The aim of the Church is not to win the world, but rather to identify with the world, even to loose itself in the world, in such a way as to bring nearer the kingdom in which the distinction of Church and world will be lost. What is important is the manifesting and propagating of Christ's self-giving love, and the awakening of this in ever wider areas of human society.
John Macquarrie Principles of Christian Theology (1966),
pp. 40, 51
Chapter 7 The Retrenched Decade (1901-1910)
After the tumult of the 1890s, the first decade of the new century turned out to be relatively quiet for the northern Thai church and for the Laos Mission. In the 1890s, the mission wrestled with divisive issues such as self-support, self-government, and paid evangelists. While the mission did opt for some changes after 1900, those changes turned out to be short-term ones. The deeper channels of the mission flowing out of the 1870s and 1880s continued on much as they had in the past. Church-mission relationships did not change. The era 1900-1909 became a decade of "confirmation" in which all of the non-changes and the old patterns entrenched themselves more deeply in church and mission.
The regional church-regional ministry pattern was confirmed by the failure to train or ordain new clergymen and by reinstating the paid evangelist system. Membership in the churches grew by 70% from 2257 members in 1899 to 3821 members in 1909, but only three new churches were constituted with the consequence that the church found itself more regionalized and less localized than ever. The mission itself did not grow: there were 42 missionaries assigned to it in 1899 and 43 in 1909. (1) In fact, unusual amounts of illness made these hard year for the mission. Only in the development of the medical and educational institutions did it seem to make progress.
How little had changed may be seen from the fact that the burning issue throughout the decade had nothing to do with church in the North as such. The expansionist ideology continued to be as strong as in the 1890s, but now the focus had shifted to a new phase: the greater Tai race beyond Siam. (2)
The Expansionist Ideology Again: The Kengtung Question (3)
In the late 1890s, both the Presbyterians in northern Siam and the Baptists in Burma evinced an interest in the Kengtung State, one of the Shan States in eastern Burma. Each denomination believed that God called their church to work there. As might be expected, the chief advocate for expanding the Laos Mission work into Kengtung State was Dodd. Briggs, a fellow member of the Chiang Rai Station, gave his staunch support to Dodd's vision.
They argued that the mission was not called simply to the "Tai" people of northern Siam but rather to the greater Tai race throughout the heartland of Asia. Their argument grew out of the vision inspired by the long tour taken by McGilvary and Irwin in 1893 into Kengtung State. The prospect of opening work there excited Irwin to the extent that he offered to go himself, but the matter came into doubt when the Laos Mission learned that the American Baptist Burma Mission planned to open a station in Kengtung. Irwin's reaction: fine, give the place to the Baptists. Dodd and Briggs, however, rejected that response and urged the Board to move into the area quickly before the Baptists. The Presbyterians, they claimed, could do a much better job there.
From that time onwards, the "Kengtung faction" consistently and frequently called for establishing a Kengtung Station. The mission was more divided. For example, when Dodd took the opportunity of a furlough in 1894 to lobby for Kengtung with the Board in New York, letters from the field showed considerable resistance to expanding at that time. Most felt Kengtung expansion was a good idea but the mission simply could not undertake yet another station. (4) Over the next eight years the issue came up frequently but nothing happened.
Finally, in 1903 Dodd again visited the U.S. on furlough, and this time he convinced the Board to approve opening a Kengtung Station. He returned to the field in early 1904 with great enthusiasm and with reinforcements for the new station. Several other mission members still expressed their doubts. The problem also arose that the Baptists actually did open a mission station in Kengtung in 1901. Nevertheless, the new two-family station opened in 1904 with every indication of success. At first, Baptist-Presbyterian relations were cordial; however, strains in the relationship quickly led to open antagonism. The Baptists wanted the Presbyterians out! In 1904, 1905, and again in 1907, the Kengtung Question was the major issue discussed in the annual mission meeting. Dodd and his supporters fought a strong rear-guard action against those on the Board and in the mission who wanted to close down the station. (5)
The Board finally did order the station closed in 1908 citing financial problems and the comity issue as the reasons. Even prior to this, McGilvary wrote New York to say that he personally felt the mission was working against Providence in the matter of Kengtung. The Dodds, deeply disturbed, moved back to Chiang Rai but kept Presbyterian work alive in Kengtung by making visits there and sending Chiang Rai elders over regularly. (6)
Dodd did not give up his dream for expanding the work into Burma, China, and French Indochina. His next move came in 1910 when he made a remarkable thousand-mile journey from Chiang Rai through Kengtung and Yunnan to Canton, China, surveying the extent of the Tai ethnic groups in that vast territory. He then proceeded on to America where in early 1911 he gave a rousing presentation of his findings to the Board. For a brief moment, he had the full and enthusiastic attention of the Board for this new, vast, and totally untouched mission field, and the Laos Mission indulged itself in laying grandiose schemes for 25 new stations and 560 missionaries to evangelize the Tai race. (7) More to the point, Dodd argued that this vast scheme and all further plans for expansion hinged on the reoccupation of Kengtung.
But, then, the months dragged out into years. The old problems of money and the Baptists remained. More reams of correspondence and slavishly prepared and minutely documented reports only wasted more time. The Board lost its enthusiasm for the Tai race. In those heady years of global missionary expansion, China, Korea, and the Philippines excited a greater response than the backward, difficult to reach, and apparently unimportant Tai race. Finally, in June 1913 the Board decided that all Presbyterian work in Kengtung must be closed or turned over to the Baptists. At the same time, it gave permission for opening a station in Chiang Rung, Yunnan Province, China when funds became available. The Laos Mission majority by this time had caught the Dodd-Briggs vision of the greater Tai mission and, consequently, felt intensely disappointed in the Board's decision. Long after 1913, the mission still held on to contacts with its former converts in Kengtung State. (8)
As one of the goals the mission pursued for its churches after 1900, it tried to involve the churches in "foreign" missions. Irwin encouraged such involvement in the Training School (see Chapter 5). The Lampang Church showed especial interest in Khamu work. The mission now encouraged the churches to provide financial support with the aim not only of supporting the Kengtung work but also of promoting the church's own evangelistic outreach. (9)
Even so, the impact of this extra-Siam phase of mission expansion was mostly negative. First of all, incredible amounts of time went into an imposing array of surveys and reports "proving" that the Presbyterians had a better claim to Kengtung than the Baptists. No single topic or issue in the entire history of the Laos Mission absorbed so much effort and time as the Kengtung Question. Yet, not one single line of even one report or letter contributed to strengthening or ministering to the existing churches in the North. In a decade when the development of the churches in the area of self-reliance lost momentum and the mission itself was weak, the distraction of Kengtung only contributed to the loss of momentum and the weakness. One faction in the mission realized this and opposed rushing into Kengtung, but the passionate zeal of Dodd and his supporters always won the day (within the mission) for expansion.
Secondly, the Kengtung Station drained off two families, the Dodds and the Callenders, badly needed elsewhere, in a period when the mission was understaffed and over-extended even within Siam. It also wasted many months of time per year for others, such as Dr. Peoples, who were called to serve on committees and commissions regarding the Kengtung Question. (10)
Thirdly, the Kengtung Question further weakened the overall work of the mission precisely because it caused divisions and hard feelings within the mission. Many resented the tactics of Dodd and Briggs, for example, when Briggs threatened to resign at one point if the mission did not vote to support the Kengtung Station before the Board. And the whole issue also caused tension between the mission and the Board further distracting all from attending to the problems of the churches.
All-in-all, the Kengtung Question of whether or not the Laos Mission should have a station in Kengtung State and push expansion northward out of Siam proved to be a potent distraction that brought into sharp relief the self-defeating side of the expansionist ideology: while the purpose of mission work was to "convert the heathen" and create a "native" church, expansionism constantly drew the mission away from that purpose by consuming its energies in touring, itineration, surveying, station building, and then starting the process all over again further down the road. It is paradoxical: the motivation, spreading the Gospel, that brought the missionaries into the North transformed itself into the ideology of expansionism, which then prevented effective evangelism and church work.
While the Laos Mission invested a great amount of its time and effort trying to maintain the expansionist momentum of the 1890s, the only area in which it did maintain that momentum was in institutional growth. By 1909, Chiang Mai Station had enlarged on its two schools and hospital with the Boys' School, renamed Prince Royal's College, shifted to a new site on the east side of the Mae Ping River. In 1908, the station set out on a new institutional venture when Dr. McKean started a leprosarium on an island in the Mae Ping River. Lampang Station likewise maintained and expanded its schools and medical work. Chiang Rai was in the process of building its Overbrook Hospital and by 1909 had a Boys' and a Girls' School both developing rapidly. Nan Station had a more permanent if still inadequate hospital/dispensary set-up and had finally established a permanent school although it was still not stable at the end of the decade. Only Phrae, under northern Thai lay leadership (see Chapter 6), lagged in the matter of institutions.
The real measure of the growth of the institutions was in missionary assignments. Of its 37 missionaries in 1909 who had definite assignments, the mission assigned ten to medical work, ten to educational work, six were on furlough, four did translation/literature work, two managed the press, and only five members of the mission took as their primary assignment church and evangelistic work. These figures are all the more impressive when compared with those of 1899 when of 33 missionaries with specific primary assignments, nine engaged in "evangelism" which included church work while thirteen had institutional assignments. (11) While some of those assigned other work gave considerable time on weekends and vacations to visiting rural Christian groups, they were limited in what they could do. Effectively, the mission put more than four time the emphasis on institutional work that it did on church and evangelistic work. The missionaries themselves observed that the institutions grew in their demands during the decade while church work received less attention and developed less rapidly. (12)
An important thing happened in this decade: as the churches languished and the institutions grew amidst the great distraction of Kengtung, the northern Thai Christian community found itself with twofoci rather than one. Mission attention and resources centered on the medical and educational institutions, which, in turn, became the centers of patronage and employment in the Christian community. The institutions became powerful magnets, and we will see in a latter section of this chapter that these magnets caused a major Christian migration away from Lamphun towards Chiang Mai. Consequently, the church did not encompass the Christian community but had to compete with the institutions, founded entirely outside of its jurisdiction, for the attention of that community. The church diminished in importance in the Christian community as the institutions grew.
The Church 1900-1909
The Laos Mission found itself trapped in its conflicting commitments to the twofoci of the Christian community's life, the church and the institutions. Even as it committed itself to the institutions, the mission wanted to strengthen the churches; and it did try to take steps to that end.
Mission and Church. As the 1890s drew to a close and the Laos Mission came to think that its northern Thai clergymen could not pastor the churches (see Chapter 6), it stopped ordaining northern Thai into the ministry. Yet, it also saw the need for a better system of church supervision because the churches and rural Christian groups did not receive sufficient attention. Thus, in 1896 the North Laos Presbytery established a Committee on Presbyterial Oversight chaired by McGilvary and composed entirely of missionaries. The purpose of the committee was to create better understanding between the mission and the churches, to encourage self-support, and to oversee the churches. Although it had a great deal of authority, the committee failed to solve the problem of how to give more attention to the churches. By 1900, the mission felt even more urgently the need to work more closely with its churches, and to have a more direct supervisory role in their administration; but it took until 1903 for the mission to structure a closer relationship. In that year it ordered every station to divide its churches into districts with one missionary assigned responsibility for each district. The mission instituted, in effect, a formal structure for church governance without even referring the matter to presbytery. It created a de facto episcopacy with missionaries serving as bishops. (13)
After 1903, most of the missionaries related to institutions fell into the pattern of giving weekends and holidays to working with the churches. Mission reports and correspondence after 1903 suggests that the mission made considerable effort to work more closely with the churches. Even so, the whole system of weekend pastorates did not function effectively. More distant churches and groups continued to be ignored. The weight of other work plus the constant struggle with illness hampered all church work. Although more structured, the "new" system instituted in 1903 did nothing more than confirm the patterns of church and mission relations that first arose in the 1870s. It confirmed the primacy of the mission over the churches while ignoring for most of the decade the issues and principles of self-government and self-support. This system of missionary supervision over churches also drove out the hope of a "native" pastoral system growing up without actually providing very much pastoral care for the churches.
The North Laos Presbytery. After its official founding in 1885, the North Laos Presbytery remained closely linked to the mission since all of the ordained missionaries sat as members of it. According to later accounts, presbytery meetings, held in December with the annual mission meeting, were largely a matter of form attended by the "natives" at the behest of the mission. The fact that the meetings fell right around harvest time made them more than inconvenient for the men attending. However, after the tense meeting of 1895, the presbytery drifted into a period of decay in which it met only occasionally mostly just to rubber stamp mission decisions. Finally, the annual mission meeting of 1906 received a report from its Committee on Laos Presbytery which recommended that presbytery should begin meeting regularly at a time other than December. The next year, the presbytery called a special meeting for December in order to reestablish the presbytery on a firmer basis.
In March 1908, the presbytery held its first meeting in the "new" era. Although the number of missionaries attending was still fairly large, the presbytery showed its more northern Thai character by focusing on key issues relevant to the life of the local churches including the very thorny issue of intermarriage with Buddhists. (14) Since the mission wanted the presbytery to be more of an independent body, presbytery decided that it would hold its 1909 meeting away from the mission centers. It met at Wiang Pa Pao, and of twenty delegates only three were missionaries. The meeting elected Kru Pannya moderator and discussed the invitation of Siam Presbytery to appoint a committee to investigate the establishment of a national Siamese church. It also considered sending its own "missionaries" into French territory to work with the Khamu. (15)
The 1910 meeting elected Kru Semo as moderator and again discussed key issues for the life of the church. More than ever, the presbytery took on a northern Thai identity. By and large, the presbytery continued to develop in this direction in later years although after 1911 the missionaries again took greater part in its deliberations. (16)
In actual fact, while the rebirth of the presbytery did give the church greater voice, and, perhaps, a new sense of its own identity, it did not give the church greater authority over its own life. Something more than merely cosmetic, the change did not effect the system of church government. The locus of authority and the source of funds did not change. The growing influence of the institutions did not change. Thus, unlike the traditional Presbyterian system in which presbytery reigns supreme over local churches, the North Laos Presbytery never actually exercised sovereignty over its churches.
New Movements in the Church. Even though the churches continued to labor under insufficient pastoral care, changes did take place in them. There was movement.
The first of these movements was the holding of station conventions organized by the missionaries for strengthening the churches, giving them a greater sense of unity, introducing new ideas and projects, and involving the churches in planning and carrying out activities. Chiang Mai Station organized the first conventions in 1903 and 1904. These proved such a great success that in 1905 all five stations held them. In 1906 only Lampang, Nan, and Chiang Rai held conventions, and the Chiang Mai Station held the last recorded convention in 1907 at Mae Dok Daeng.
These conventions brought together as many church members from throughout a station as possible for several days of meetings, services, and activities. Besides worship and entertainment, the meetings included opportunities for discussions on important topics, Bible study, health education, asking questions about faith, and participating in evangelistic work. (17)
Generally reported as successful, useful, and entertaining, there is no record of a convention being held after 1907. It is likely that conditions in the mission after that period hindered holding further conversions since the years 1908 and 1909 were particularly bad years for missionary health. They were also lean years financially. More than likely, the stations had neither the will nor the money to conduct conventions after 1907. (18)
A second movement that swept the churches in this decade was the chapel building movement. Even in 1867, McGilvary wanted a chapel as evidence of the permanency of Christianity in the North. The mission built its first chapel on a corner of station property in 1876; from that time on other churches and village Christian groups built small bamboo chapels from time to time. Chiang Mai Church occupied its permanent building in 1891, and in 1890 Chiang Mai Station included groups in 22 village that held regular worship of which nine had their own chapels. (19)
The real movement in chapel building began after 1900, and especially after 1903 a passion for erecting church buildings swept the church. Many of those chapels remained simple structures, but a significant number were constructed of more permanent materials. The mission supported and promoted this movement for three reasons: first of all, it felt that involving the churches in building programs made them more active and self-reliant; secondly, the buildings "proved" that Christianity was here to stay; and, thirdly, the missionaries believed that good church buildings attracted more converts as Buddhist society tended to judge Christianity by the quality of its buildings. (20)
In this period, at least twenty new chapels were erected in eighteen organized churches. The most impressive of these was the Hyde Park Chapel in Nan built along Western architectural lines with stained glass windows. The building was completed in 1908 with the aid of overseas funds. (21)
The chapel building movement showed that the Christian community now had enough "mass" to build its own buildings. Although the regional church framework remained potent as ever, the village Christian communities began to fill out somewhat. Communities remained scattered but were larger than previously. The chapel building movement also provides further insight into the mission's "theory of indigenization" (see Chapter 5 also). In the case of chapels, the mission accepted without question northern Thai cultural values regarding the place of beautiful, elaborate/ornate buildings in religion—values that paralleled the missionaries' own society, which also constructed elaborate religious structures. The Laos Mission unquestioningly accepted and pursued a basic northern Thai cultural value even while branding the society and culture as "heathen." Whereas Buddhist temples represented darkness and evil to the mission, it readily accepted the value by which such buildings were desired. This meant, in effect, that the mission attacked the form while accepting the basic content of the underlying values behind those forms. Indigenization, then, was a matter of changing forms to protect the "purity" of the church but accepting basic values so as to remain evangelistically attractive to non-Christians.
The third church-wide movement in the North in this era was the rural parish schools movement. Realizing that its highly valued educational system did not reach into the rural areas very well, the mission encouraged a "second level" of schools, ones located in the villages and run by the churches. The first mention of such a school goes back to 1885, but the actual movement to establish village schools throughout the church began about 1902. The movement sought to put a Christian school within the reach of every Christian child and to form the basis for a church-wide educational system. In 1903, Chiang Mai Station had twelve village schools while Chiang Rai had one. In 1904, the mission included fourteen day schools with sessions of from three to eight months each. (22)
Although the schools often started with the assistance of or at the instigation of missionaries, the churches administered the schools and often funded them (at least in part) as well. One of the most difficult problems facing these schools was finding teachers, and the schools often had to depend on young people who had studied for some time at one of the boarding schools. The curriculum varied considerably but tended to emphasize hymn singing, Bible memorization, and simple academic subjects especially reading. The schools generally used the traditional rote memorization method of instruction so that the mission found it difficult to maintain the level of quality it desired in them. School buildings were usually made of simple bamboo or teak. The students sat on the floor and had very few textbooks. The schools were primarily for Christians although Buddhist children did attend. (23)
In 1908, six years after the village school system started to grow, the mission's educational system included five boarding schools, 23 village and urban day schools, and three training schools totaling 1096 students. It was not until 1912 that the village students formed a truly significant part of this system:
Their number rose from 350 in 1911 to 801 (out of a total of 1677 in all schools) in 1912. This sudden increase may be attributed to a mission attempt to compete with the rapidly expanding government-sponsored system of temple and public schools. The growth in the village schools was tempered by the fact that in many of them, the ones without direct mission supervision, the terms were short and the pupils fewer. (24)
While it is difficult to evaluate some aspects of the village schools, they did represent a positive change in the churches particularly because they often grew out of the desire of village people for a better education for their children—a desire just then emerging. (25) Unlike other mission institutions these schools were located in the churches, run by and for the churches. They represented an attempt to get some Christian education, at least for the children, into the churches. Even though they depended on the urban schools for teachers, some support, and to continue the education of better pupils, the schools represented an exercise in self-reliance in church work in the North. They further symbolized the growth of the rural communities into groups large enough to actually sustain their own educational programs, however humble.
Church migrations represent the last movement of the decade I will discuss here. Two congregations experienced serious changes because their members migrated to other areas.
Although all three of the Lamphun area churches experienced migration problems after 1900, that migration affected the Wang Mun Church the most seriously. The movement of Christians out of the area began in 1901 when Noi Lin and a group of nine families moved from Wang Mun to Wiang Pa Pao for economic reasons. By 1906 half of the Wang Mun people and a total of about 75 Christian families from all three of the Lamphun churches had relocated themselves in and around Chiang Mai. Migration continued until at least 1908, leaving the Wang Mun Church in a very weakened condition. (26)
Freeman, the resident missionary in Lamphun, cited three reasons for this migration of Christians away from Lamphun: first of all, mission employment in Chiang Mai, especially at the Mission Press, attracted many; secondly, the desire for a better life and higher income compelled many to go to the Chiang Mai area for jobs or land; and, finally, the students sent to the Chiang Mai schools from Lamphun usually stayed in Chiang Mai. (27)
The Chiang Saen Church, still one of the strongest and most independent of the churches, also experienced migration. The congregation suffered for the fact that most of its members lived on the French side of the Mekong River and were denied contact with the mission by French authorities. Finally, in 1906 eight of the Christian families decided to move over to Pa Kuk in British territory, and twenty non-Christian families moved with them. At first, the church had trouble settling in to its new site, but it soon recovered and grew rapidly. In 1917, the church had ninety members and still had a reputation for strong leaders and a strong congregational life. (28)
During this decade the presbytery established only two new churches in northern Siam: in 1902 it organized the Muang Phrao Church, which split off from Chiang Dao. And in January 1906, it reorganized the Chiang Rai Station churches by adding substantial territory to the Wiang Pa Pao Church, reducing the territory of Chiang Rai Church, and creating the Nang Lae Church. In 1906, the Kengtung Station established a church, which remained on mission rolls for many years but eventually quietly faded away. (29)
Church and Society
As seen in Chapters 1 and 2, the church faced serious problems in its relations with society from the day that Nan Inta received baptism. Not only was the new religion closely linked with foreigners in the general public's mind, but it also challenged traditional society and beliefs in many ways. After 1900, the church continued to experience repression, especially in those areas where it had only recently entered. (30) And even-though the general impression we have is that outright repression and persecution was less intense, the church still had to face certain issues in maintaining its life in the midst of a Buddhist society.
The Shan Rebellion. The Shan Rebellion of 1902 represented a crisis in the life of the church. That rebellion started in Phrae when a group of Shans (from what is now eastern Burma) rose in rebellion against the Siamese authorities, killing many Siamese and pressing the local Chaos into support of them. Suddenly, the Christian community had to choose between loyalty to the Siamese central government, with which there existed widespread dissatisfaction, or the representatives of rebellion. The Christians lived in all of the areas—Phrae, Nan, Lampang and Chiang Rai —threatened by rebellion, and it did not help matters for them that the Laos Mission was again in yet another period of internal weakness.
In all known cases, the Christian community sided with the Siamese, and in some instances it actively assisted the government in suppressing the rebellion. In Phrae itself, for examples, Christians helped ethnic Siamese escape the city while the Christians themselves refrained from looting. Siamese authorities in Muang Thoeng showed particular pleasure with the Christians there because they were virtually the only ones who did not flee the city when attack seemed likely. Briggs reported that in Chiang Rai Christians played an important role in carrying government dispatches, in uncovering and reporting a plot against the authorities, and in setting a calming example for others. (31)
Thus, like its missionary patrons, the northern Thai church showed a solid inclination to support the Siamese government's policy of centralizing its power in the North. The impression that the Christian community stood in the forefront of the forces of the economic, social, and political modernization in northern Siam is strengthened by its response to the Shan Rebellion. In any event, that response distinguished it from the larger society, which had no particular love for Bangkok. The tiny Christian minority saw its interests allied with and tied to the most powerful agent, the Siamese government, for social change in the North. (32)
Intermarriage. Whenever Christians gathered to discuss their concerns and problems, one of the issues they always brought up was that of Christian-Buddhist marriages. These marriages were often short and unhappy, and the mission discouraged them because it found it difficult to teach or maintain the "sanctity of marriage" in them. The missionaries also worried that Christian children might come under "bad" influences. Christians themselves disagreed on whether or not one should marry a non-Christian, and one of the sources of unhappiness in many such marriages was that the Christian spouse sometimes put pressure on the non-Christian to convert. The Buddhist spouse often resisted. McGilvary observed in 1904 that the problem of marriage prevented some young people from converting to Christianity. (33)
Thus, those social and family problems that faced the very first generation of converts back in the 1870s remained a problem forty years later. Christians continued to be socially isolated and their religion a source of interpersonal tension. One of the peculiarities of the Christian minority was that its minority status had no ethnic foundation, and since it was scattered geographically as well, the community remained quite vulnerable to social pressure and tension. That tension often followed the individual Christian right into her or his home.
Legal Status. Like every other facet of traditional society, the legal system in the North grew out of the religious center of society. The legal status of Christians, again a problem since Nan Inta frustrated his patron by his refusal to work on the Sabbath, also continued to be an issue. As late as 1905, the local government in Phrae still forced Christians to do corvee labor on Sundays, something that so greatly disturbed the Christian community that at one stage it considered passive resistance to such orders even if it meant going to jail.
The Christians in Lampang faced a similar problem. The Chao Muang there required that all of his subjects perform corvee labor except on the Buddhist lunar holy days, which seldom coincided with Sundays. The Christian community dealt with the problem by asking the resident missionary, Taylor, to intercede for them and request that Christians be allowed to pay a tax in place of the labor. Later, when the Siamese Commissioner moved to institute just such a system for all of Lampang, he asked Taylor to convince the Christians to pay immediately as an example to others. He also asked Taylor to have the Christians inform him immediately if they discovered instances in which the Chao Muang tried to obstruct the new taxation system by continuing to demand corvee labor. A delegation from Chae Hom, led by a Christian, did later report to Taylor that the Chao Muang unfairly demanded rice from them. Taylor reported the case to the Commissioner who corrected the situation.
This example gives us an interesting insight into how the Christians stood in the northern Thai legal system. While in tension with traditional political structures, the Christians had an advantage in the evolving situation because of their "allegiance" to a patron, the missionary, who was allied to other agents of modernization and centralization, notably the Bangkok government. One is particularly struck by the way in which the Siamese Commissioner actively cultivated the assistance of the Christians both as examples for responsible conduct and as "spies" against the Chao Muang. As in the more general case of the Shan Rebellion, these events in Lampang add even further weight to the conclusion that the Christian community had everything to gain and little to lose in the growing power of the Siamese government over the North.
Nevertheless, the Christians remained a legal anomaly. They faced a particular problem when called upon to give evidence in courts-of-law as the oaths taken normally had to be sworn before a Buddha image. In 1907 the mission appointed a committee to lobby the northern authorities for modification of those oaths. There is no evidence that the committee was successful, but there are cases recorded in which Christians did not have to take the Buddhist oaths. (34)
Thus, the legal situation of the Christian community was a mixed affair in which the community suffered in some ways for being a minority religion while deriving certain benefits in other ways through their association with an influential patron.
Medical Care and the Church. Because "native" medicine included the uses of charms and spirit propitiation, the mission as a matter of course forbid its converts from accepting traditional medical aid. As long as the Christians had missionary medicine within reach medical assistance posed no particular problem. However, many Christians lived at a distance from mission centers and could not avail themselves of mission medical services. These people faced a serious temptation to seek traditional cures when they became ill. Thus, for example, the Chiang Dao Church lost a number of families in 1903 because someone in each family fell ill and the families called in traditional doctors. Chiang Dao seldom received missionary or medical evangelist visits. The Phrae Church faced the same problem in 1906 when the Phrae Station closed. Individuals immediately went back to using the traditional cures because there was no missionary present to help them. And the Christian community in Fang, a great distance from the nearest mission station, experienced precisely the same problem. (35)
Mission doctors and/or their medical assistants constantly traveled into the country-side to treat ailing Christians, and one of the motivations for developing a system of medical evangelists was to keep local Christian groups from being dependent for medicine on traditional cures. Since medicine was one of the primary tools of missionary evangelism and people converted because of it, when mission medicine was no longer available to Christians the gravitational pull back to traditional ways became all the more difficult to resist.
Summary. In each of the above issues, the heart of the social issue facing the northern Thai church was that it stood apart from the rest of society. To what extent the Christian community believed, as the missionaries believed, that the larger society was evil and satanic is difficult to ascertain. I have suggested earlier (see Chapter 5) that their beliefs were likely to have actually been closer to those of the surrounding society than to the missionaries. Nevertheless, practically they felt themselves to be different, to have an identity distinct from the rest of their society. The structures of society around them, familial, legal, and medical frequently did not recognize the validity of that identity and almost never honored it. It did not sympathize with the Christian community's "peculiarities" of religious expression.
The social issues related to being a Christian kept coming up in presbytery meetings and in the station conventions. For the Christians, the key issue of the day referred not to expansionism nor institutional development but how to maintain their Christian identity in that unsympathetic environment.
1900 to 1909 was in many ways a dull decade for the church. The great fiery debates of the decade, over Kengtung, happened far away from the church. The creative growth of the decade, in the institutions, also took place at a distance from the church. The only experiment in serious change, the Phrae experiment, came to nothing. It was profoundly a decade of stagnation. No new ministers. Only two (not counting Kengtung) new churches. Potential changes such as station conventions or the revived presbytery had little long-term results.
It was the "wait-and-see", "slow-but-sure" decade. And, as we look back across the years to this decade, it has a special relevance all of its own. This decade was an eloquent reply to the ferment for change fomented in the years 1894-1895. By delaying theological education for another decade while cementing into place the ineffective regional church-regional ministry system and confirming all meaningful power in mission hands, this decade slowed the development of a self-reliant northern Thai church. Even at the beginning of the decade some missionaries felt the malaise in church work that had set in noting that the momentum and hope of a decade earlier had been lost. (36)
And, yet, the shards of the shattered vase of necessary and needed change still littered the landscape. In presbytery and in the station conventions, the church experimented with a voice of its own, testing issues and concerns of its own. That had not happened in the 1890s except, momentarily, in the cataclysm of the Pastors' Revolt. The churches established and party financed their own educational institutions for the first time, institutions that emerged from their own perceived needs. Christian communities coalesced and built up their own infrastructure of property and buildings. And, almost offstage from the great events of the decade, came the muted call (from the Siam Presbytery) for discussions towards the formations of a national church. The call somehow was lost in the shuffle. But there it was...the first faint glimmer of an alternative to another fifty or one hundred years of mission rule.
In some ways, the decade following 1910 seemed more alive and exciting than the previous ten years. The 1910s were a period of ferment, unrest, and new ideas during which the Laos Mission attempted to make up for the "lost decade" of 1900-1909 by founding the Theological Training School, by resuming the ordaining of northern Thai clergy, and by opening a new drive for self-support among the churches. Robert Irwin made a reappearance as the dynamic agent of the American Bible Society. The years 1911-1914 showed a remarkable surge in church growth statistics while the mission also established closer ties with the Siam Mission and developed a program for women.
Meanwhile, the older leadership of the mission started to die away. Both church and mission experienced a deep sense of loss in 1911 as first Wilson and then McGilvary died. Leading figures of the "second generation" soon followed these two great first generation men. Collins died in 1917. Briggs and Dodd, the great advocates of expansion, died in 1919. Sarah Campbell and Dr. Peoples died the following year.
In truth, however, even in this decade of ferment the swelling river of continuity out of the past flowed more strongly than ever. If anything, the northern Thai church received less attention from a Laos Mission distracted by other matters. The grandiose plans of this decade had to do mostly with expansion and institutions. The age-old limitations on mission effectiveness did not change in the least while the trend after 1903 whereby institutional missionaries spent weekends and vacations with churches reversed itself.
The record of the 1910s, then, was one of rampant stagnation...the economists call it "stagflation."
Wagons Ho! On to Yunnan
The Kengtung Question spilled over past 1910 until the Board decision in June 1913 brought the overt Kengtung territorial dispute between the Baptists and Presbyterians to an end. Yet, even as the Kengtung Question came to a weary close, the Laos Mission looked around for other possible areas of expansion beyond the boundaries of Siam. The siren call of expansion lost none of it potency, and the mission had options aplenty: it still planned to open at least one station in Yunnan Province, China, where a large population of Thai Lu, ethnic cousins of the northern Thai, lived. It also entered into discussions with the Siam Mission over the possibility of opening Presbyterian work in northeast Siam, which both missions understood to be the responsibility of the Siam Mission. However, when the Laos Mission agreed in 1915 to assign the Freemans to the Siam Mission for the purpose of opening a station in the Northeast, the Board promptly rejected the whole notion as financially impossible. (1)
Another arena of expansionist interest was French Indochina. Ever since local French authorities refused Laos Mission members permission to work with the Khamu (see Chapter 3), the mission had searched for a way to reverse that decision. But by 1912, "feelers" put out by the Board through international ecumenical circles and through diplomatic channels in Washington failed to resolve the situation. Brown advised the mission that the French might not object to a "quiet" entry, and so having failed to get into Indochina across the Mekong, the mission decided to go through the "front door", Hanoi. In the first half of 1913, Dodd and Vincent made a Board-sanctioned tour of "Tonkin" to ascertain the prospects of Presbyterian mission work with the Tai peoples of Indochina. The prospects seemed good although it was clear that such a mission could not be officially or obviously related to a mission in Siam. The French would not likely tolerate that. Whatever hope the Laos Mission might have had for starting something in Indochina was quickly dashed, however, after the Board received Dodd and Vincent's report. Brown, Board Secretary, wrote that while the Board would have sanctioned Laos Mission-based expansion into French Laos, it could not agree to starting a whole new mission in Indochina. Soon thereafter, word came back to the Board through diplomatic channels that the French government absolutely opposed any proselytizing in Laos. (2)
Northeast Siam? Beyond reach. French Indochina? Closed. That left Yunnan. Even here the prospects for a new station seemed slight. In 1913, Brown reported that even though the Board sanctioned the eventual opening of a station at Chiang Rung in Yunnan, the time had not yet come. And throughout the next three years the mission could not move on the matter in spite of plans it made, appointments it made, and survey trips it authorized. (3) There was no money. In late 1916, the mission again officially urged the Board to give permission for Chiang Rung. Initially, the Board responded negatively to this plea because it still had no funds for Chiang Rung. However, within days of that negative reply a second letter arrived announcing that the Board had just received a check for $40,000 from a private estate and agreed to apply part of the check to opening a station in Chiang Rung. The mission hurriedly laid its plans and in September 1917 had missionaries on the field in Chiang Rung starting the station. (4) As might be expected, the hard work of establishing the new station occupied most of the time of those missionaries who, consequently, had little time for evangelistic work. Among other problems, the new station lacked good evangelists, building supplies, good personal servants, and the confidence of the local people. (5)
Just as in the case of Kengtung so now in the case of Chiang Rung, mission expansion exacted from the northern Thai church a price. Expansion proved itself to be a decade long distraction. From 1910 to 1913, the mission fought for its dream of returning to Kengtung, only to lose. From 1914 to 1916, the mission directed its energies towards obtaining permission to open a station in Chiang Rung. Then, from 1917 to the end of the decade, it had to staff and fund its new and very distant station. Expansion began costing the churches in 1913 when Dodd and Vincent made their Indochina tour while both the Chiang Rai and Lampang stations went without staff to carry out church work during their months' long absence. After the Chiang Rung Station opened, it depended on the northern Thai church for financial assistance and, more especially, evangelists. In 1919, three mission stations sent a total of nine evangelists for varying periods of time. In 1920, the already weak Phrae Station came to a virtual halt when the mission sent two families from there to Chiang Rung (see Chapter 6). (6) As in previous decades, the northern Thai church continued to depend for its leadership, its program, and even its income on a mission, which devoted inordinate amounts of time and resources to a "plan" of expansion that ignored the life of the churches already established.
In 1911, an exasperated Arthur J. Brown sent out a circular letter to all Presbyterian missions deploring their constant demands for and reliance on money. In their letters, the missions demanded more money. On their furlough visits to New York, Presbyterian missionaries called for more money. Brown went on at length about the "perils of an undue reliance upon money and re-enforcements." (7) In the years after 1911, Brown must have sighed and shaken his head over letters from northern Siam as the Laos Mission hatched one grandiose and expensive plan after another. In expansion, the mission sought to do everything everywhere all at once...the Northeast... Indochina... Yunnan, and we have already seen that in 1912 it concocted a fabulous master plan to occupy the Asian interior with 25 stations in 25 years (see Chapter 7). The silence from New York on that one was deafening.
But there were other plans. Take, for example, the proposal for a "Laos Christian University": this scheme appeared during the visit of the Bradt delegation in 1912. The mission wanted a university with three faculties (Arts & Sciences, Theology, and Medicine) at an initial cost of about $475,000. Brown replied, "...we are a little dazed by the proposal of one Mission that the Board commit itself to a definite program of over a million and a quarter ticals for the educational and medical equipment of a single mission." He called it an "impracticable program," which violated previous policy decisions about the development of the church in the North. (8)
At the time the mission sought its Christian University, it also undertook to convince the Board to support, if not the whole scheme, at least the founding of a medical college. Once again, the Board lacked funds, and Brown questioned the mission's ability to manage such an institution. Nevertheless, the mission went right ahead with its plan and actually inducted a class of seven medical students under Dr. Cort in 1915. The mission tried to run the school out of its available funds, but by 1920 this scheme too had to be abandoned. (9)
The significance for the church of most of the great proposals of the decade was that they had nothing to do with the churches. Nearly all of the plans and the creative thinking of the decade centered on the institutions. In a conference held in New York in 1910 at which the Laos Committee and the Executive Committee of the Board met with Dr. McKean and Mabel Gilson, the Board worked out a program of development specifically for the northern Thai church. The conference found that the churches lacked adequate leadership, depended too heavily on the mission, and that the mission did not have adequate resources (financial or personnel) to carry the churches. The conference then stated that, "It is vital that we should at once take measures to secure a larger native force...We shall never see a strong and self reliant native church unless we have the right kind of men to lead it; and we shall never have these men unless we have schools to develop them." The conference proposed four recommendations. Three of them had to do with strengthening existing educational institutions in Chiang Mai or setting up new ones. Only one recommendation, for the establishment of a theological training school, focused on the church. And even here the method of assistance was to set up another institution rather than work within the churches directly. (10)
The decade closed with yet another example of the potency of the Laos Mission's institutional orientation, an orientation shared by the Board of Foreign Missions in New York. In 1916, the Board approved a special funding drive for the two Siam missions, the "Siam Extension Fund". The fund totaled $50,000 and took some time to collect, but in 1920 the Board in consultation with the missions prepared a budget for the extension fund. Just at 70% of the allotted funds went for institutional expansion and development. Another 21% was designated for "evangelism" which may have included church work as well. The remaining 9% fell under the categories of new stations and church buildings. (11)
The churches could not compete with the institutions for mission attention. In October 1916, for example, Julia Hatch returned to the field to do full-time village women's work with the rural churches, a task she had proven herself adept at in Phrae two decades earlier (see Chapter 3). Hardly had she begun her work, however, when the Chiang Mai Girls' School lost its principal. The mission immediately moved Hatch from Chiang Rai to that position, a move that she herself made reluctantly. (12) By 1920, then, the central focus of the Laos Mission was solidly on its mission educational and medical institutions. Institutional thinking became a habit that could hardly be questioned, let alone broken.
The impression one has from the records of the day, however, is that the Laos Mission after 1910 did not quite appreciate how dominated by institutional needs it had become. There seemed to be a great deal going on in the churches. A number of new initiatives for developing the church appeared during the last decade of the mission. Never did church work seem so hopeful, particularly in the earlier years of the decade when the church experienced a great burst of growth.
In the latter part of 1911, reports filtered out of the North telling of a serious epidemic of "malignant malarial fever". The center of the epidemic was located in the area of the Bethlehem Church to which the Chiang Mai Station hurriedly sent Noi Intah, a Chiang Mai elder, to distribute medicine and care for the sick. Collins, "pastor" of the church, reported hundreds of people dying in the vicinity. As Noi Intah gave treatment, he exhorted non-Christians to give up their animism and accept Christianity. Some two hundred adults did so making 1911 the most fruitful year for accessions in the mission's history. (13)
The epidemic continued into 1912, and Dr. McKean tagged it the worst epidemic of malaria in the North since 1880. Small pox also appeared. The mission sent out its own teams of medical evangelists under the direction of Collins and Campbell and also supplied vaccine for the government's relief work. Conversions to Christianity mushroomed. A jubilant mission opened its 1912 report saying, "The Station reports of the North Laos Mission for 1912 are cheery, hopeful, aggressive in an unwonted degree. The Lord of the Harvest has granted us a larger share of His ingathering than ever before." The church grew by 1,044 members in 1912 so that at the end of that year one of every four Christians in the church joined it in 1912. (14) The mission's Epidemic Committee (Collins, McKean, and Campbell) confidently predicted future conversion rates several times as high if only the Board could get them money for more medicine and more medical evangelists. (15)
The Board found it difficult to respond. The Siamese government hampered the Board's efforts to collect humanitarian aid from sources such as the Red Cross by denying it needed assistance in the North. (16) In a rather curious letter dated 5 September 1912, Briggs reprimanded Brown for seeking humanitarian aid especially through cooperation with the Siamese government. Briggs wrote that the government knew the mission used this epidemic as an opportunity for converting people; and, therefore, it would rather allow hundreds die than permit assistance to be channeled through the mission. The mission very consciously used its funds where it expected the most converts, and therefore it should not, concluded Briggs, use philanthropic moneys. (17)
The Board also attempted to collect funds in American church circles, but very little money came in because church people there deplored the way in which the Laos Mission seemed to be buying converts among the ill. The Board received protest letters about a circular written from the Laos Mission claiming that with more funds it could convert people at the rate of about two dollars per convert. Brown trusted that the mission simply worded the statement poorly and did not actually intend to buy converts. (18)
Although the epidemic affected many areas in the North including Lampang and Phrae, the highest rates of conversion because of the epidemic took place in the Chiang Mai Station, notably at Bethlehem, Mae Pu Kha, and in sections of the Chiang Mai Church itself, especially at Ban Tho and San Pong. The San Pong community grew large enough to form its own church in May 1914. Most of the converts were impoverished by the epidemics. (19)
By 1913, the epidemic began to abate in some areas, and each of the next two years found it dying away. From 1915 on, even in those areas where epidemic conditions still existed, such as in Chom Thong to the south of Chiang Mai, people did not convert even when they accepted mission medical assistance. The epidemic ended by 1916, and in that year the churches showed little growth. Indeed, various missionaries began to grumble once again about the lack of evangelistic zeal among the average church members. Harris wrote, "But one cannot but note the fact that our Christian people have not advanced as far as we could wish in assuming personal responsibility for the spread of the Kingdom. (20)
The missionaries in some cases attributed their evangelistic success in the years from 1911 to 1914 to the fact that the epidemic and famine conditions of the country shattered many peoples' confidence in spirit propitiation. In those areas served by the mission's medical services, it must have been evident that those who took the medicine recovered while many of those who did not died. (21) It is likely that missionary medicine resulted in a large number of conversions for other reasons as well: in the first place, it was much more widely available than previously; secondly, after 1910 the Christian community experienced more social acceptance than previously thus making people more willing to take Christian medicine; and, finally, the "forces" of change were much stronger in the North by 1910 so that people would likely have been more receptive to its use in any event.
The contrast between 1914 and 1916 in terms of numerical growth is quite striking, (see Appendix II). Although some mission members argued that the converts from the epidemic period did not drop away when it ended, what evidence we have does not agree. First of all, one has the impression that some of the figures given for conversion were a bit inflated. For example, Collins claimed that the Bethlehem Church grew by over 300 members in May 1912 alone. But, then, he later gives a three-year total (1912 - 1914) of only 346 conversions at Bethlehem based on his personal annual reports. But,then, he gives as hissingle figure for the three years only 240 (in the 1914 personal report) while stating that the church had less than a dozen "backsliders."(22) Total church enrollment figures for the Bethlehem congregation actually dropped in 1915 as the result of a "major" roll revision, which indicates that people dropped out of the churches at a rate greater than conversions, an almost unheard of phenomenon in the church's past experience. Smith estimates that about 31.4% of all accessions in the period 1911-1914 were lost in the years after 1914. (23)
Thus, the great numerical expansion of 1911-1914 came to a crash with a resounding whimper. Hughes has concluded that in the years after 1914 the reasons why people converted to Christianity prior to that time lost potency even as Siamese nationalism began to assert that in order to be "truly Thai" one must also be a Buddhist. (24) After this brief period of explosive growth, the church in northern Thailand entered a long period in which it hardly grew at all.
The Church After 1910
The rapid growth of the churches in the early years of the decade resulted in a significant number of new churches. In all, the North Laos Presbytery established seventeen churches between March 1912 when the Ban Tho Church was organized and February 1916 when it established the Fang Church (see Appendix I). Although the manner in which these churches were pastored and otherwise led did not change, what was reported of the Suan Dok Church (Chiang Rai Station) may have been more generally true. The church's missionary "pastor" reported that the people of the church showed more interest in its affairs and felt that it was more theirs after it became an independent congregation. Whether such feelings were widespread or more than just a passing fancy is impossible to judge, but the observation itself does suggest how distant and unreal the prior regional church might have seemed to local Christian communities. (25)
Symbolic of the permanency and growing age of the churches was the way in which they found more acceptance in society. In 1911, King Vajuravudh, only recently crowned, distributed large standing clocks to the churches and institutions in the North in memory of his father, King Chulalongkorn. Churches invited their non-Christian neighbors to special dedicatory services, which helped to impress upon those neighbors the fact that the King himself held Christians in favor. Throughout the decade repression of Christians dropped, and the missionaries observed that the Christians were more socially acceptable than in earlier years. (26)
Otherwise, the churches after 1910 engaged in much the same activities as they had in the previous decade. The chapel building movement continued as before and gained new impetus in 1915 when so many new churches were organized. The city churches in both Lampang and Chiang Rai built large new chapels partly with overseas funds, and just as before chapel building remained a major activity at the local church level. In like fashion, the village school movement also grew and remained the other primary activity of most churches. However, even after the village church school system expanded in 1912 (see Chapter 7), these little schools still had problems maintaining the quality of education the mission desired. Teachers were extremely difficult to obtain, and when the government raised teacher qualifications the problem only became worse. (27)
Schools and buildings... these formed the foundation of an active congregation. Thus, for example, in 1911 Chiang Rai Station reported that the Christian community at Muang Phan showed the marks of a strong Christian life and concluded that God was transforming lives in that church. The evidence provided for that conclusion included: one, a new church building; two, an interest in education; and, three, respect in the larger community. (28)
Another activity that churches engaged in during the decade was the distribution of Scripture portions. Scripture distribution by the churches came into its own when Robert Irwin returned to Siam as an Agent of the American Bible Society Agency for Siam and Laos and assumed full control of the agency in October 1912. Irwin placed a large number of "colporteurs" in the stations of the Laos Mission where they were under missionary supervision. They distributed tens of thousands of tracts and Scriptures throughout the North. Irwin himself made frequent trips to the North visiting stations, teaching the Bible, and conducting training programs in local churches. As far as the churches were concerned, Irwin not only involved them in literature distribution to a greater extent than ever before but also gave considerable time to working in them. He even went so far as to fill in from time to time in areas, Lamphun for example, temporarily without missionary supervision. (29)
Overall, one might summarize the decade of the 1910s for the churches as one of stability that generally continued the patterns of the previous decade. The great period of conversions in 1911-1914 increased the bulk of the Christian community even as that community settled somewhat more comfortably into society, a society itself having to cope with more and more change each year. Although it had greater access to the Bible than previously (see Chapter 5), the church did not change for that fact. By the end of the decade, village churches had less contact with missionaries, but their traditions and forms were so well developed that the dwindling contact, never intensive anyway, made little difference. The patterns and directions were set. Inertia did the rest.
The Karens. Laos Mission awareness of the Karen went all the way back to McGilvary whose interest in them clashed with Kawilorot's fear that a missionary-Karen axis might cause him political problems. He blocked contact with the Karen. Thereafter, the Laos Mission showed little interest in the Karens whom they assumed to "belong" to the Baptists in Burma. In fact, the mission readily accepted a small cluster of Baptist Karen churches near Lampang and even made occasional visits to them. Prior to 1910, the only known Karens belonging to churches of the mission were one small group of four or five families living in Thung Tom, south of Chiang Mai. (30)
Things might have continued in this manner had not the Freemans in Lamphun discovered a number of Karen villages in the Wang Mun Church area that showed some previous contact with Christianity. They reported two villages seeking instruction, and during 1914 seven Karens came down to Lamphun for two weeks to study with them. In 1915, six young Karens spent half of the year with the Freemans. In the meantime, Freeman convinced Kru Enny (or Annie), an ordained Karen Baptist minister residing in Chiang Mai, to visit these Karen villages (in 1914). Kru Enny showed little enthusiasm or interest, thus justifying, in Freeman's mind, Presbyterian involvement with them. Freeman felt that the Presbyterians could better help them find a place in northern Thai society. Eventually, the Freemans baptized one village and placed it under the care of Wang Mun Church, which sent evangelists to visit it and other Karen villages. (31)
Even as the Freemans started their modest Karen Presbyterian community, another missionary found his visits to the Karen Baptists north of Lampang somewhat disquieting. Hartzell visited the three Karen churches in 1916. He found that no missionary had visited them since 1908 and that, while one of the original four villages had fallen back into "heathenism," the other three displayed a very active Christian life - without any outside support. They even had their own pastors. Hartzell wrote, "They receive no financial help whatsoever from outside and I marvel at the work we have seen here because I know of no Presbyterian church in Siam of which this is true." Hartzell later asked a northern Thai elder if his church could survive without missionary visits for eight years. The elder replied that his congregation would die in half that time! Hartzell observed, "I trust that he was mistaken, but that fact remains that we have something to learn from our Baptist friends and they are to be congratulated on such work." (32)
The Chinese. Reports of Chinese converts in northern Siam go as far back as 1893 when the Lampang Church received a single Chinese member. Sometime later when the church accepted another Chinese member the family of this convert became so agitated that they murdered him. Lamphun in 1907 and Nan in 1908 both saw some interest among the Chinese in Christianity, but nothing seems to have come of it in either city, although one man did convert in Nan. (33)
The first movement toward Christianity among the Chinese in the North began in Lampang with the conversion of seven young men in 1913 through contacts with the station's schools and hospital. The station developed further contacts with the Chinese community in that same year when Vincent received an invitation from Chinese residents in Lampang to join in forming a "Republican Club." However, the event that actually gave impetus to the movement towards Christianity in Lampang and other northern cities was the visit of Dr. Tien Sueh, a member of Third Church in Bangkok, sent under the auspices of the American Bible Society. He presented the Christian message in Chinese for the first time in the North, and his visit resulted in a considerable number of conversions. (34)
From 1914, the churches in Lampang, Chiang Mai, Nan, and Phrae received numbers of Chinese converts. By July 1914, a total of thirty had been received throughout the mission, and at the end of 1914 Lampang alone had 43 Chinese members, all merchants or shopkeepers. The Chiang Mai Market Chapel provided a center for the Chiang Mai Church Chinese, as did the market dispensary in Lampang for Chinese Christians there. Although the total number of converts was not large, the mission saw in them a hopeful pattern for future growth. (35)
Within a short time, however, some missionaries began to refer to the "Chinese Question" as troublesome cultural differences between the urban, mercantile Chinese converts and the mission-shaped northern Thai church community emerged. It turned out that many of these merchants had wives in China as well as in Siam. Most of them refused to close their shops on Sundays, and some of them sold liquor in those shops. The various stations showed particular concern when the "ill-disciplined" Chinese started to influence northern Thai Christians as well. In Nan, for instance, northern Thai women members began going to market on Sunday, citing the "example" of the Chinese converts. Although reluctant to move too strongly against the Chinese for fear of losing them, the mission finally decided that it had to be firm in matters of discipline or the whole church would suffer. By 1919, most Chinese names had been stricken from the rolls of the various churches, (36) ending what had appeared to be the most hopeful source of church growth after the end of the epidemics.
The Birth of Women's Work
In the aftermath of the Speer Delegation visit in 1915, mission women's work headed the list of "departments" that came in for more attention and organization. Prior to this decade, women's work, such as it was, meant mostly women's education, a concern that went all the way back to the 1870s when Sophia McGilvary started her little class of girls. Women did not have separate organizations of their own for the most part although they usually did not study with men in Sunday school or other educational programs. Only Julia Hatch appears to have worked with women in a context wider than the classroom.
One of the most enthusiastic of those engaged in women's education was Emma Freeman at Lamphun. She conducted classes in biblical education and in literacy in all three of the Lamphun churches with a considerable degree of success. In the years after 1900, a few other mission women began to receive specific assignments to "women's work". Dora Belle Taylor, for example, had that assignment in 1907 in Lampang and set up a group called the "Women's Aid and Missionary Society." At the same time, other missionary women came to the North to engage themselves specifically in women's work, one of the first after Julia Hatch being Elizabeth Carothers who took over from Taylor in Lampang in 1908. She enrolled a total of 81 women (Christian and non-Christian) in literacy and Bible classes taught by "Bible" women under her direction. (37)
Women's work remained a fitful, uneven matter in the mission, dependent on the abilities, time, and inclination of the women missionaries ("the wives") in any given station, until the annual mission meeting of 1915. At that time, the women met separately to lay plans for women's work, and they recommended to the stations that each woman missionary should personally train one woman for evangelistic work and also literacy and Bible classes. This meeting ended with the organization of the "Women's Guild of the North Siam Mission" which took as its aim the promotion of women's work. The Guild elected Ada Collins president.
The various stations took immediate steps to carry out these recommendations. They formed groups of "King's Daughters" (usually school girls), circles, and literacy and Bible classes. In the Phrae Church, for example, women's work included regular meetings of the women with programs that included Bible study, instruction in prayer, overseas-missions studies, or instruction in hygiene. The Chiang Mai Church branch of the Women's Guild organized itself in June 1916 with the women of the mission giving talks to explain the purpose of the new organization. Sixty women and children attended. (38)
In acknowledgment of her great influence over the rest of the mission in women's work, Freeman followed Collins as president of the Guild. More than ever, it promoted literacy and Bible study as the core of women's work. There is some indication that the actual purpose behind much of this educational activity was the preparation of women for their own leadership in women's work and also to "broaden" their understanding of the world. The Guild also promoted the more extensive use of women as evangelists and colporteurs. (39)
As was so often the case in this decade, the apparently innovative development of women's work provided little change from the past. Rather, the Women's Guild, entirely organized and run by missionaries, simply extended work already being done in some areas to others. Even then, excepting only Freeman's work at Wang Mun and Bethel, the Guild limited itself to the city churches. It did not touch rural women, and overall the Guild displayed all of the attitudes and weaknesses common to the whole mission.
Where Have All the Clerics Gone?
After 1895, the Laos Mission failed to take the steps needed to develop a viable ordained ministry for the churches. Indeed, the mission stopped ordaining men into the ministry entirely while it transformed those already ordained into "regional ministers" on the model of the missionaries themselves. However, even prior to 1910, the mission realized that it could not continue to pursue a policy of not ordaining northern Thai (see Chapter 5). As the few ordained men died, grew old, or fell away, the missionaries felt a greater and greater need to place adequately trained ordained pastors in the churches. In response to this need, the mission founded the Theological Training School to prepare those pastors. (40) It also began to ordain a few men once again.
Of the eight men ordained by the North Laos Presbytery in the nineteenth century, only three remained active in 1910 and one of those three, Kru Pook, died shortly thereafter, in 1912. (41) Kru Chai Ma, in his 70s, continued his effective but limited pastoral work with the Muang Phrao and Chiang Dao Churches, where he also engaged in evangelistic work from time to time. (42) Kru Pannya played a much more active role in church affairs. Aside from his duties as assistant pastor for rural groups of Chiang Mai Church, he also
assisted at the Theological Training School and sat on a number of presbytery committees. (43)
In 1911 the presbytery ordained its first clergymen since December 1894 when it ordained Kru Noi Wong of the Muang Yao community, Kru Semo, and Kru Nan Ti, who died shortly thereafter. Interestingly enough, of these three only Kru Semo entered into pastoral work as Kru Noi Wong and Nan Ti both worked as station assistants in evangelism although each did work with local churches on occasion. Semo served as the assistant pastor of the Chiang Mai Church's city congregation. He preached regularly and had quite a reputation as an outstanding preacher. He was considered competent enough by the mission to be left in charge of the congregation (under Harris' nominal supervision) when Campbell went on furlough in 1916. (44)
Prior to 1920, the presbytery ordained only two other men, both in 1915. After ordination, Nan Luang continued to carry out his duties as the evangelist and director of the Market Chapel in Chiang Mai until his death just two years later in 1917. Kru Kham Ai joined the pastoral team at Chiang Mai Church where he shared in the itinerating duties as well as in assisting teaching in the seminary. (45)
The Chiang Mai triumvirate of Pannya, Semo, and Kham Ai often received praise from the mission for their abilities and their development as church leaders. They gained respect when they filled in capably at the seminary in its early days (see Chapter 5), and Campbell credited them along with Kru Chai Ma for much of the development of the Chiang Mai Station's work during 1917. (46) By-and-large, the five clergymen (including Kru Noi Wong) seemed to satisfy the wants and standards of the mission more than had the group ordained earlier. Yet, none of these five served as full-time pastors of churches in their own right. With the lone exception of the aging Chai Ma, the mission assigned all of its ordained men to positions that included duties other than pastoral work and usually included heavy doses of itineration.
Since the ordained clergy did not serve as pastors living with and serving in just one congregation, the mission had to find a way to fill the breach. Among other things, it now pressed elders into service in a new office usually referred to as the "pastoral assistant". The first mention of pastoral assistants appeared in 1911 when the Nan Church hired a "native assistant" to conduct home visitation and visit out-villages on Sundays. Most likely it was Nan No, an elder, who received this assignment—at least, it was he who was recorded in 1914 as being the pastoral assistant in Nan. By 1917, Nan No directed a team under missionary supervision that included five itinerating evangelist-pastors. (47) Chiang Rai also experimented with the pastoral assistant model in 1915, but within a year the evangelist elder, Nan Sao, appointed to the position proved unsatisfactory and the station discontinued the experiment. Phrae appointed Elder Loom assistant pastor in 1919 with preaching and pastoral duties. (48) The other station church that maintained a pastoral assistant over a number of years like Nan was Lampang, which first discovered its need for such an office after the very useful visit of Kru Nan Ti to Lampang in 1911. By 1914, Lampang Church had its own assistant pastor, an elder who visited church members, supervised various church groups, and took charge of the church when the missionary pastor went on tour. It is not certain, but Noi Chanta, pastoral assistant in 1919, may have filled that position from at least 1914 onwards. (49)
Kru Kham Ai
Very occasionally, village churches copied the pastoral assistant model of leadership. For example, Kru Peng of the seminary served the San Pong Church as "assistant pastor" for at least two years, engaging in both Christian education and pastoral work with good effect. However, more typical of the pastoral work done in this decade was the system for regional pastoral care worked out in the Chiang Rai Station. In some of its churches, capable elders doubled as pastors. More generally, the station hired two assistants to visit the churches and conduct evangelistic work too while the American Bible Society supplied three colporteurs and the station an additional three medical evangelists, all of whom had contact with the churches. (50)
Mission records show that the missionaries spent less and less time visiting the churches as the decade progressed. The causes for this change included the passing away of some older missionaries, individuals more committed to church visitation, the increasingly heavy burden of institutional work, and a willingness to turn more direct church work over to northern Thai church leaders. In Chiang Mai Station, the seminary students absorbed much of the responsibility for church work: each student spent his weekends with rural churches performing essentially pastoral tasks in those churches. In addition to sending out evangelists, itinerating assistants, and students, the various stations maintained contact with the churches through special conferences attended by church leaders and station employees. The purpose of these "church workers' conferences" was to make plans, give instructions, and introduce new ideas to the churches. (51)
Even though the missionaries slowly withdrew from immediate contact with rural churches, the fundamental system for church governance and maintenance remained the same. The churches continued to be run from the top down and the center out, as it were. The only difference from the past decades was that in this last decade of the mission the mission created another layer of functionaries between itself and the churches. It had always sent out itinerating evangelists and station assistants, including ordained men, to visit the churches. It had always relied to a large extent on local elders to keep things running between missionary visits. Now, it relied more heavily on intermediaries than previously without otherwise giving up its control/supervision/authority over the churches. It did not change its fundamental relationship with the churches. While giving a somewhat larger role to church leaders, it maintained the regional church system with its centralization of power.
In Grave Danger: Self-Support
For well over a decade after the great self-support drive around the turn of the century (see Chapter 6), the Laos Mission did little to push the matter of self-support and stewardship among its churches. Although there were scattered attempts to initiate more faithful financial giving after 1910, the first innovation in stewardship did not come until 1916 when Beebe in Phrae introduced the "envelope system" of using small envelopes for weekly church offerings. Beebe reported that the envelope system resulted in a 23% increase in giving in Phrae. He presented the "Phrae system" at presbytery in April 1916, and other congregations picked up the idea so that by 1919 most of the churches in the North used it. Meanwhile, the mission and presbytery initiated a second important change in stewardship in 1917. They established a "Central Fund" to be collected from the churches for the purpose of supporting theological education and paying pastors of churches. The initial response to the Central Fund by the churches seemed to be good. (52)
Then came a bombshell. In a stern letter dated 8 November 1918, Arthur J. Brown, after reading the reports of both missions in Siam from the perspective of self-support, wrote that, "...I must frankly confess that I am somewhat disturbed." He found that total northern Thai church giving (including missionary personal giving) amounted to only about 15 cents per church member per year. He found that amount "disconcertingly small". He discounted the argument that the northern Thai church was too poor to do more. Much poorer churches in Africa and Asia gave several times the northern Thai church figure. Indeed, the average for all 26 Presbyterian missions ran to 73 cents per member per year. Brown then posed the question, "Is there not grave danger that the Christian Church (sic.) in Siam will not be placed upon a solid foundation and will not be a permanent force unless its members assume larger responsibility for it?" (53)
Brown's letter had the desired effect as it drove the mission and the presbytery to a more serious consideration of the church's stewardship responsibility. In particular, the churches increased their support for the Central Fund, and some even started pledging to the fund. (54)
Church and Society
In its last decade, the Laos Mission initiated a number of new programs and undertakings, which seemed to indicate that the mission had finally achieved some direction and purpose, in spite of the pessimistic attitude of some members of the mission (see Chapter 9). In women's work, theological education, ordination of northern Thai clergy, development of local church leadership, self-support, access to the Bible, and expansion into China, the mission seemed to be generating some steam at last. As we will see in Chapter 9, the mission was also in the midst of negotiating a union with the Siam Mission that gave many hope for a more effective and well-organized mission for the whole nation.
In fact, we have already seen that in many of these matters in which there seemed to be change, those changes were more apparent than real. Yet, at least, there was movement... ideas... activity. And there did seem to be a sense that, perhaps, finally some of the old thinking that had taken root well before 1895 was truly beginning to change.
Symbolic, perhaps, of the change in thinking and direction slowly appearing was the founding of the "Leper Church" in 1913 at the Mission Leprosarium outside of Chiang Mai. Founded by Dr/ McKean in 1908, the Leprosarium had a quite amazing impact on its patients who almost without fail converted to Christianity. Whereas (as we have seen), many converts accepted Christianity out of a sense of need that had little to do with religious concerns the leper converts converted more out of a sense of gratitude and as an expression of the liberation and acceptance they experienced through mission leprosy work. They soon gained a reputation as sacrificial givers, and they became the chief source of consistent growth after 1915. In a very real sense, here was church and mission at its best, accepting unconditionally the ones society deemed the least acceptable. In this simple act of mercy, church and mission questioned a deadening social value while bringing hope to the hopeless. (55)
And...yet...even as some things on the surface changed...those deeper channels of continuity flowed...flowed with a torrential strength...carrying even the unwilling into a future so much like the past.
As the reader may have perceived already, this study is as much about the present as it is about the past. I want to account for the present, for the world we are living in as I type these words. I want to understand it. This present first started to take shape in the past so that understanding the present means understanding the past. The past does not so easily divide itself into neat fragments such as, say, 1867 to 1920, the boundaries of this study. It moves on, accepting each days events, and weaving them into the larger fabric of historical patterns and themes.
Conversely, in a case such as this one where the subject studied is one in the "near past," the past is observable in the present. Not only is it a part of the present, but also the present serves to a certain extent as evidence for what the past was. Only 64 years separate this study from the end of the period under discussion, a period which in-and-of-itself showed amazing continuity from the 1870s down to 1920. Does the pattern of events in northern Thai church history described in this study make sense in light of those 64 years? What, in other words, is the underlying continuity between 1920 and 1984?
These questions have special importance for me. First of all, I believe that the condition and situation of the churches in northern Thailand has not changed in any fundamental sense since 1920. Secondly, I am convinced after my research into this subject that those who argue that the church here is the way it is because of Thai culture ("The Thai' are like 'that') have no historical grounds on which to base their assertions. The northern churches have the shape they now have because of the interaction of the Laos Mission with northern Thai culture, an interaction initiated and dominated by the mission. A different approach and attitude on its part would have resulted in a much different kind of church in the North.
In order to sustain these two points, I need to draw out, at least to some extent, the actual relationship of the life of the church under the Laos Mission to its present life. In order to do this, I will first of all describe the process by which the mission came to an end, for that process further underlines the failure of the Laos Mission to foster a strong indigenous northern Thai church. Then, I will use later evaluative reports from the 1930s and one from the 1970s to show how basic themes from before 1920 have continued down to the present.
The End of the Mission
In November 1910, Arthur J. Brown wrote to the two missions in Siam suggesting that they consider joining one another in a "federative" relationship. He named a number of benefits, but the one that surely caught the eye of those in Siam indicated that the two missions would have a stronger voice in New York if they spoke with a joint voice. Within a year, members of both missions took up Brown's "suggestion" and proposed that the missions at least set up a joint council. As a first step, Campbell and Gillies met with two representatives of the Siam Mission in Bangkok in September 1912. They recommended that the joint conference become a Joint Council. That recommendation passed both missions, and the Joint Council met for the first time in July 1913 to consider plans for closer cooperation between the two missions; at its second meeting in 1913 the Joint Council recommended that each mission change its name to, respectively, the "North Siam Mission" and the "South Siam Mission." One reason for this change was that Prince Damrong, the Minister of the Interior and one of the most influential figures in the government, complained about the northern mission clinging to the word "Laos," which did not refer to any geographical or political division in the now fully united nation. The missions duly made these changes, and from December 1913 the Laos Mission became the North Siam Mission. (1)
Impetus for further change came from the visit of the high-powered official delegation of the Board led by Dr. Robert Speer in 1915. Speer urged the two missions to join together in full organic union. In his benchmark critical evaluation of the work of the mission (see Chapters 4 and 6, above), Speer raised an issue that at first seemed unrelated to mission union but soon became intimately related: the issue of administrative reform for the North Siam (Laos) Mission. He demonstrated the need for some far-reaching changes. A number of members of the mission had long felt that the mission desperately needed a better organizational structure, among them Dr. Briggs. Briggs expressed his delight in Speer's critique of the mission even as he continued to criticize it himself for its lack of cohesiveness, direction, and constancy in policy. He particularly agreed with Speer's highly revealing comment that the mission was twenty years behind the times. (2)
It took another three years for the issues of mission union and North Siam Mission administrative reform to become fully entangled. In 1918, a dejected and anxious Dr. Charles Crooks, a member of the mission's Executive Committee and a former Mission Secretary, wrote, "The method of conducting our work and business in the Mission has come to such a condition that we are going to precipitate an irremediable calamity upon ourselves." (3) Freeman and Taylor, veterans of the mission, joined Crooks in decrying the massively chaotic, inefficient, and divisive administrative "structure" of the mission, and these men now proposed a startling departure towards reform. As they saw it, the whole issue of full union with the South Siam Mission had become intertwined with the issue of reform, whereby the smaller northern stations, especially Lampang Station, favored union as a means to achieve mission reform. The majority in the Chiang Mai Station, on the other hand, opposed union and reform because the present semi-chaotic situation worked to the favor of the bigger, more influential Chiang Mai Station. It had more pull in the struggle for power, personnel, and money in the mission. The "unionists" proposed that if Chiang Mai continued to obstruct union each of the smaller stations should vote to leave the North Siam Mission and join the South Siam Mission, thus leaving Chiang Mai to herself! Things had become that tense, divided, and chaotic. (4)
This maneuver proved unnecessary. The sequence of events in late 1919 and early 1920 is unclear, but what is certain is that the Board voted that as of 1 April 1920 the two missions were to be united as one Siam Mission. (5) It took the rest of 1920 to effect the merger, but as of 1920 the Laos Mission came to an end and with it the history of the northern Thai church as a distinct thread in the history of the Church. [See Author's Note]
After the End
In his announcement to the Siam missions of the Board's decision to unite them, Brown ended with the following words:
The history of each mission has been one of toil and devotion which the Church will long remember. They are now to be merged into a new chapter which we trust, by the blessings of God, will become even richer in interest and achievement than the chapters which describe the pioneer days and the development of the Missions thus far. (6)
With these words, Brown quietly aligned himself with those who sought union as a means of reform. How did things work out?
In 1934, the year that the North Siam Presbytery (formerly North Laos Presbytery) joined with the South Siam Presbytery to found the Church of Christ in Siam, the American Presbyterian Mission conducted an extensive self-survey led by a team of three, the Rev. Paul A. Eakin, Bertha Blount McFarland, and the Rev. Pluang Suddhikham. (7) Only one of a number of evaluations conducted from the late 1920s onwards, this survey had the honor of being the most extensive and authoritative statement of the condition of the church and the mission to that date. It also had the official sanction of the mission, which in its annual meeting accepted all but three of the 73 recommendations made by the Survey Committee.
The report began by observing that the mission itself "just growed" without any plan or scheme behind it. It then went on to discuss the mission's "evangelistic" work by which the report meant the state of the Church of Christ in Siam. As in the days of the Laos Mission, this report continued the tradition that confused the tasks of pastoring and strengthening the church with evangelism. That did not change. The report observed that the Church of Christ in Siam,
...is far from ready to bear its three-fold task of self-government, self-propagation and self-support. Obviously one of the Mission's imperative duties at the present moment is to train and guide and strengthen its leaders so that they may carry their three-fold responsibility.
Nothing had changed. The Church of Christ in Siam still lacked the leadership it needed to sustain its own life, to be self-reliant. And the mission still held to the paternalistic notion that the church could become self-reliant only through the initiative and leadership of the mission itself.
The survey then proceeded to a district-by-district survey of the Church of Christ in Siam. The three northern districts together comprised 75% of the total membership of the church. Of District One (Chiang Mai), the report said that the district had an important financial role to play in the larger church because the mission paid one-fourth of all of its salaries in Chiang Mai and that mission salaries comprised an important source of income for the church. The trend is clear: once again the old pre-1920 form held in which the church still depended on the mission for its sustenance: Patron... client.
Of District Two (Chiang Rai-Lampang), the report observed that, "In both places, but far more in Chieng Rai than Lampang, the policy of giving special privileges to the Christians has crippled it as a self-supporting Christian Church." The leadership did not measure up to that in District One either. When the report came to District Three (Phrae-Nan), it used the bluntest language yet to describe Phrae: "Phrae is unquestionably the sickest spot in the Mission, and the missionaries there have the hardest task without a doubt." These words sound familiar. Phrae, the report claimed, suffered from a lack of continuity in mission leadership and long periods without resident missionaries. The report went on to say, "There is no National leadership worthy of the name." After all of the promises prior to 1912 that mission reoccupation of Phrae would solve its deepest problems and answer the cry for help from the church there, 22 years later the situation in Phrae was as bad as ever. Between 1893 the 1934 the best year in the history of the church in Phrae was still 1911, six years after Irwin moved it towards self-reliance. In the years after 1911, the mission very effectively stymied the emergence of church leadership.
In its discussion of theological education, the report struggled with the issue of pastoral leadership for the churches. A few years previously, the churches engaged in yet another round of chapel building, mostly brick chapels. One would have expected, according to the report, that the churches should then turn to hiring pastors for themselves. They could afford pastors. In fact, the churches showed no interest in having pastoral leadership. They wanted village church schools for their children. In short, the local church leadership situation had not changed in the fourteen years since the end of the Laos Mission. Furthermore, the Survey Committee proposed to deal with the lack of local church pastoral leadership by training young men in the seminary to be both teachers and pastors. The report noted that few of the seminary's graduates lasted very long in pastorates.
With regards to institutional work, the report acknowledged that that work threatened to overwhelm "evangelistic" work because it presented more immediate needs. The report made the following crucial observation about the relationship of educational and medical mission work to "evangelistic" work: The government was forcing higher standards for both schools and hospitals while competing with them by its own system of education and medicine.
The evangelistic group has been subject to no outside amalgamating force, and as a result shows the least cohesion and the least general plan in its effort...The foreign missionary in all departments of work has been so overburdened with the multiplicity of detail that he has found it hard to maintain his place of spiritual leadership.
The missionary aim of leading men into the presence of God was hard to do, the report stated, in the face of the missionaries' daily routine.
Just as in the "old days" of the Laos Mission, the mission invested so much concern in maintaining its institutional establishment that the churches languished spiritually and administratively. While maintaining that the church could achieve self-reliance only through the leadership of the mission, the report also pointed here to the factor making such leadership ineffective: the mission retained its predisposition to put its institutions ahead of the church.
Nowhere were the mission's priorities more clearly described than in the 73 recommendations the Survey Committee presented to deal with the multitude of problems facing the church and mission. Of those, exactly ten had to do with strengthening the church, five had to do specifically with evangelism, and 56, that is 78%, dealt with institutional needs and development.
Finally, the set of maps appended to the report showed that the basic physical-geographical structure of the church did not change between 1920 and 1934. The mission established few new churches. By-and-large, the church remained a "regional church" composed of clusters of small communities dependent on distant centers for program and leadership.
Every other report of the era (8) substantiated this picture of the church as given in the 1934 Survey Committee report. The report made by George Trull to the Board in 1930 indicated that the now united mission displayed all of the weaknesses of misadministration, disunity, and squabbling that had so hindered the work of the old Laos Mission. (9) In the deepest, most profound sense, nothing had changed since 1920.
The history of the church in Siam/Thailand moved a long ways in the 45 years between 1934 and 1979. Depression. War. Post-War mission restoration. The dissolution of the American Presbyterian Mission into the Church of Christ in Thailand. The 1970s appeared to be a much different world.
The appearance, however, was deceiving. In 1979, the Rev. Brian Morgan in a report on his observations as a missionary described the state of the northern Thai churches he had visited over several years. He found those churches suffering in a state of spiritual malaise... few had pastors...few wanted them. Church leaders, lay and ordained, showed little understanding of the nature of the pastoral ministry... preaching tended to be evangelistic in tone...poor in quality. The average church conducted few activities. Poorly qualified, untrained teenage girls usually conducted what little Christian education existed. Church leaders lacked training. They did not understand what it meant to be "the Church." They had little sense of a personal ministry. The church at every level seemed to be going nowhere... to be divorced from its own culture...to be locked into a self-perpetuating cycle of mediocre leadership and program. (10)
The most revealing "document," the most descriptive "statement" of the way in which the Laos Mission established and maintained the northern Thai church up until 1920 is the northern Thai church of today.
And a Personal Response
When I studied the history of modernization in Nan, I "discovered" the Rev. Hugh Taylor, a bluff, opinionated, but very competent almost grandfatherly figure. Then, when I studied the history of the Chiang Mai Mission Press and its role in northern Thai modernization, I "discovered" the Rev. David G. Collins, a quieter man than Taylor and harder to get to know through the records. Yet, he was obviously a talented man and a competent administrator. Both of these men loved and cared for the church. Both gave of themselves sacrificially on the field. In as much as I know them, I like them.
Yet...yet...yet, in the year that I have devoted to preparing this study, my opinion about their work with the church has changed considerably; and not just them, but to one degree or another, all of the members of the Laos Mission. Like most, I suppose, I really did assume that some flaw in the Thai personality was at the heart of the weak little churches I became involved with in the Church of Christ in Thailand. Up front I tried not to say that, but I think that at heart I really did believe it. But, then, I started this study. And the more I read the more my whole outlook shifted. Something went very wrong here, something that did not happen in many other fields to the same degree as it happened here. It was almost as if all of the folly of the international missionary movement was distilled and then decanted in one mission field, the Laos Mission. Maybe, after all, there was something to Briggs' charge that the Board sent its least likely candidates to Siam. (11).
The summary of everything that I read is this: the Laos Mission persisted in demeaning, decapitating, dismembering, and ignoring the church it was supposed to train up, to raise up.
How do we understand missionary actions? How can we put those actions into terms that "explain" why the Laos Mission of the Presbyterian Church created such a truncated little excuse of a church? For me, personally, purely historical interpretations still do not cut to the heart of the matter. In trying to understand what was done to the northern Thai church, I start with the basic theological concepts of Law and Grace.
In Acts 10: 1-11,18, Peter is brought to a very fundamental encounter with the weight of his Jewish heritage, his past. In a vision, God places before Peter all manner of "unclean" animals and orders Peter to eat them. No! Responds Peter. No! Unclean! Heathen! As a practicing Jew, Peter could not eat those things, which were legally and ritualistically impure. Three times God put these unclean animals in front of Peter and three times ordered him to eat. Peter refused. And each time God enjoined Peter not to call unclean what God declared to be clean. Immediately after the vision Peter is called off to the home of Cornelius, a heathen Roman Gentile, and there a most astounding thing takes place: the Holy Spirit indwells in a group of impure Gentiles just as if they were clean, pure! The lesson is clear: these Gentiles did not have to go through circumcision, did not have to place themselves under the Mosaic Law in order to be saved. They did not have to remove themselves from the Roman community and enter the Jewish community in order to be saved.
One of the great debates in the New Testament church was over the issue of who could be admitted to the church and under what circumstances. The "Judaizers" upheld the principle that in order to become a Christian one must become a Jew first: be circumcised, accept the Law, and worship with the Jewish community according to its measure. The New Testament finally rejects this view and put trust in God's saving Grace in its place.
So what? Its like this: trapped in a Presbyterian-ish legalism, the members of the Laos Mission failed to understand the biblical freedom of expression of faith that allowed a Roman to be a Roman and a Christian and that might, just might, allow a northern Thai convert to begin his journey of faith with comparisons of Phra Intra and Gabriel. The Laos Mission appointed itself the protector of the purity of the church in a way strikingly similar to the Judaizers, those who insisted on preserving the Jewish purity of the Christian sect. They failed to understand that their own faith profoundly reflected their culture and not some mysterious, extracultural absolute dogmatic system. The Laos Mission did not take the step towards the northern Thai converts that Peter took towards Cornelius. It did not accept God's sovereignty in Thai culture. It could not eat what was "unclean".
Peter, Paul, and the early church accepted God's call to freedom. In spite of their own deeply ingrained prejudice against dirty, unclean Gentiles, they allowed divine grace to transform their definition of who could belong to the church. That is precisely what did not happen in northern Siam. The Laos Mission preached and lived a religion of Law... do this! ... don't do that!
Legalism led the members of the Laos Mission down a tortured path of indirection and misdirection. It led them to define northern Siam as heathenish, the realm of Satan. It led them to mistrust the converts because of their former association with Satan. It led them to assume that they had to "Christianize" and "Americanize" the culture to free it from Satan which meant they had to establish schools and hospitals and a printing press. It led them to scamper across the countryside in a futile attempt to be everywhere at once saving everyone last week.
So like the Judaizers. They were so like the Judaizers, the ones who said that in order to be a Christian you must first be a Jew. The Laos Mission said by its actions and attitudes that in order to be a Christian you must sing like us, sit like us, preach like us, build like us, learn like us, believe like us, and, ultimately, be like us.
The Judaizers lived by the Jewish Law and in that Law saw their salvation. They believed that if they lived in certain ways, subscribed to certain beliefs they could by their own effort create for themselves a "right relationship" with God. By keeping the Law, they thought that they could maintain themselves as ritually pure individuals, which meant that they kept themselves pure and acceptable to God. The New Testament rejected this theological strand in the early church as failing to understand the ministry of Christ and the meaning of the Good News. The New Testament affirms that we cannot do anything to attain a state of purity in God's eyes. Indeed, the only thing we can do is to accept divine grace and trust in it... and we will be transformed (slowly, painfully, screaming and kicking, resisting) by it. Letting go of our desire to save ourselves and our constant concern for ourselves will free us from the conditions that make our "salvation" impossible.
The ultimate sadness one experiences in spending a year with the records of the Laos Mission is this: the realization that for all of their admirable qualities and intense dedication, the missionaries in the North from 1867 to 1920 were trying to save the northern Thai church by their own efforts. They strived to protect its purity...but they were not themselves pure. They struggled to make sure that it believed what it should believe...but that only confused believing in doctrines with trusting in grace (a rather common modern Christian heresy). They placed before the northern Thai church a whole set of moral injunctions that they said must be followed in order to be a Christian, to be saved. Central to these injunctions was the one that said keep the Sabbath! Somehow in all of their devotion they missed the fact that Christ himself broke the Sabbath and showed no concern when his disciples did so. What concerned him was the attitude of those who thought that keeping the Sabbath was more important than helping others. (Luke 6: 1—11).
It is ironic...having condemned northern Thai animism as satanic...the Laos Mission simply preached its own form of spirit propitiation in which it tried to convince God that by its purity of doctrine and behavior it deserved to be in his Church. Anyone who has worked with rural church people knows that the seeds of the Law have been planted very deeply in the church here. To sit...in a circle of church members... discussing Galatians. To say that nothing we can do will save us...to say that God gives us His grace freely...and to hear the response: "Oh, Acharn, you know that is not true. You Know That We Must Live Right Or We Will Go To Hell." In a church that is dominated by Law, Grace is considered a heresy!
While it may not be the place of the historian to offer advice about the future, I do feel that the historian must share his or her thoughts on the meaning of the past for the present.
The point is that the history of the northern Thai church during the period of the Laos Mission leaves one feeling more hopeful than hopeless concerning the possibility of the church here. Robert Irwin demonstrated that the church here could be alive, faithful, and self-reliant. In four situations—the Training School, the Lamphun churches, the Nan Church, and the Phrae Church—he created conditions, which allowed the northern Thai church to show that it did have the resources to do for itself what the mission could not do for it. The fact that, finally, nothing ever came of his ministry in the North was not the failure of the church but of the mission. Particularly in the case of Phrae, there is no question but what the majority in the mission considered him naïve and foolish. The whole fabric of northern Thai church history in that period shows that he was quite correct in his estimation of the ability of the church to run itself. He was the only missionary we know of who was not swayed by the desire of this church to escape from its freedom. Where others confused the desire on the part of many northern Thai Christians to be cared for by missionaries with their own belief that the church could not run its own life, Irwin knew it could and simply ignored its desire not to. Who was naive?
The present state of the church in northern Thailand has very little to do with northern Thai culture. There is nothing in the culture that mitigates the growth of a vital Christian church in the North. Time-and-again, I have heard both foreigners working with the Church of Christ in Thailand and members of the C.C.T. themselves conclude that some weakness in the church reveals a Thai cultural trait. Thus, they argue that it is simply "the Thai way" to not have capable local pastors... Rubbish! The church today does not have such a system because of specific events and actions in the years from 1895 onwards that had only to do with the unwarranted prejudices of the Laos Mission. The fact that few northern Thai churches have had regular pastoral care is not indicative of the nature of Thai culture. It is a heritage of the missionary past. And so on... The church today is legalistic, some argue, because it is still trapped in Buddhist culture. Nonsense! The early church was far more trapped in an aggressive legalistic culture and was still discovered by Grace. The legalism of the church in the North is part of its missionary heritage. Others will say that the church has failed to be a vitally growing, evangelistic force because "the Thais" are not aggressive enough, they lack fire. Ridiculous! Look to the missionary past and the manner in which the Laos Mission failed to cultivate a vital church that could carry on its own evangelism.
The fact, in the end, is that the human cultures found in every nation and people do limit us and hamper us in our journey towards trust in divine grace. There is nothing magical or strange in that. Eventually, the whole Thai church must come to grips with the particular limitations that its real culture actually imposes upon it. My point is this: virtually all of those things, which people now believe are limitations on the church imposed by its culture, are nothing of the sort. In nearly every case, they represent only excuses people make to explain things out of their ignorance of the church's past.
The question that remains to be explored is the question of why the church in Thailand, in this case the Church of Christ in Thailand, has not yet discovered a strong, creative, faithful life, particularly at the local level. The second point I want to make here is that in spite of the hope I alluded to above the church still faces serious historical limitations on its witness within Thai society.
For, at the last, I would argue that the Laos Mission and the churches it created in the past continue to influence the church in the present to the extent that the serious weaknesses of the contemporary church may be traced back to the years prior to 1920. This is not comforting. The past has brought to the church of the present some very pressing and very difficult issues that have gone unresolved for over a century. They persist...these century-old issues...they persist through all of the superficial changes of each year. I refer the reader back to the first section, "Aftermath 1870- 1875," of Chapter 2. That section identified seven patterns of northern Thai church history that had their beginning in that short period of time. It is positively astounding how relevant those patterns are to the present-day situation of northern Thai churches.
One. The churches continue to be alienated from their culture, walled off in their own ghettoes, their own institutions, their own vocabularies and rituals. Whether individual Christians believe it or not, the church continues to act as if Thai culture is incompatible with Christian faith. It has not yet found a way to communicate the Gospel to Thai society that is both meaningful and liberating for that society. It immediately rejects for use in Christian circles any form or item that it identifies as "Buddhist," thus cutting itself off from the hearts of other people. I have often told the story of a young boy I met in Bangkok while on a search for a particular home: he said to me, "A lot of Christians live around here." Just to make a little conversation with the boy, I asked him, "And what about you? Are you a Christian?" He replied, "No, I'm a Thai." Until the church faces the fact that it is still a foreigner's religion in the eyes of the people, it cannot witness to the Cross in this society. Until the day comes when the church ceases to act as if its Buddhists neighbors are "heathen," the church will not be able to tell them of Christ's love in a meaningful and redemptive fashion.
Two. The stories one continues to hear today indicate that the contemporary convert to Christianity still experiences alienation from family and friends in many instances. Those stories suggest that many families still live in tension. Many nominal Christians find it easier to just melt back into the general crowd of nominal Buddhists.
Three. One continues to note in the church and its institutions a ready willingness to use foreign money for things that it cannot do for itself. At a deeper level, it is quite noticeable that Thai Christians frequently assume that things European and American are necessarily better than things Thai. And, at an even deeper level, it would be interesting for someone to study employment patterns in northern Thai churches. It is likely that a large number of northern Thai Christians still depend on former mission institutions (or ones founded more recently) for their income, in part or in whole. The patterns of dependency remain potent as does a certain sense of inferiority that agrees others can do "it" (whatever "it" happens to be) better than the Thai church can. Old habits of mind die only with great difficulty.
Four. The old Laos Mission stressed Law. Grace has not yet become operative in the life of the Thai church. Just as the Laos Mission, being less than pure, tried to protect the purity of the church, so now the church itself is still trying to attain its own purity by holding to legalistic patterns (at least, outwardly).
Five. The northern Thai church today, as Morgan observed above, continues to preach and conduct itself in an evangelistic manner. Its ideal is rapid growth though it has had no experience of rapid growth except in isolated instances since before 1920. One of its main activities remains the annual evangelistic services of the institutions and some churches. There is no pastoral ideal...it has been driven out by the incessant need to talk/shout/yell about Christ. At weddings, funerals, or wherever a group of dedicated Christians has "a shot" at a bunch of Buddhists one is likely to hear verbal witnessing for Christ. The church still does not know how to think of itself in any terms but those of a missionary society. And for just as long as it does not understand itself as a church with a full life to live, just so long will its evangelism fail—along with the rest of its life.
Six. One of the most serious weaknesses of the Laos Mission throughout its history was that it failed to localize church leadership. Rather, it depended on a centralized urban leadership to go out to the churches—when they had time. In fact, the present-day rural churches still depend for program and leadership upon that urban leadership, which is located largely in the big city institutions. Local church leadership remains largely ineffective, without any clear idea what it should do or how it should do it. Many churches still depend on urban clergymen to perform the sacraments—when they can get around to it. The visit of the big city cleric to the rural church is treated as a big event. While the "Princes of the Church" may no longer be tall, thick, and white, they still do wear urban clerical garb and live far from the lives of the rural churches. One is constantly aware of how little effective voice the rural churches have in the councils of the church and how "loud" the voices of institutional representatives normally are.
They call it the "dead hand of the past", but it is more like a potent, living fist.
For as long as the churches fail to deal with this past, the serious limitations that the Laos Mission imposed upon the church—and which the church acceded to, usually without complaint—will continue to hamper its ministry, denude it of effective leadership, and leave it the ugly step-sister of the all-powerful institutions, educational and medical.
For the most part, I do not believe that history offers us "lessons" by which we profit. Rather, it tells us about ourselves. It is the honest back-looking search for understanding for the sake of looking forward. Yet, I do think that the history of the northern Thai church may well contain one lesson for the present. If so, it is this: the only place where one can effectively begin to assist the church in Northern Thailand to a life more faithful to its calling is by working in, with, and through local churches. For all of its weaknesses, the church remains the primary witness to the core of love at the center of reality that we Christians call "God" without much understanding of what we might mean by the word. Thus, the church here can be the church only as it rids itself of the influence of the so-called "Christian" institutions. It will be the church only when it raises up its own leadership that resides in the churches. It will be the church only as it ends its dependence on foreign money, foreign ideas, foreign theologies and expressions of faith.
In a sense, it is easy to give ringing calls for Reform! Change! And with some study, it is relatively easy to describe, as I have tried to do here, why the churches in the North are facing the problems they are now facing: The disconcerting thing is, however, that when one begins to consider specific ways by which the present situation can change one discovers that the patterns of the past make effective changes extremely difficult. The past is a living past that has insinuated itself into our present and created a portion of the present out of its own cloth. It has left to the present organizational and behavioral structures that have a great stake in-things-as-they-now-are. Thus, one necessity for the reformation of the northern church is that the whole role of the institutions be reevaluated and reduced. Yet, the very ones most likely to resist reducing the place of the institutions are the ones who now dominate the councils of the church and thus must authorize reducing their own role. It is in such ways that the past imprisons the present and preserves its own ways.
Thus, one cannot help but feel both hopeful and pessimistic about the future of the churches in northern Thailand (and the whole country). They can have a vital, liberating, servant-oriented ministry in their society. The only thing that prevents that witness from taking place is the heritage of the church in which it had to take second-place to many other concerns that seemed to strengthen it when, in fact, they only distracted church leadership from its tasks of pastoring and nurturing the community.
NEW DIRECTIONS... we have to think in terms of new directions. Not just in laying big plans, but in how church leaders use time. Begin with the local church. Always begin with the local church. What is it like? What are its needs? Let me say just one more time: start with the local church: teach it the Bible, teach it the meaning of ministry, and show it how to structure its own life and activities meaningfully. Seek new modes of worship. By holding to this starting point, those in positions of responsibility in the churches will already begin to change the deadening patterns of the past.
The thing I truly enjoy about the study of history is that once having done the research on a particular topic one realizes how many more topics there are to be studied, avenues to travel down from that original topic. Let me close this book by urging on you, my patient readers, the need for much, much more study of Thai church history. There are points at which this present study is so superficial and inadequate compared with our need to know that I despair at ever getting to the heart of things. If you want to know the truth, I did not write all of this so much to answer your questions as I did to open up the possibility of asking further questions and engaging in more debate. There is so much the church needs to know — but it does not yet know.