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Sister congregations in Thailand and Santa Barbara each celebrate 150 years


Partners in faith

By Charles Curtis | Mission Crossroads Magazine

A medical clinic guest in Chiang Mai (right) prays with a member of First Presbyterian Church of Santa Barbara. Courtesy First Church of Chiang Mai, Thailand

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Nearly 8,000 miles separate congregations in Santa Barbara, California, and Chiang Mai, Thailand. Yet nothing can separate the growing bond they have shared as sister churches in mission since 2013.

Early in 2013, the mission committee of First Presbyterian Church of Santa Barbara (FPCSB) discussed a congregation-to-congregation partnership with the Rev. Dr. Esther Wakeman, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-worker and vice president for spiritual and community life at Payap University in Chiang Mai. She suggested First Church Chiang Mai and made the connection. The resulting partnership “is deepening friendships for both congregations,” said Jeanette Zinke, mission elder, FPCSB.

“For decades our congregation had provided partial financial support to several PC(USA) mission co-workers serving in Thailand and around the world, and we’ve enjoyed the times when they’ve visited us,” Jeanette said. “Through our trips to Thailand, worshiping and serving together in a Southeast Asian context, we have a better sense of the global church.”

The Rev. Dr. Sirikanya Boonyakiat, Home and Family Ministry pastor of First Church of Chiang Mai (FCCM), said FCCM is “waking up” to understanding more about mission and participating more in mission. The pastor, who is known to her U.S. sister congregation as “Pastor Ying,” added, “This is wonderful, because no church can achieve her mission goals on her own.”

Founded by American Presbyterian missionary the Rev. Daniel McGilvary, FCCM has grown to a congregation of more than 2,000 in a country that is only 1 percent Christian.

Over the past five years, FCCM and FPCSB have prayed for one another, visited each other’s congregations, worshiped together and served in mission work side by side in rural Chiang Mai. FCCM members toured Santa Barbara’s Transition House, a ministry that helps families experiencing homelessness. FPCSB members
saw Chiang Mai’s Salvation Room, a fellowship hall where visitors are invited after worship to learn more about Jesus. This prompted FPCSB to form a prayer group for evangelism, mission elder Yvonne Bazinet said. “We continue to ask God’s help that we may be uninhibited in sharing our faith,” she said.

On their visit to Chiang Mai for FCCM’s 150th anniversary thanksgiving service, members of FPCSB met several FCCM missionary candidates. During the service, a young couple with a 2-year-old son were commissioned as FCCM’s first missionaries.

Pastor Ying said the theme for FCCM’s anniversary celebration was “Heritage and Hope.” She finds much hope in the FCCM-FPCSB partnership. “Both churches will continue to support each other in mission work, prayer and financial support,” she said. “Both churches will strengthen each other in mission. Our partnership will expand to other ministries such as women, men, youth and children.”

“As our bonds strengthen, we give thanks to God for our partnership with First Church Chiang Mai, and we anticipate many more years together,” Yvonne said. “We look forward to seeing several from our sister church in Santa Barbara next June, when they will help us celebrate our 150th anniversary.”

Charles Curtis is a commissioned lay pastor for mission and evangelism at First Presbyterian Church of Santa Barbara and director of the Santa Barbara Mission Conference, now 16 years old.

This article appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, which is printed and mailed free to subscribers homes three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission.

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