Learning a language requires dedication, determination and patience, but for SIM workers, it’s an ideal way to engage with people and tell them about Jesus.
When SIM identified Ayutthaya as one of the least-reached places in Thailand, an opportunity arose to introduce our Faithful Witness programme to the region.
Faithful Witness aims to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to communities with limited exposure to the gospel and Ayutthaya has just 11 local churches and an estimated 500 believers.
SIM UK worker Caitlin (left) moved to Thailand in November 2022 to serve with the Faithful Witness team and teach English as a foreign/ second language to adults.
In 2015, she left her home in the Philippines to study in London as an international student at UCL. After graduating, she spent three years studying at Cornhill Bible College, before embarking on an intensive English teaching course.
“I’d originally came to London at 18 with quite specific goals and plans in mind (do well at university, start a career in medical research, find a partner, etc). Getting involved in a church and growing to know God wasn’t really on my radar at all, but it ended up being the defining thing of my time here,” she says.
“By God’s hand in my life, I’ve always literally been a sojourner without home or roots and when my time in London came to an end, I felt no particular desire to go back to either the Philippines or Australia where I’d grown up.
“Whilst doing an apprenticeship at my church, I’d started talking with SIM about the possibilities of how I could help others to know Jesus and the opportunity in Thailand seemed to fit well. It’s so geographically and to some extent, culturally close to the Philippines and there’s a need to reach those who don’t yet know Jesus.
“I’d been to Thailand with my family and coming back as an adult and knowing Jesus, I was struck by how busy the Buddhist temples were and how so many have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear.” (Ezekiel 12:2)
Supported by Euston Church, Caitlin began learning Thai at a missionary language school soon after arriving in Thailand.
“By God’s grace, it’s been going along steadily and I enjoy learning about both language and culture from my lovely teachers,” she says.
“I do have a good memory and find it easy to learn things generally. I grew up speaking and learning several other languages, so it’s been somewhat easier to learn another one.
“It’s also been helpful having foundations in other tonal languages, particularly my home dialect, Hokkien, which on occasion, does share some surprising linguistic similarities with Thai.”
However, Caitlin admits the process of learning Thai can also be challenging.
“It’s been an interesting bag of emotions. I don’t feel particularly confident in speaking Thai and as an Asian mission worker, people generally assume I’m Thai, so I’m grateful that people here are generally very gracious when I make mistakes.
“It’s more than learning vocabulary, grammar and alphabets as there’s the whole layer of actually just relating to people and I feel frustrated when I don’t feel I can participate in conversations because I don’t fully know the language,” she admits.
Now halfway through her year’s training, Caitlin’s progressed to learning how to read and write the language: “It’s a phonetic alphabet, which is a big help and you can figure out the tones of words, as well depending on the specific combination of characters and tone marks. It vaguely reminds me of chemistry learning to apply random rules to problems and feels like a (quite enjoyable) game of Bananagrams!”
In November, she’ll join the Faithful Witness team in Ayutthaya and although she’s not yet sure exactly what her ministry will be, she’s excited to start using the power of language to cross barriers and find gospel opportunities.
“It’s been humbling when I find learning the language difficult because it’s driven me to pray a lot more knowing I can’t really do much else,” she says.
“And while I pray that soon I’ll be able to communicate better with people here, I trust God’s sovereignty in salvation, knowing it’s his heart to rescue the lost and not my skill or lack of skill.”
By Kerry Allan
- Give thanks Caitlin is motivated by Christ’s love to make disciples where he’s not yet known.
- For patience and God’s help in the process of her language-learning.
- For people in Thailand to hear, believe and be saved.