“Sounds like a great time to go to the mission field.” This timely challenge from mission-minded friends resulted in my family and I arriving in Thailand in May 2001 to serve for a year at Peace Fellowship Church and Santisuk English School. Converge missionaries Steve and Nopaluck Cable had started this strategic gospel outreach in this Buddhist country 25 years ago.
My wife Michelle and I had never been on a missions trip or even traveled abroad. But we trusted the Lord to help us raise financial support and adjust to Thai culture, food and weather. Our children were young (10, 8 and 5) and accustomed to country living with room to run and play. In Bangkok, we moved into a small 14th-floor apartment with no playground or place to ride bikes. But we found many great opportunities to invest in the lives of our Thai students.
Fully equipped and supported
Most Thai schools teach English from primary school through high school. The students develop a vocabulary and grammar foundation but lack listening and speaking skills. This creates a nice niche for Santisuk and our volunteers, who generally have no experience teaching or interacting with non-English speakers. Santisuk provides all the textbooks, training and support needed to help teachers use their natural English-speaking abilities to help our adult students. We were amazed at how quickly students improved their skills as we taught in class and spent time eating and hanging out together. Our children attracted students to our home and other activities and enjoyed interacting with and even teaching them to speak English.
Our 12 months in Thailand passed quickly. We soon found ourselves back in Michigan, overflowing with gratitude to the Lord for using all five of us and wondering what to do with all the love we felt for him and our Thai students. It was clear we needed to pray and fast about the Lord’s plan for us. We returned to Bangkok 18 months later and served for four months. We realized we needed and wanted to make a bigger commitment to this ministry. So we returned to Michigan, downsized our house and lives and decided to seek the Lord’s direction year by year.
This led to our spending six months per year serving at Santisuk and six months in Michigan for the next several years. Michelle continued to homeschool our children in both countries, and the Lord provided work for me to support us while in the U.S. We were very blessed to have our church and several friends provide financial support for our time in Thailand.
Meet a real need, earn credibility and trust
In June 2010, we returned to Michigan and decided to stay for a few years while we helped our children adjust to college and American life. God had rewired us to survive and thrive in a totally different culture and undoing some of that was difficult. Over the next three years I made four trips to Bangkok to lead small teams to serve for a month at Santisuk. This kept my toes in the water and further kindled my desire to return on a full-time basis.
In 2014, with two children graduated from college and one starting, Michelle and I returned to serve four months at Santisuk. I was thrilled with Michelle’s passion for sharing Christ with Thai people as she became more fully involved at school and church than she had been during the homeschooling years. We decided to serve eight months in 2015, and that led us to full-time service in 2016. We really enjoy teaching conversational English, sharing Christ with our students and teaching the Bible one-on-one with believers and seekers.
The ministry model at Santisuk is simple: meet a real need of Thai people by providing affordable, personable English instruction. This builds credibility and trust so that when we share our testimonies and God’s Word (in English), students listen and some respond. When we integrate Thai members of our church into our outreach activities, the students meet Christians who speak their language and can relate to them in every way. We’ve seen the Lord work through these relationships to bring many new believers to worship and love him. Thai friends are saved from their sins, God is glorified and we get the joy of serving with a purpose.
Scott Harpe, Teacher at Santisuk English School
Scott and Michelle Harpe have taught English at Santisuk English School, Bangkok, Thailand, for more than 10 years.