When Tan was a young girl in Thailand, she asked a famous monk in her hometown: “Where do we come from?”
“He had no answer,” she says.
Two decades later, Tan was living in Bangkok and had become an Adventist. She was a very new member – baptized barely a year before – and was bursting to share her faith with others, so she became a program host on the local Adventist FM station.
“I have no talent for music,” Tan says, “but one skill I do have is the ability to speak to people, both old and young. When I was young, I didn’t expect that I would be working in radio one day, but for some reason I would practice reading the newspaper in front of the mirror.”
At New Life Radio, Tan began hosting a live program every morning, and her voice could be heard across Bangkok, a sprawling, sweltering metro area of more than 14 million people. She had no way to know how many listeners were tuning in, or who they were, but she took her new role seriously.
“You had to spend a lot of time in prayer every morning before you came to the program,” Tan says. “Every word we were saying had to connect to the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t me talking to the listeners – rather, it was God who was leading. If I felt discouraged myself, I would pray for what to say to inspire them.”
One of the people listening was a woman named Pensee. She had been scanning radio stations one day and came across New Life Radio. Tan happened to be on the air at the time, and Pensee thought she had a sweet voice. Pensee also enjoyed the Christian music being played in the Thai language. She soon became interested in the messages she was hearing, and signed up for Voice of Prophecy Bible lessons.
Tan says, “Pensee sent in many completed lessons, until she got her certificate. She was very curious – she wanted to know everything about the Bible. Later on, her husband, Suwit, joined her in studying the lessons.”
Pensee and Suwit had worked in the government for many years and attained high positions. But the salaries weren’t terribly good, so Suwit left to work in a construction company with his nephew, who was an architect. By the time they found New Life Radio, they had retired comfortably.
Pensee and Suwit, like most Thais, had grown up Buddhist. But about four years previously, they had become Sunday-keepers, through a Baptist church. After studying the Adventist Bible lessons, however, they begin to think that many of the things they were taught in the Sunday church “were not like Jesus.” They said, “We’re supposed to care like Jesus, but when we wanted to share the new things we were learning, the other church members wouldn’t talk to us about it.”
Nevertheless, their bonds to their Baptist friends were strong, and Tan was wise enough to see the importance of those relationships, even while her own friendship with Pensee and Suwit was growing.
“First, we would just talk on the phone … almost every day,” Tan says. “They knew me as a friend, but only through the radio and phone. Then they invited me to their house. Later, they wanted to take me to their church, and I was happy to go. When they went to another province to do evangelism for their church, I went along.”
Pensee and Suwit were not meeting with an Adventist pastor yet, but they were spending a lot of time with Tan. “We would visit back and forth, and talk, talk, talk!” Tan smiles.
Finally, Tan invited Pensee and Suwit to visit her church for the first time, when members were celebrating a milestone anniversary of the Adventist church in Thailand. But still, she never pressured them to take action on the new religious concepts they were learning. “I just told them about the Sabbath and let them come to an understanding by themselves,” Tan says. “It was important not to force them.”
Another radio announcer invited listeners to join a new Adventist group that had started up and was meeting next to the station. Pensee and Suwit began attending that church … while still joining their Baptist congregation on Sundays. “At that time, we had two hearts,” Suwit says. “For months, we were worshipping on both Sunday and Saturday. We didn’t know how to make a decision. The Adventist pastor said, ‘You’ve been coming here a long time, why not leave that church and join us?’ But it was difficult to walk away from our brothers and sisters.”
Pensee and Suwit finally did make the choice to join the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Today, they live in the countryside near Asia-Pacific International University, in Muak Lek, Thailand. Although they had spent their entire adult lives living in the big city, they felt that God was calling them to come to Muak Lek. Their Adventist pastor in Bangkok had bought land in Muak Lek, and Pensee and Suwit followed suit, buying a piece of property on short notice.
“We were scared at first,” Suwit says. “We were used to Bangkok, and it was very wild out here. But we were sure God was leading us.” They worked on clearing the land, building an attractive house, and planting an assortment of fruit trees.
Where was their dear friend Tan at this point in the story? Actually, she had moved away from Bangkok some time before and had lost touch with Pensee and Suwit. But it turned out that she was not far away at all: she was studying at Asia-Pacific International University, minutes away. The three friends, along with Tan’s husband, were overjoyed to be reunited.
“Pensee and Suwit do not have children of their own, so they have adopted many students into their home and become a real center of warmth and hospitality,” Tan says. “They are very active as elders in the church, and the community is blessed by their outreach.”
Looking back at her experience with New Life Radio, Tan says: “We can’t always talk to people directly, and we may not know who is listening. But radio is powerful: it reaches people at home, when they’re relaxed and private. I received such joy through doing the radio program and from hearing listeners say, ‘The Bible verses you read really encouraged me.’ I still keep the letters from people who wrote to me. This is the joy of my spirit.”
“There are 64 million people in Thailand,” says Dr. Surachet Insom, AWR’s Asia/Pacific region trainer and radio coordinator for Thailand and Laos. “How else can we hope to reach all of them, except through radio?”