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Teen overcomes rocky childhood to lead youth in worship

MOBILE, Ala. (BP)–In the short time Thuan Mai has taught himself to play the acoustic guitar, God has developed in his heart a passion for worship.

Most of the time, Mai is quiet and introspective. He spends a lot of time in his bedroom at the Mobile campus of Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes to pray and learn new guitar chords. Put him onstage in front of a crowd of students, however, and he quickly comes out of his shell.

“The thing is his humbleness,” said Mark Rudd, minister to junior high students in Mobile at Cottage Hill Baptist Church, Mai’s home church. “With everything Thuan has experienced in life, I don’t know too many people who have a better heart for worship than he has.”

Mai, 18, recently purchased a new acoustic guitar with his own savings. No doubt he’s energetically wearing out several guitar strings this summer as he serves as music leader on the Texas team of World Changers, sponsored by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. He has been traveling throughout the Lone Star State to coordinate and lead evening worship services in Decatur, Dallas, Louisville and Lubbock for hundreds of junior high and high school students and adults.

“This is huge!” Rudd said. “Usually, World Changers wants someone who has gotten at least one year of college done. This speaks highly of Thuan’s ability to handle a lot of responsibilities at one time.”

Mai was one of 16 music leaders chosen for World Changers this summer, according to Walter Mickels, a national missionary with NAMB who supervises the Texas team. He reported that in the daytime, Thuan does videography of the junior high and high school students wherever they’re repairing homes and doing other missions. The videography is seen in the evening worship services that Thuan plans.

Jon Hodge was the national missionary with NAMB who interviewed Mai for the music leader position for Texas. Hodge said Thuan’s exceptionally high energy level onstage is one of his best attributes.

“During World Changers training, we had to really work with some of the summer staff to get them to project enthusiasm onstage, but that has never been the case with Thuan,” Hodge said.

This is Mai’s fourth summer with World Changers. During a summer with the ministry team in Huntsville, Ala., God spoke through youth pastor Jack Hester about Thuan getting involved with music ministry at Cottage Hill Baptist Church.

Soon after he returned to the children’s homes campus in Mobile, Thuan disclosed Hester’s advice during conversation with two of his strongest supporters, his house parents Jim and Marie Marchetti.

“Mr. and Mrs. M are like second parents to me,” said Thuan, who was American-born to Vietnamese parents. “I know Mr. and Mrs. M are not perfect, but in the seven years I’ve lived at the children’s homes, I’ve felt a sense that they really care about me and want to help.”

Growing up in gang neighborhoods and poverty before coming to the children’s homes, Mai could not trust any adults and was repeatedly disappointed by them, he said. The Marchettis and other adult role models he has had at the children’s homes have influenced him to develop greater respect for adult authorities and, most of all, God.

“When Mark Rudd asked me to become junior high praise band leader, I was going to say yes too quickly, but Mr. and Mrs. M encouraged me to pray about it,” Mai said. “The best advice I could get is from Mr. and Mrs. M.”

Marie Marchetti described Mai as one of the most respectful young men she has met.

“I think the only spiritual experience he had before the children’s homes was a little Buddhism,” she said. “Through devotionals at the children’s homes, church involvements and friendships, he has seen what he wants his life to be. It’s amazing to watch his hunger for Jesus Christ grow.”

At Rudd’s invitation about three years ago, Mai became worship leader for the junior high students’ Wednesday night assemblies at Cottage Hill. He coordinated all praise and worship music for the gatherings, and he led tryouts and oversaw accountability for the junior high praise band. As a high school senior, he had valuable opportunities to positively impact the lives of younger teenagers all week since all of his fellow praise band members were ninth graders.

Rudd told Mai that a lot of middle school students have developed a passion for God because of the Wednesday night praise services.

“Thuan became more and more confident in his outspokenness about God during the worship services and throughout the rest of the week,” Rudd said. “He is not by any means cocky, but he’s definitely confident that God can use him in any situation.”

Mai surrendered to God’s call to full-time Christian ministry on March 6. His musical outreach has extended beyond the Baptist church. Since December 2004, he has played in a band at a coffee shop ministry of Knollwood Assembly of God in Mobile. He has also led worship at local Episcopal and Anglican Church events.

“It’s neat to minister in many settings and realize that God is doing awesome things inside and outside my home church,” Mai said.

In Mobile and this summer with World Changers in Texas, Mai tries to make sure that worship services are relaxed. While he says he loves “laid back and mellow praise and worship songs,” he will include upbeat, energetic selections.

“I make sure that none of the students are pressured by anything during the services,” Mai said. “I can’t force anyone to worship God.”

God often shows Mai songs that relate to things he learns in Bible study and prayer. “I’ll pick songs for a service and not even know they go perfectly with the message that will be preached.”
Bob Murdaugh is director of communications for Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries.

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