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In Bangkok, a shrine of the times

BANGKOK, Thailand — Of all my memories of this Southeast Asian capital, the one I can’t forget is the sight of a young woman, kneeling in front of a Hindu shrine, pausing in her prayer just long enough to send a text. 

I’ve done this in church, too, I confess. Let he who is without unlimited data cast the first stone.

Road Notes | Erik Tryggestad
The Erawan Shrine, situated next to a shopping mall in downtown Bangkok, is a microcosm of the city’s busy-yet-spiritual life. Missionaries Gary and Michelle Ford showed me the shrine during my reporting trip to the city, where I was graciously hosted and housed by the Somprasong 4 Church of Christ.

Sipping a glorious concoction called bubble tea, I watched, fascinated, as people in business suits and skirts burned incense sticks in front of a four-faced statue of Phra Phrom, the Thai representation of the Hindu god Brahma

Others stepped over the worshipers to take photos. Still others got in line to pay for a “Personal Thai Classical Dance.” Those seeking a blessing knelt on a mat, palms pressed together, as women in ornate, golden hats danced and sang behind them.

A “Personal Thai Classical Dance” at the Erawan Shrine. (PHOTO BY ERIK TRYGGESTAD)

Thailand hasn’t enjoyed the Christian upswing taking hold in other Asian nations, from China to Cambodia. Those who claim Jesus as their savior in Thailand represent less than 2 percent of the country’s 67 million souls. 

But there are seekers here. They ask for blessings at the feet of statues and congregate in coffeehouses to escape, for a few moments, the pandemonium of their congested city. These are places where real conversations about Jesus can happen.

The more I travel, the more commonalities I see in human faith. We seek to coerce divine power to heal us, to advance us, to give us some level of influence over our world. 

As Christians, we serve the one who has overcome the world, as John 16:33 tells us. We seek not to control but to submit. That’s easy for me to say but difficult for me to live. 

For me, the Erawan Shrine has become a symbol of the urgent need to share the Gospel. A few months after my visit, a man planted a backpack bomb at the shrine, killing 20 people and injuring more than 100. Thai authorities said the attack was retaliation for a recent crackdown on human traffickers, but truth is elusive, and it doesn’t bring back the dead.

I mourn the lives lost — and pray for all of us to waste no time.

CONTACT [email protected]

RELATED: Coffee and prayer for the great Siam

Filed under: From The East Headlines - Secondary Insight International

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