Imagine a place where there is no suffering, and the endless cycle of death and rebirth is completed. The eightfold path, referred to as the “middle way,” is said to be the key to arriving. Arriving where? Nirvana, the goal, the prize, the purpose of a Buddhist’s life. Buddhists are assured that if they gain enough merit, they will eventually reach nirvana.
But nirvana is the broad way Jesus spoke of in the Gospels — a lie, leading to eternal death.
When a Buddhist decides to take the middle way, instead of the narrow way of Christ, he arrives not at a restful state free of suffering, but in a place of eternal suffering.
Who will tell these people the truth of John 14:6? “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ ” (John 14:6).
Grant and Mercy Merrell* are missionaries in Isaan, Thailand. They have served with the International Mission Board for 24 years. Before they went on the field, the Merrells were involved with local missions involving Southeast Asian people through First Baptist Church of Houston. Through this exposure, they developed a desire to reach Southeast Asia with the gospel. Mercy — a native of Laos, a country bordering Thailand — gained a heart to reach her own people.
Before reaching Thailand, the Merrells served four years in local ministry with Catawba Baptist Church. Then the couple moved to the jungles of Peru and spent 12 years church planting. The Merrells were committed to Peru and saw much fruit. Yet their desire to reach Southeast Asia remained.
Grant said the Lord eventually made their calling clear.
“One evening we were in our mosquito net in a Asheninka tribal community where we were doing our ministry and [we were] talking and we just both were overcome with a sense of freedom to go ahead and make that decision to transition out of Peru … simultaneously,” he said. “So, we really felt like it was an affirmation from the Lord.”
Soon, the Merrells moved to Thailand, where they have served for 11 years. They live in the capital city of their province and drive some 30 miles to do ministry in small villages.
“We are working among rice farmers in rural northeastern Thailand,” said Grant.
The hardest thing, Grant said, has been learning a new culture and language at his age (him being over 50 years old) after having learned Spanish in Peru.
Additionally, there’s the difficulty of sharing the gospel with the people of Thailand, the majority being Buddhist.
Grant said Christianity is considered a foreigner’s religion in Thailand. Among the 20 provinces that make up Isaan, less than 1 percent are Christians. Grant said most have heard of Jesus but do not know what following Him is all about.
Proclaiming the gospel in Thailand is a long process that involves sharing many times and building relationships. Patience, consistency, and faithfully living for Christ are important ingredients, he said.
Mercy and Grant are able to share the gospel through visits in villages, evangelistic events, and two other significant outlets: an eyeglass ministry and a sewing ministry.
Mercy and Grant, along with others from their team, visit the homes of those who’ve signed up for a screening and perform an eye exam. If glasses are needed, the Merrells provide them, then schedule a check-up visit after a patient receives glasses.
“So, there are a series of visits that can take place, during which we sit and share the gospel with each person in their home,” said Grant.
The eyeglass ministry began eight months ago and around 35 people have prayed to receive Christ — an unheard-of response there, Grant said. The Thai people typically respond one by one to the gospel over a good bit of time, he said.
Grant and Mercy also perform outreach through Thai Country Trim, a woman’s sewing business that IMB missionaries founded roughly 40 years ago. The women sew ornaments that are distributed to countries such as France, England, and the United States.
One woman, named Sue, attended the sewing group that met in the Merrells’ home. Grant said it seemed her heart was being touched very quickly. Sue spoke with another woman about the possibility of “entering the Christian faith.” Soon, they contacted Mercy, and after placing their faith in Christ, Grant baptized both at a Christmas event amongst their unbelieving peers.
“That was a very bold thing for them to do, to stand up for Christ in front of that many nonbelievers,” said Grant.
(*Names changed for security reasons.)
— Mary Margaret Flook, a senior communication major at North Greenville University, served as a summer intern with The Courier.