I spent the month of May in northern Thailand, drawn by a teaching opportunity through Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. I joined my friend, Todd Johnson, in Chiang Mai for two weeks as we helped six students study global development. The students are enrolled in Gordon-Conwell’s Doctor of Ministry program on Global Christianity. (I then spent a third week in Bangkok and the Hat Yai area in southern Thailand, where I met with friends and explored possible new partnerships for Frontier Fellowship.)
Our Doctor of Ministry course featured visits to 23 agencies engaged in development work. “Development” is an umbrella term that denotes efforts to improve a community’s economic, health or personal situation. Sometimes development is contrasted with “relief.” Relief delivers humanitarian aid in crises, whereas development helps people to help themselves with more sustainable solutions.
Chiang Mai is the epicenter of development efforts by non-government organizations (NGOs) in northern Thailand. Many of these NGOs are faith-based organizations, and the ones we visited were mostly Christian agencies.
Why Chiang Mai and why Thailand? A brief and somewhat simplistic answer is that northern Thailand is home to many ethnic peoples. These hill tribe peoples include the Lisu, Karen, Kachin, Lahu, Hmong and others. Most of these ethnic groups also live across the border in Myanmar. Fighting in Myanmar has pushed hill tribe peoples into Thailand. These villagers usually lack identity papers, and thus their children cannot attend public school or receive treatment in hospitals. The hill tribe girls are especially vulnerable to the dangers of sex trafficking and prostitution.
We visited about 10 agencies and ministries that operate schools, orphanages and rescue centers to serve these at-risk young people. We also encountered NGOs that teach sustainable agriculture practices and develop seeds for Thailand’s eco-culture.
I look forward to sharing more with you soon about these NGOs and other experiences from my trip.
—Richard Haney, Executive Director