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Former Buddhists establish Midwestern’s Lao School of Ministry

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–A group of Southeast Asian church leaders gathers for a breakout session during the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists Minister/Spouse Retreat. Leading them are a man and a woman whose bright smiles light up the room.

They are Thira and Montira Siengsukon, marriage and ministry partners. Both are of Chinese descent and were reared in Thailand in their families’ Buddhist traditions.

They were both saved as teen-agers at Sacred Light Baptist Church in Bangkok, Thailand. The two were youth leaders in that church, and they were married there on Feb. 1, 1975.

Even their names are significant – Thira means “wise man” and Montira means “heart of a wise man.”

God is using this unique couple to minister on the other side of the world from their home country.

For 19 years, the Siengsukons have been ministering to Lao people in the United States. Laos and Thailand have experienced conflict as nations for many years.

“There are many cultural differences between us and the Lao people, especially since Montira and I are Chinese by birth,” Thira says. “However, we enjoy unity with the Lao people we minister to because of our oneness in Christ.”

In 1983, the couple helped start the Lao mission at Nall Avenue Baptist Church in Prairie Village, Kan., where they served for 11 years. Thira still serves as a volunteer consultant for the mission. Like ripples from a stone tossed in a pond, the Siengsukons’ ministry has been expanding over the years.

In 1988, they began the Laotian School of Theology in the basement of the Nall Avenue church with eight students in attendance.

The school became a part of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., and recently was renamed the Lao School of Ministry. It has teaching sites in San Antonio, Dallas-Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, Fort Smith, Ark., Rockford, Ill., and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Lao School of Ministry is a joint effort of the seminary, KNCSB and the North American Mission Board.

Thira is the full-time director and also serves as an instructor and textbook writer and is supported through gifts to the Cooperative Program and the Viola Webb Missions Offering.

Montira works full-time as supervisor of the accounts payable department at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., where she has worked for more than 15 years. But she is still right by her husband’s side in ministry.

“She has dedicated herself,” Thira says of his wife. As a teen-ager, Montira was called to Christian service. “She’s the one who works side by side with me.”

“I have lost my (Thai) language because I speak in the Lao language,” Thira says. However, Lao people residing in the United States are very open to the gospel of Jesus Christ “because of their experience with Christians in refugee camps,” he says.

The two have found a vast mission field among the 300,000 Lao people residing in the United States. They have left behind their own culture and immersed themselves in this ministry.

However, Lao people residing in the United States are very open to the gospel of Jesus Christ “because of their experience with Christians in refugee camps,” Thira says.

Those who fled Laos when the Communists took over in 1975 ended up in refugee camps, including the large Southern Baptist refugee camp in the Philippines.

A crucial need is for trained Lao Christian leaders. So this is where the Lao School of Ministry at Midwestern Seminary gets involved.

The school has 95 students, including pastors, deacons and Sunday School teachers at the seven teaching sites.

“They need these courses because they don’t have a biblical background,” Thira says.

One of the major tasks is for the Siengsukons to translate the courses into Lao.

Along with training leaders for Lao churches in the United States, Thira and Montira also are training the people to be international missionaries. When Lao people living in the United States go back home for a visit to Laos, they have opportunities to share Christ.

“People in Laos see the difference when they go back, and they have questions,” Thira says.

Around the world from their home country, Thira and Montira Siengsukon are joining God’s work as He moves among the Lao people in the United States.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: THIRA SIENGSUKON, MINISTERING COUPLE and DIRECTOR OF MINISTRY.

    About the Author

  • Eva Wilson

    Eva Wilson is editor of the Baptist Digest, newsjournal of the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists. Retired editor Tim Boyd contributed to this report.

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