BANGKOK, Thailand (BP) – In a country that has already endured months of political unrest, International Mission Board (IMB) leaders are calling believers to fervent prayer for Thailand after the Royal Thai Army declared martial law last week and gained control of the government in a coup two days later.
"We pray for a resolution that is best for the Thai people," Peter Hillen,* an IMB worker in Thailand, said. "Pray for people to be patient as this resolves. Please pray for our personnel to take opportunities to share about where their eternal security comes from; we can't trust in man for our security."
Following the May 22 coup, IMB leadership continues to monitor the situation and has advised personnel to exercise caution and avoid areas where protests have been held.
"Business as usual is pretty much the order of the day," Hillen said. "Our personnel are doing today what they were doing before the coup."
Hillen, who has lived in Thailand about 24 years, said the country has the "culture of a coup."
"This is not uncommon in Thai history," Hillen said. "There have been a number [of coups] throughout the years. In most cases, they have been very peaceful."
However, the two factions – pro-government (known as Red Shirts) and anti-government (Yellow Shirts) – have never been this polarized.
The most recent wave of unrest began in November 2013, with anti-government protestors calling for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down. On May 7, Shinawatra and nine cabinet members were dismissed and charged with abuse of power.
J.B. Wingfield,* an IMB worker in Bangkok, said volunteer and mission teams are not being told to cancel plans to serve among the Thai people.
"One of our primary duties is to advise our guests of places to stay away from and where it is a little more dangerous. We have been very fortunate to not be involved in the protest activity," he said.
Wingfield said both sides are committed to not disrupting travel.
"As long as you know which places to stay away from, you shouldn't have any problems," he said.
Barry Kelm,* who has served in Bangkok for 24 years, said he feels completely safe and ministry is "absolutely continuing."
"Sunday coming home from church there was a small protest in front of one of the small plazas," Kelm said. "The sky train [shut down] for two stops, which was unusual, but they did that to keep people from coming to the protest."
Kelm said Thailand, Bangkok in particular, has experienced tense situations in the past – more so than the current unrest.
"In 2010 the Red Shirts had places occupied for two months. Shops were closed. You couldn't get anywhere and people didn't know what was going on," he recalled.
Should it escalate, IMB personnel will be advised on how best to move forward, Kelm said.
Thai culture shaken
IMB worker James White* said to "be Thai" means to have your identity wrapped around three things – the king, the nation and the nation's religion, Buddhism. About 95 percent of Thailand's population is Buddhist.
"When mankind is humbled, it is in the middle of that when peoples' hearts are often open to God," White said.
White asked Southern Baptists to pray that the Thai people would be willing to let go of old traditions and powers they have always leaned on, being willing to look at new ideas and open up to the Gospel.
"Christianity can thrive very well in harsh circumstances," White said. "What is occurring now is not new to the Christian church. In New Testament times, the Gospel lived and thrived in that."
Kelm asked for prayer that Christians in Thailand would continue to demonstrate love toward one other.
"Our prayer is always that God would use things like this to help people realize that peace really only comes from Jesus," he said.
Thongchai Pradabchananurat, president of the Thailand Baptist Convention, said the situation has potential to create division among Christians -- between those who agree with the coup and those who do not. He asked people to pray for unity among believers.
"If Christians are united, we will be stronger than before, and we can reach more people for Christ if we have unity among us," he said. "During this situation many people will seek the way out and the way of hope.
"We will proclaim Good News and give them the answers. We pray God leads us, to help us lead souls to be saved."