they interact with other believers in the classroom, in church, and in homes.
The ministry also makes it possible for some of the brightest young scholars to further their education by going to college. Sam is one of these fortunate students.
Six years ago the ministry challenged its people to answer the call to engage in medical missions. Previously the ministry had relied on short-term mission teams from overseas. Unfortunately, there was no continuity in providing the much-needed medical services to rural communities bordering the Mekong River.
Sam responded to the challenge. A native of Laos, he developed a heart for missions while staying at Mercy Christian School one summer. He is now in his final year of medical school and will intern under a licensed physician for two to three years before he gets his own medical license.
This dedicated young man appreciates the ministry’s willingness to put him through college and medical school. When his training is complete, he plans to join the ministry as a full-time medical missionary.
Thanks to financial assistance from caring Christians, the ministry also sends young believers to its Bible training center so they can become church leaders and missionaries. Christian Aid assists these gospel workers and equips them to plant churches in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia.
In addition, the ministry raises dairy goats and cows on its school property and donates them to poor families as an income-generating opportunity and a source of milk for their children. Vocational training classes and small business ventures are being initiated by the ministry to reach out to the Buddhist community.
“Through Mercy Christian School, our ministry is communicating to the people living in these communities that we are here to provide training and education for their children. In the context of lifting their burdens, the children and their parents are hearing the message of Christ’s love, hope, and salvation,” said the ministry leader.
“Numerous children, parents, and teachers have found new life in Christ, and they are in turn reaching more Thai and Lao Buddhists with the gospel.”