Thailand

The story of Protestant Christian missionary work in this Buddhist land is one of repeated disappointments and frustration. Yet it has enjoyed the services of some outstanding missionaries. Karl Gutzlaff,* a German, was one of the first two to arrive in 1828. In less than three years he saw the Bible completely, though imperfectly, translated into Thai, and he produced a grammar and dictionary. But his wife and infant twin daughters died in 1831, and he himself had to leave the country, apparently in a dying condition. In all, sixty-one missionaries have died on this field.

The American Board took up the challenge in 1831 with David Abeel, but in 1849 it officially withdrew. The American Missionary Association, taking on the support of former American Board missionary Daniel Beach Bradley, had a longer history, but it came to be almost exclusively a one-man work. Physician and printer as well as preacher, no missionary made a more lasting impression on the country than Bradley. He was a good friend of King Mongkut. Yet he had few converts. After his death in 1873, the AMA also withdrew.

American Baptist work began with John Taylor Jones in 1833. He completed translating the NT in 1843 and baptized several Chinese, who comprise an important minority in the country. The Chinese Baptist Church organized in 1837 was the first Protestant church in the Far East. This mission's efforts were sporadic, and they ended in 1893.

The major continuing work is that of the American Presbyterians, begun in 1840. They had little success among the Thai of the south, but when Daniel McGilvary went to Chiengmai in the north in 1867 he began an important work with Laos and other hill tribes. He was largely responsible for the edict of toleration in 1878. In 1934 the Presbyterians formed the Church of Christ in Thailand with 8,713 members. In 1957 the mission dissolved and turned over all the work to this national church.

In 1929 the Christian and Missionary Alliance* entered neglected E Thailand from neighboring Cambodia. But the great influx of new missions came after World War II and the closing of China. Overseas Missionary Fellowship (the former China Inland Mission) began in 1951 primarily to reach hill tribes similar to those in China. It now has the largest number of missionaries. Work has extended also to the many Muslim Malays of the southern peninsula.

In spite of increased conversions, Christians still represent not more than 1 percent of the population. The Church of Christ in Thailand is a member of the World Council of Churches. It was host to the East Asia Christian Conference in 1949. It does not, however, represent many of the newer works.

A.J. Brown, One Hundred Years (1936); E.A. Fridell, Baptists in Thailand and the Philippines (1956); I. Kuhn, Ascent to the Tribes (1956); K.E. Wells, History of Protestant Work in Thailand (1958); J.H. Hunter, Beside All Waters (c.1964); D.C. Lord, Mo Bradley and Thailand (c.1969).