Column from France: What can we do for newcomers from Thailand?


Christian Life

Marc Derœux, CNE.news

Singing in a Hmong church in Bangkok. Photo AFP, Lillian Suwanrumpha

Let newcomers come to our churches and learn the French language and culture. As Christians, we are privileged and ready to help newcomers from Thailand and other far-away countries, says Marc Derœux.

I am at Chiang-Rai airport. After spending five days in Northern Thailand, I am heading to Bangkok on my way home to Paris. This week, I had the opportunity to discover a people originally from Asia that is present in France too, but little known to us: the Mien.

There are 40,000 of them in Thailand, mainly in the north and Laos. Many of them live in France as well. As traditional farmers, the Mien chose the mountains of northern Thailand to develop their coffee-growing activities. I had the privilege of drinking one, prepared over a wood fire in bamboo – a delight!

The missionary commission of the Baptist Federation sent me and another colleague to encourage one of our missionary couples whose ministry is dedicated to the Mien churches in Thailand.

The pastor we visited is originally from Laos. Already in France, he was involved with the Mien and Hmong peoples. He was a pastor in a Baptist church when he felt called to continue his father's ministry among the Mien people in Thailand.

For the past five years, he has been working to consolidate and train the leadership of this community. He has won their trust by living among them, working in the fields with them, and speaking their language. Touring the villages where the Mien have settled, he encourages their leaders and accompanies the families.

In almost every Mien village, a church has been built, sometimes bringing together more than half the inhabitants. However, as in our European countries, secularisation is gradually doing its work of desertification, particularly among young people. Young people are on their cell phones, following social networks and watching videos. They are more aware of what's happening in the world through entertainment than news.

Sunday worship among the Hmong. Photo AFP, Lillian Suwanrumpha

Of course, the current international situation is of concern to the Thais, 34 of whose nationals were kidnapped by Hamas on October 7. Israel and Thailand have signed agreements to welcome Thai farm workers on five-year work visas. There are almost 10,000 of them working in Israel. Many of the Mien people have adopted the farming techniques practised in the kibbutz.

For the Thai, France seems more like a tourist destination than a job opportunity. It has to be said that French is rarely spoken in Thailand, in contrast with English.

In 1975, the Mien and Hmong fled to seek refuge in France. French evangelical Protestant churches mobilised to welcome and accompany this population, battered by years of civil war and political oppression. Mien and Hmong churches were born in France and firmly committed to youth work. Peaceful by nature, these new refugees easily integrated while maintaining their culture.

In France, the issue of integration is becoming increasingly important. New laws are being debated in the Senate and Parliament. The debate is lively, as it is in many other European countries.

Photo AFP, Lillian Suwanrumpha

Unfortunately, these debates are rekindling identity-based reflexes, far removed from biblical thinking. I am convinced that our churches have a significant role in welcoming and accompanying migrants in our country.

For me, the example of the Mien family continues to speak volumes and inspire me. Our churches can always be privileged places for learning the French language and culture, places for mixing while respecting particularities, and examples of a rediscovered fraternity.



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