Answering the call: Greenville family to serve as Thai missionaries
By Jessica Connor
GREENVILLE—Imagine if Jesus called today and asked you to give up all your creature comforts, move across the world and share the Gospel in a tiny village seven hours north of Bangkok, Thailand.
Would you say yes?
Now imagine you have four kids: an 8-year-old, a freshman in high school and two in college. And understand that answering that call would mean at least two of your kids would have to uproot their lives and go with you.
Now how would you answer?
If you re a member of the Attaway family, you say yes, Lord.
The Attaways “ Todd, Pam, and their children Sidney, Ashley, Noah and Hannah Grace “ have been accepted by The Mission Society to teach English in the rural community Roi Et, in northeast Thailand. Members of Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Greenville, the family is turning over every aspect of their lives to God and trusting Him to use them to reach others any way He sees fit.
It seems surreal “ are we really doing this? laughed Pam, a stay-at-home mom and former nurse who has been active in youth ministry at Aldersgate for 10 years. God has asked us to pick up and go as a family, to be in relationship with students just as we do here, but in an area where most of them don t know about Jesus.
Indeed, they are doing this. For several months, the family has been raising money for their mission, garnering about a quarter of the sum needed from their church alone. This winter, they will begin reaching out to UMCs across the state for help in raising the rest of the funds. When all the money is raised, the family will journey to Bangkok, where they will spend six to nine months in a language school and immersing themselves in Thai culture. Then they will move to Roi Et, where they will teach English as a Second Language alongside Chris and Dora Barbee, who are English teachers in Buddhist schools there.
If you are born Thai, you are Buddhist, Pam explained. To reach the Thai with the Gospel, the best way is to be in relationship.
Dr. Nantachai Mejudhon, a former Buddhist monk who found Christ, started the ministry in Roi Et that the Attaways will join. Mejudhon s wife came to the United States to earn a master s degree and became a Christian. In 400 letters sent back and forth between the couple, Mejudhon himself came to know Christ, too. Now, the Mejudhons have a vision of bringing the Thai people to Christ through meekness and relationship building.
The Buddhist schools are anxious to have people come teach English, which is a requirement in schools now, Pam said.
The Barbees teach conversational English in the schools, as will the Attaways, and they also help with a Christian Learning Center in Roi Et where the curious can learn about the Gospel on Wednesdays and Sundays.
It s a slow movement, but we re definitely seeing doors open up, Pam said. Five students are now believers.
We ll be able to touch a lot of kids lives, probably in the neighborhood of 1,500 to 2,000 kids from first grade to high school, Todd said. A large percentage of those kids get caught up in the sex slave trade, and we had an opportunity to go over and be a family unit, which is something they don t see completely all the time.
Because of the severe poverty, Todd said, families often seek additional income by working in the city. That can open the door wide for people to come in and take advantage of kids, he said.
They say to the parents, ˜Your kids can come to the city and make even more than you can, but they don t tell them what the job is, Todd said.
That area desperately needs Christ, Pam said, and God is calling their family to spread the word.
We were made to do this, Pam said. We will never be Thai, but we can go and love. They can still be Thai and Christian “ it s not one or the other.
Todd and Pam will teach Thai children in formal classes, and Noah and Hannah Grace will work with students in afternoons practicing conversational English.
I think I will enjoy being there, said Hannah Grace, a pretty brown-haired third grader with shining eyes and an eager smile. It will be hard but fun.
I m excited, said her older brother Noah, 14. I want to go now.
˜There s more to life
Pam admits her only hesitation was worrying how her children would react to leaving their lives behind and moving across the world to serve Christ. The Holy Spirit had been nudging at her and Todd for some time. Todd, who is in purchasing, began doing international short-term mission trips about six or seven years ago, telling his wife he felt God pulling him toward full-time ministry. Every time he would return, Pam said, I could sense something different in him.
I really started the pull of, ˜There s more to life than what you re doing today, Todd said. Especially in a corporate environment, where most people are trying to make money and climb the ladder, I just began thinking about what my life could be and what I could do and how I could represent Christ and be an example for the Lord.
Five generations of Pam s family have been United Methodist pastors, including her parents Tom and Molly Wilkes, and her brother, Tommy, so she was no stranger to the notion of being called. But she had four kids; how could they truly consider what was being asked?
Still, she and Todd decided to turn over their plans to the Lord, to open the door and let Him show their family how they could serve. They were propelled tow
ard The Mission Society, an interdenominational group based in Norcross, Ga., which sends missionaries to areas of the world where the Gospel has been least heard.
But the day The Mission Society called to say we d been accepted for training, I went into prayer: ˜Lord, I would do this but for my kids, Pam recalled. And I heard clearly back, ˜How do you know it s not for your kids?
The moment she heard Noah s reaction, that sealed the deal, she said: he wanted to go right away.
At 14, Noah had already missioned through Salkehatchie Summer Service, did tornado relief work in Georgetown, Ala., and traveled to Panama on international mission with his father and older sister, Ashley. Seeing the way people live outside the U.S. speaks volumes to him.
In Panama I went to different villages, and they have literally nothing. One kid, Jose Luis, lives in a two-room house and has a horse, and he s the richest kid there. They live in a house with a dirt floor that s half the size of this room, he said, gesturing to the Attaway living room. But they make the most of what they have.
Noah said he has a gift of building relationships that he thinks can really help the people of Roi Et.
Sister Ashley, 19, a sophomore psychology major at Clemson University, said it is hard for her because she cannot go to Roi Et with her family. But she was raised to know God has a plan for all His children, and if God is calling her parents to do this, then she stands behind them 100 percent.
I support them and think what they re going to do there is a great thing, she said. I definitely want to help them in any way I can.
They are still not sure whether Sidney, 20, a junior majoring in youth ministry at Charleston Southern University, will continue his studies in the U.S. or join his family in Thailand. Sidney thinks the family s venture is a testament to their faith. It s awesome to be able to know God is calling and to be able to do something with it, he said. So many things in this life we are called to do and we just overlook it, but they re just picking up and going to do what God has called them to do.
Putting Christ first
While it can be extremely challenging to leave the people they love and the life they have built in Greenville, the Attaways believe serving Christ is their top priority.
You can t not do it “ that s not being obedient, Pam said, though her eyes well up as she thinks about leaving her older daughter behind, and possibly her older son.
The Attaways know they have a lot to learn, but they trust God will gift them with whatever they need to reach the people of Roi Et. This is not about us. This is not glamorous. We don t have it all figured out, and there are so many unknowns, Pam said. But we choose to obey.
The Attaways need prayer support and donations to help make their trip possible. To ask them to speak to your church about their call, email attawaysix@ bellsouth.net . To make a tax-deductible donation to help their trip, visit www.themissionsociety.org , click on Find a Missionary at the top, and scroll down to find the Attaways name and donate online. Donations can also made to The Mission Society, P.O. Box 922637, Norcross, GA 30010-2637 (Attaway-3018 SUP).