SLICE OF LIFE
Uprooting themselves from a familiar environment in the US to live in Thailand as Christian missionaries has been a life-altering experience for American couple Andrea and Johnny Pangelinan. Both in their mid-30s, they have two sons under the age of 10 and have resided in Thailand for less than a year. Andrea worked as a full-time children's pastor, while Johnny was church facilities manager.
Currently, they serve as campus pastors for Study Abroad Programme, an Assemblies of God (A/G) denomination initiative, which offers students from American A/G Colleges a unique opportunity to spend a semester garnering hands-on field experience alongside veteran missionaries in Thailand, while continuing their education through distance learning and online courses. Thus for an entire semester, students are immersed in Thai culture and way of life.
Johnny shares what brought about their decision to leave home and travel across the world to work in Thailand. "In 2003 Andrea and myself travelled to Bangladesh to visit a friend who was involved in an internationally-funded children's camp for the less fortunate," he began. "It was here that we also had the opportunity to help out at other similar charity projects that were located in other villages. We believe this experience played a big part in our decision to become missionaries.
"We got to know about Thailand during our flight back to the US, as we stopped over in the 'Land of Smiles' for a few days. Our family fell in love with the country instantaneously - especially the tuk-tuk ride that made it all seem surreal!
"To be honest, becoming missionaries was never even a thought for us in the beginning, in fact, it was the furtherest thing from our minds. I mean, why leave home and all that you know and love to reside in a foreign country? Despite the uncertainties we felt at the time, there was a sense of peace that God was leading us to become missionaries."
Read up on the culture and traditions of the country before you arrive to help familiarise yourself with what you will experience. It’s better to have a superficial understanding than none at all. It also helped us to prepare for culture shock. PHOTO: SANTISUDA EKACHAI
The Pangelinan family took a year to prepare for their journey to Thailand. Aside from going on long road trips to secure funding from churches for their missionary work thousands of kilometres away from home, they concurrently gathered information from friends and acquaintances who had personal experiences of living in Thailand.
What also helped them were orientation classes designed by the Assemblies of God denomination for the entire family. Here they got a clear picture of what was needed to enter this particular field of work. It was stressed that it's not just the parents who are missionaries but the children as well, he said.
One of the most challenging aspects of being a missionary for them so far has been learning Thai. Two months of full-time language school was very stressful, but so worth it, said the couple.
Major adjustments are being made along the way to getting accustomed to life in Thailand. Driving in Bangkok, for one, has been quite an adventure for the Pangelinans. With a Thai driver's license in hand, they are able to experience the city up close and personal. They have also gotten used to road conditions and the driving style of the locals. Crossing the road has been rather taxing, especially for Johnny, who was hit by a motorcycle while trying to cross the street. Luckily, he wasn't hurt too badly.
"The benefits largely out weigh the difficulties," said Andrea. "Adjustments are necessary for living. We absolutely have fallen in love with the Thai people and culture. So far, we have learned so much and we liken ourselves to sponges absorbing all that comes our way. We desire to serve and be a blessing to the wonderful people of Thailand."
Below, Andrea and Johnny share a few steps they took to prepare themselves to become missionaries in Thailand.
It is pivotal to have a support group back home, so it was crucial for us to spend time with our families and friends before we left. Building a network of close friends before we left for Thailand helped us not to just unburden ourselves but also know that we have people praying for us back home. Their love and support has kept us going. PHOTO: CHANAT KATANYU
Preparing your children’s education in a foreign land is equally important. Hunting for the right schools which will address the requirements of the child should be done in advance. Andrea had to do much planning and preparation to make certain this was a success. PHOTO: JETJARAS NA RANONG
About the author
- Writer: Yvonne Bohwongprasert