SP staff Suzy Triplett shares how the Santisuk Families Program is making disciples
“The most important part of our jobs as pastors is teaching parents how to share their faith with their children,” said P’ Noi.
Back in 2008, when I was new and green in Thailand, I had the enormous blessing of living with P’ Noi, Ajarn Bin*, and their two children. Through this Thai Christian family, I learned so much about Thai culture, language, and faith. This particular lesson that P’ Noi left with me, however, was most impactful.
“Thai Christian parents don’t necessarily understand that they are the ones who need to share their faith with their children,” P’Noi told me. “In Thai culture, Buddhism is normally passed from one generation to the next through the school system. So, parents don’t actually pass on their Buddhist beliefs to their children. Once parents become Christians, they assume that the church will take on that responsibility. So, as a church, the most important thing we do is teach parents how to share their faith with their kids. Because Buddhism is so ingrained in the culture and school system, if parents don’t intentionally share their Christian faith with their kids, their kids will be more influenced by Buddhism than by Jesus.”
As I’ve been in Thailand and worked with families in low-income communities over the past decade, I’ve found P’ Noi’s insights right on. I’ve met second-generation Christian parents who told me that their kids were Buddhist while in school, and would likely become Christians after. This seemed normal and natural for them, and it had never occurred to some that they could teach their kids about Jesus.
In listening to neighbors, I also realized that poverty can create considerable stress for families. Feeling insecure about where one’s next meal comes from can contribute of inter-parental conflict, which can skew family dynamics and be a precursor to negative outcomes for children.
It was these challenges that led us to develop the Santisuk Families program, a holistic and focused family development program. To enter the program, families commit as an entire family for one year of training and mentoring. Everyone, regardless of religious belief, is welcomed to discuss family, parenting, work, money, and relationships from a God-centered perspective. Through the program, families have found freedom from fraught family dynamics, been empowered to serve their community, and established small businesses to gain a livelihood.
After our very first training, the most frequent feedback we received from these families was: “I learned that I cannot just pass off my child to someone else. I must teach my child about Jesus. I’m the one who is responsible to raise them to know and love God.”
Similarly, the most asked question was, “How can I tell my family members about Jesus?”
To help answer this question, we are planning to begin a Story Fellowship Group within the church and beyond. I am testing the Oral Bible Study method and curriculum that I have been developing for the Thai Buddhist worldview for the past 5+ years. Next year, I will begin research with small groups from low-income communities in Bangkok about this approach to making disciples.. Our goal is to train at least eight storytellers, lead four Story Fellowship Groups, and collect data from twenty participants from low-income communities in Bangkok. When all is done, we hope to propose a reproducible, contextualized model of disciple-making of Buddhist background adults in urban marginalized communities–many of whom are functionally illiterate and struggle with traditional disciple-making methods.
“I learned that I cannot just pass off my child to someone else. I must teach my child about Jesus. I’m the one who is responsible to raise them to know and love God.”
Missionary and author Arthur Glasser wrote in Announcing the Kingdom: “The one acid test that should be applied to all activities that claim to represent obedience in mission is do they or do they not produce disciples of Jesus Christ?”
I praise God for P' Noi and such wise mentoring so many years ago. And I praise God for this fruit in the families I now engage with 15 years later. We look forward to so much more that we believe God wants to do among low-income families in Bangkok!
*Names have been changed for security reasons.