At SPBC, O learned to fully embrace both his Thai culture and Christian faith, and confidently share his hope with believers of Buddhism in his local community.
As a child growing up in a traditional Buddhist family in Thailand, attending a bible college was the farthest thing from Somkeat Suriyavong’s mind.
But when friends introduced him to Christ at university, O – as he is known – realised it was what he’d been looking for his whole life.
From that point, he dedicated his life to God, and decided to take his knowledge to the next level by studying at New Zealand’s South Pacific Bible College.
Now serving in part-time ministry back in Thailand, O says his study at SPBC has helped him take a new approach to church planting – fostering a church environment that embraces Thai culture, rather than adopting elements of Western culture that is not core to the gospel message.
“In Thailand, many churches have been influenced by the Western culture of the missionaries who came to share the gospel here. That means some of their traditions aren’t core to the word of God, but are actually connected to their own culture,” says O.
“That can make it hard for local Thai people to come to Christ.
“In the church plant we began, we wanted to reflect the idea that we don’t have to get rid of our Thai culture to be Christian. So the biblical content stays the same, but we keep our culture: We speak in the northern dialect, and sit on the floor sometimes, for example.
“Without studying at SPBC, I wouldn’t have this kind of perception and thinking. I would have followed the example of international missionaries, thinking it’s the only way. But at SPBC I learned how we can better share Christ’s story in our own words, and in our own cultural context.”
Studying Christian Evidences also enriched O with more confidence to share the Christian hope with his Buddhist friends.
“I’d been there, I’d been searching, and believing in Buddhism for all my life, and I had friends who were interested in why I changed my faith,” he says.
“Without SPBC, I probably wouldn’t be able to explain who God is, or what He wants for humanity. To be able to explain to those in Buddhism the distinct difference between Christianity and Buddhism – what Buddhism doesn’t have, but that Christianity has – has helped a lot with my ministry.”
And it was not just what O learned in the classroom, but also the SPBC community that blessed his life. He says it is the place to be for both those who want to dedicate their lives to ministry, as well as those who want to be transformed in their faith.
“It is the right place if you want to search for your purpose in life and what God wants you to do. You’ll learn a lot from this place, because it’s not only academic, but the community has church members and students from a lot of different countries and backgrounds, where you can learn from each other,” he says.
“For those who want to go on mission, this is the best place. It has varied classes and teachers from all over the world, so you get so many different perspectives that can help build you understanding.
“I even learned about fishing from some of my teachers, and now I use that as a door to make new friends with fishermen in Thailand.
“As our friendship grows, they start to ask questions about our faith, why we believe what we believe, then we can go on and study the Bible deeper.”