Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Building Leaders Instead of Buildings: Thai UM Church Seeks IMT Partners in the US

By Sandra Brands

The other day, In Mission Together (IMT) Partners director Patrick L. Friday in New York and missionary Sungchul “Gary” Moon in Los Angeles met via an online video conference to discuss the creation of In Mission Together Partnerships and leadership development in Thailand.

Moon, a Global Ministries missionary serving in Chiang Mai, Thailand, about 420 miles north of Bangkok, spoke about the Thai United Methodist Church’s decision to stop building church buildings and concentrate on building church leaders who could raise up disciples and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“We are trying to empower the [seven] existing UMCs and strengthen them,” Moon said.

Moon and his wife, Global Ministries missionary Cindy Moon, have been stationed in Thailand for three years and have visited many churches. “We noticed that so many churches have been closed down for five, ten, fifteen years. When we asked villages why, they all said the churches didn’t have a pastor, didn’t have a leader.

Gary and Cindy Moon, United Methodist missionaries in Thailand, walk with the girls who live in an orphanage they founded in Chiang Mai.“Thailand needs leaders, not buildings,” he said. And to help train local leaders, the UM mission needs support so they can attend seminary and, “in a few years, they will become UM pastors,” Moon said.

“We are concentrating on training pastors first,” Moon said. “Thai churches work around pastors.”

Southern Baptist missionaries in Thailand inspired Global Ministries to change tactics in Thailand and concentrate on educating laity and pastors about church development and spreading the gospel. Moon has been meeting with leaders from that denomination to better understand the strategy and learn about their work.

In addition to supporting seminary students, Moon said, the Thai United Methodist Church has an opportunity to send a missionary to Phayao Seminary to teach Wesleyan theology. “It is a great opportunity for Thai pastoral candidates to learn about Methodism, and the school president has agreed to accept missionaries to teach at the seminary.

“We hope to find someone or a couple to teach Methodism at the seminary,” he said.

In addition to leadership development, the Global Ministries Mission in Thailand is supporting community-development projects such as chicken farms that will help improve the lives of the Thai people.

Moon has also been charged with opening and serving as director for Angel’s Haven Orphanage, a facility for children with HIV/AIDS in Chiang Mai. Currently, eight girls live in the orphanage. All are infected with HIV. The goal is to make room for more children.

“Thailand has the most number of people with HIV and AIDS in Southeast Asia,” he said. “It is second only to India in terms of the number of people with HIV/AIDS. 560,000 people are infected with HIV; 30,000 die every year, and 16,000 are infected every year.

“16,000 of those infected are under 15. We are only taking care of eight,” he said. “All of the children are infected through their mothers at birth.”

Gary Moon (left) and his wife Cindy (kneeling), United Methodist missionaries in Thailand, pray over Todo Phrabinyan in the Pranetta United Methodist ChurchThe mission in Thailand has been working on developing 50/50 Covenant Relationships with US churches. Moon said that he hopes there will be opportunities for US churches to offer pastoral and lay leadership training to the Thai church. Recently, Global Ministries arranged for pastors from the US and Korea to teach at a training event for pastors from Laos and Thailand.

Partnerships with US churches are needed, he said. “The relationship between the congregations is more crucial than money,” he said. “We need to have churches in the states visit Thailand, meet with the pastors and the congregations, and let it be known that there is care for the churches in Thailand.”

While VIM teams and others traveled to Thailand to help in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami that devastated countries on the Indian Ocean, Moon hopes that long-term relationships can be cultivated. “We need to feel that bond, to have people from the US visit, to let it be known that they are praying for us,” he said.

Members of the Thai church know “they are part of United Methodism, but they can’t grasp the feeling that they belong,” he said. “They need to know they are part of a global church and feel that connection in order to give them a vision and hope. They have to feel that they have brothers and sisters back in the US churches.

“The churches in the US will appreciate that the brothers and sisters in Thailand are spreading the gospel and representing United Methodists here,” he said.

Those relationships are more crucial then the money itself, he said.

The Moons are available to speak with churches via Internet about the Thai UM Mission and church. Contact Gary or Cindy Moon for more information about the Moon’s ministry or to set up a cyber presentation.

Learn more about the Thai Mission Initiative. Partner with the church in Thailand through a 50/50 Covenant Relationship or IMT Partnership.

Photos: (Top) Gary and Cindy Moon, United Methodist missionaries in Thailand, walk with the girls who live in an orphanage they founded in Chiang Mai. The girls are orphans, and are all HIV-positive. (Bottom) Gary Moon {left} and his wife, Cindy {kneeling}, United Methodist missionaries in Thailand, pray over Todo Phrabinyan in the Pranetta United Methodist Church in Buyer, a small village in northern Thailand populated by indigenous hill tribe people. Phrabinyan is recovering from a stroke. Credits: Paul Jeffrey

Gary Moon (left), a United Methodist missionary in Thailand, prays with Kittapot Arjor before her baptism
Gary Moon (right), a United Methodist missionary in Thailand, prays with Kittapot Arjor before her baptism in a river near Buyer, a small village in northern Thailand populated by indigenous hill-tribe people.
Credit: Paul Jeffrey

In Mission Together Cindy Moon, a United Methodist missionary in Thailand, helps girls read in an orphanage
Cindy Moon, a United Methodist missionary in Thailand, helps girls read in an orphanage she founded with her husband, Gary, in Chiang Mai. The girls are orphans, and are all HIV-positive.
Credit: Paul Jeffrey