Compiled By Roanna Stevens - YWAM Thailand National Office
Moving to a new place can be challenging at the best of times. Add to this the complexities of entering into a completely different culture, having to learn a tonal language, and coming in as a "missionary" and it can result in some real struggles. Certainly, year one in Thailand can be a very difficult and tiring time. Thankfully though, there are those who have come before you who have survived. Sure, they may have their scars and bruises, but they have made it through year one (and for some, many more years have followed) and they are living productive and fulfilled lives. We asked these "veterans" for their input into the subject of spiritual struggles facing new (and old) missionaries in Thailand and how we can best "fight the good fight" (I Timothy 6:12 NIV).
It is important to understand that various parts of the world are affected by different spirits and Thailand is no exception. Knowing what these spirits are can help us in recognizing and dealing with them in our own lives and in the lives of others. Two of the most common prevailing spirits here in Thailand are miscommunication and immorality. It is important to have a basic understanding of each of these areas where Satan may try to tempt or harm us.
Firstly, there is the spirit of miscommunication, which has many different faces. E-mail breaks down, letters or e-mails sent either never reach their destination or are misunderstood by the recipients, team members "speak" together but don't understand each other, people speak but feel like they are not being heard or understood. All of these incidences can result in frustration and hurt. Recognizing the possibility of miscommunication should encourage us to really seek to understand others in our conversations and to take the time to ask, "This is what I hear you saying...is that correct? or "Is this what you are asking me to do?" Also, it should help us to give grace when we communicate with others and there is a misunderstanding. Certainly, we should seek to work out the miscommunication so that we keep short accounts with one another and not let bitterness creep into our lives. Yet, we should do so with an attitude of love and of "believing the best" in the other person. Another common spiritual stronghold, which can go along with miscommunication, is the spirit of division. It is important to keep this in mind and to seek to "make every effort to live in peace with all men" (Hebrews 12:14 NIV). This is much easier said than done when different cultures, different sexes, and different personalities work together! Yet, it is necessary for us to persevere in this and to keep fighting for unity. Peter offers some sound advice in 1Peter4:8, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sin."
Secondly, we are faced with the spirit of immorality here in Thailand. This is one area of struggle that seems to affect almost all missionaries in one form or another and as one YWAMer put it, it has "knocked many missionaries off of the field, not to mention, messing up their lives and their families." This spirit also has many faces such as lust, adultery, perversion, and homosexuality. Loneliness is another common spirit in Thailand and can certainly go hand-in-hand with immorality. How do we combat this? The answers are simple and yet difficult. Make alone time with you and God a priority (this, for many, is a struggle once they arrive here), pray for God's strength to fight temptation, and find an accountability partner. Another YWAMer writes, "hiding thoughts or trying to suppress them or fight them just with God and you is not as effective as opening up and praying with someone else." It is important to have someone who will ask you the "hard questions" and who can pray for you and with you. Developing friendships with others is important especially in the battle against loneliness. This may mean stepping out of your comfort zone to get to know someone else from a different culture or background. Yet, it is necessary to have people you can relax with and have fun with. Maintaining relationships with our family, friends, and church back home can also be helpful in fighting loneliness.
There are certainly other spirits that are common here in Thailand such as depression, greed, hopelessness, legalism, fear of man, and mind control (i.e. finding it hard to concentrate during prayer, etc.). Many missionaries say that the areas they have struggled with and have been tempted with in the past have come back in full force once they had moved to Thailand. Once again, keeping God a priority in our lives, both in prayer and reading the Word, as well as seeking accountability can help us deal with these struggles. Be open with others and in humility ask for help when you are going through difficult times or struggling with sin. Some people find praying in tongues especially helpful in fighting against the kingdom of darkness as well as engaging in spiritual warfare for a specific area of temptation.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list but simply an overview of some of the more common struggles and prevailing spirits that affect missionaries living and working in Thailand. Satan has had a foothold in this country for a very long time and he is not welcoming new missionaries with open arms. Yet, as believers, we need to remember the words of John, "...the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world" (I John 4:4 NIV).
(Special note: Thank-you YWAM Thailand staff for taking time to share so honestly about your struggles. Without your input, this article could not have been written.)