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Southern Baptist workers offer hope, ‘living water’ to Burmese immigrants in Thailandcomment (0)

December 12, 2013

Southern Baptist workers offer hope, ‘living water’ to Burmese immigrants in Thailand

It rains eight months out of the year in the Thai province Scott and Alyssa Branding call home.

For many of the country’s 2.5 million Burmese living in the southern part of Thailand, monsoon rain is their only dependable water source. But drinking the rainwater can make them sick.

So the Brandings give them clay water pots lined with rice husks to filter impurities from the rain. Then they tell them about Jesus, the source of “living water.”

The Brandings have been sharing the gospel with Burmese migrant workers for more than 10 years. Many of these migrant workers live in remote areas without electricity or running water. They work on rubber and palm oil plantations or are undocumented immigrants living in the jungle to avoid detection by local immigration police.

Families there build spirit houses in their yards, setting out food every day to appease spirits — even when there is not enough food left to feed their families.

Fear of angering spirits is so deep-seated that new Christians often do not immediately throw out their idols.

“When we go into a home and we see their altar being totally clean, we just praise God because we know they’ve made that final step, they have totally committed their whole selves to the Lord,” Alyssa Branding said.

When a small group of believers formed among the plantation workers, one of the first things they prayed for was time each week to meet together, said the congregation’s pastor Ye Htoelt. With no means of transportation, walking 10 kilometers (six-plus miles) or more to another plantation can take more than an hour each way.

Htoelt’s hands are cracked and calloused from years of working on palm oil plantations. On the first plantation Htoelt worked in Thailand, there had been running water and electricity, but the landowner was “wicked” and overworked his employees, Htoelt recalls.

He and his wife eventually found work at a different plantation. It didn’t have running water or electricity, but the landowner was a believer. 

Not only did he give the couple Sundays off from work, he sent Htoelt home every Saturday afternoon so he could prepare to teach his small congregation the following day.

Htoelt was unsure he had the ability to lead the congregation, so Scott Branding mentored him for two years.

“[It is] such a joy now to see him be able to share the gospel and have confidence,” Scott Branding said. “When he starts speaking about the Bible, it’s just like he comes alive and he just explodes with power. … it’s because the power of Jesus Christ [is] in him.”

The Brandings, who live in an area surrounded by fish processing plants, also have helped start Bible studies among factory workers. For WinWin Ma, a young woman who works in a squid processing plant, times of worship allow her to claim joy in life through Christ. She is the only Christian in her workroom.

“I work 10 hours a day and sometimes face problems at work,” she said. “But when I worship, the worry and stress fall away. I feel joy.”

The Brandings are serving in Thailand through Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Cooperative Program, which fund the presence and missions outreach of nearly 5,000 Southern Baptist representatives internationally. For more information, visit imb.org/offering, where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering.

EDITOR’S NOTE — Names have been changed for security reasons. (IMB)

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