Like most Thai people, Chintana Phankohlerng, who is in her 30s, is known by a nickname here: Aom (pronounced Om). Married to Addy (Sumate Ruengwetehaiehana), Aom is part of the Melbourne Christian Thai Fellowship that regularly meets in Hawthorn for bicultural worship and Bible study. The group was started in 2012 by the Rev. Andrew Dircks and his wife, Amy, who was born in Thailand and worked in Christian ministry there. Aom was baptised there on Easter Day 2014.
I first heard about Jesus Christ when I was 15. My cousin taught me about him and I believed that God loved us all so much, but my family was not happy. They said, “We are a Buddhist family not a Christian family.”
I wanted to pray but I didn’t really know how and my feeling about Jesus went away. Then, eight years ago, I came to Australia to study English and to work in the hospitality industry. When I got here I wanted to work for an Australian company instead of a Thai company so that I could learn English properly.
Working at the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne about two years ago, I made a friend, Lourdes, who was from the Philippines. She was very involved in the Western Baptist Community and we talked about Christian things. I told her, “I think I have Jesus in my heart, but very deep, deep down.”
I went with her to church and I met her friends. We spoke English and I felt very happy being part of their group. I was getting closer to God, wanting to know more.
Around the same time there were lots of problems happening in my life and I felt really tired. I needed someone that I could trust and lean on, who would really understand me. I wanted to come back to God. I had the feeling that only God could help me to find a way past all the chaos around me.
I started reading the Bible but I found that it was very hard for me to understand it in English. I told Addy that I needed someone to help me understand it in Thai. I was praying that God would help me. He answered my prayer with Amy.
I learned that my friend, a Thai man named Boy, is part of the Melbourne Christian Thai Fellowship. He spoke to Amy, who sent me a text message.
It turned out that we lived very close to each other and Amy and Boy came over to see me very soon after. Amy had also been praying for a chance to meet more Thais who wanted to hear about Jesus. We answered each other’s prayer.
With Amy I started to study the Bible in Thai, learning about how to live as a child of Christ. I came closer to God and wanted to serve him in my life. I became very sure that I wanted to be baptised as a Christian, in front of my friends. Andrew and Amy were very kind to me and Andrew baptised me in church on Easter Day.
I am joyful to know that I am a child of God. He has forgiven me all the parts of my life that don’t belong and I can ask him for help each day. I think I am less angry because when things happen that are not good I can hand them over to him.
I have hope because I understand that I have someone who is powerful. I don’t know what will happen in my life but I know that God is in charge.
This is all new to Addy but I have brought him to every fellowship meeting and talk to him about what I am learning. I have given him a book about how to be a family in Jesus and he is happy to read it.
I would love to see him choose to live a Christian life and I think he will soon. We are hoping to have a baby and our baby will be raised as a child of God as well.
Addy said that he has noticed positive changes in me since I asked Jesus to be my Lord. I was worried about jobs and visas but he has seen my attitude change now that I have more peace.
I want to visit my family and tell them what I have chosen as an adult, and to ask them to think about Jesus. It has to be step by step – not all at once. When I came here my father gave me a very valuable tiny Buddha statue – I will give it back to him when I see him and I will explain that my faith is in Jesus.
I love Jesus, my Lord, and I want to do everything he asks me to do. God is with me and I know that is why he brought me to Australia. If I hold his hand, I know that he will guide me and help me to tell others about him.
I think if we love people, then we want them to know the truth about Jesus and I want to be able to share what he has shown me.