Thai Goes...To the Gospel of Living Social
Thai Goes is an ongoing journal from my two-week Doctor of Ministry residency in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in January. The focus of the learning cohort was to experience and study the intersections of faith and global development.
When you hear a woman like Avis Rideout, founder of Agape Home in Chiang Mai, talk about "the moment" she first held HIV-infected babies as a nurse volunteer at a Thai government-run orphanage in the early 1990s, undoubtedly a theological and moral provocation happens—whether you like it or not. Abandoned by circumstance as well as society, HIV orphans will always bring new meaning to the word vulnerability.
From here—the cradling of an HIV baby—it seems hard to miss how spiritual the physical is, and how physical the spiritual is. Not to mention how these dichotomies that stubbornly linger in certain elements of Christianity are severely unhelpful (at best) and badly mistaken (at worst).
Listening in on Avis' story, in fact, I was reminded of a stirring image used by the authors of Hope in Troubled Times. They write: "The biblical image of hope is the morning star. Christian hope is a hope of contrast: it revives in the middle of the night, just when the darkness seems to overpower us." The reality is: Avis is not saving the world; in the Christian narrative, the world has already been saved through Cross and Resurrection. Yet God invites humanity into a serious collaboration with him by which he makes the fullness of his ongoing and unrealized restoration known.
To this end, the gospel demands of its believers the type of faithful doing that is, inherently, a social demonstration. Private, individualistic faith is truly no such thing.
By encountering various faith-based NGOs in Chiang Mai, our Doctor of Ministry cohort is confronting this gospel of living social time and again. We are seeing the visible Christian witness that is the simple beauty of persistent, demonstrated love.
In advance of this study residency, we had been given the usual, requisite, massive reading list. For me, one of the most challenging and helpful books was a collection of essays called Transforming the World? The Gospel and Social Responsibility. What follows, then, are three quotations that have a bearing on the matter of living social.