By Stan Friedman
ROI ET, THAILAND (December 29, 2010) – Khampan Sudcha, president of the Thailand Covenant Church, sits at one of the few tables in a small Chicago diner and recalls the instructions church leaders in his native country gave him as he prepared to graduate from the Center for Church Enablement in Udon.
He had studied evangelization and church planting at the school, which was started by Evangelical Covenant Church missionary Jim Gustafson, and was getting ready to move to a new mission outpost in his country.
The leaders preferred not to send out a 20-year-old single male. “They told me I had to get married,” he says, laughing. Then he asks his wife, Tipawan (Tip), to share the rest of the story.
Tip laughs, too, as she tells of being 16 years old and working in a rice field early one evening when someone dispatched from the training center appeared and said, “They want you to come to Udon right away.” It was time for her engagement ceremony.
Khampan and Tip had known each other for several years and planned to get married. The reluctance of the church to send him out as a single person pushed up their plans.
In 1988, the couple married on Valentine’s Day, which is an even bigger holiday in Thailand than in the United States. There was no romantic honeymoon, however. They immediately left to start planting churches.
The couple’s good humor, partnership, and commitment to share the gospel have helped guide them throughout their ministry, which currently includes holding multiple national and local leadership positions while drawing little salary.
“They are pretty remarkable,” says Paul De Neui, a Covenant missionary who formerly worked in Thailand, having arrived in Thailand just several months after the Sudchas began their evangelistic work. Although he now teaches at North Park Theological Seminary, De Neui continues to work closely with the Sudchas and served as translator for this story.
In the first year of the Sudchas’ ministry, more than 100 people gave their lives to Christ, and the work grew to more than 40 villages, Khampan says.
“My husband has a special gift of communicating the gospel to people and bringing them to Christ,” Tip says. She also has many gifts to offer and has helped lead worship as well as taught youth and children.
The first area the couple served consisted of three villages, in which there were a total of eight believers. The two also would make regular trips back to Udon for meetings. Tip and Khampan would ride their motorcycle the 150 miles – even when she was pregnant.
That was 22 years ago. Khampan was named president of the denomination in 2008. The leader of the church at the time said he believed Khampan should succeed him.
The church is seeing people come to Christ, engaging in economic development, and is developing their first two camps.
They also are impacting worship in areas even beyond Thailand, says Khampan.
The interdenominational International Christian Congress asked a small worship group from the Covenant to open the entire event because the church is at the forefront of incorporating cultural forms into worship. “People went back to the rest of the world seeing that it was possible,” Khampan says.
Khampan is excited about the spiritual growth throughout the church. “There is a new passion in young people,” he says. “They are full of energy, and they are ready to share the gospel.” Training of local leaders and evangelists also has increased.
Finances remain tight. Khampan draws no salary as president of the denomination and as pastor of a congregation in Roi Et, but rather serves as a self-supporting missionary. He is paid for his work as president of the Lower Isaan Foundation for Enablement (LIFE) in Roi Et.
Tip serves as the financial manager for LIFE. Like Khampan, she also serves the larger denomination without pay, overseeing its administration, as well as visiting churches and training others to lead worship and singing.
Because the couple receives little money, “Sometimes there is little money in the wallet at the end of the month,” Tip says.
The couple is not complaining, however, and say they are grateful for the love they receive. “It shows the most when I am so tired, and they are so encouraging,” Khampan says. “The churches I serve are very loving.”
That love strengthens their desire to serve despite an exhausting schedule. “You can be tired, but don’t back up,” Khampan says.
Khampan says he is grateful for the work of Evangelical Covenant Church missionaries and contributions from other Covenanters. He notes their critical assistance in economic development projects such as fish farms, and helping start the camps.
Khampan hopes that more people will make two-year commitments to serve in Thailand. The denomination has been strengthening its ties with the church. The offering of more than $109,000 collected at CHIC 2009 benefitted several projects operated by the Thai Covenant Church.
Editor’s note: One of the accompanying photos shows Khampan and De Neui praying with a new believer. The second photo shows Tipawan writing a prayer on the concrete floor in the new Covenant offices building before finished floor coverings were installed.