The Flip Side


One thing I would like to do on this blog is note interesting and/or difficult situations or issues that we are reflecting on. How should we respond theologically and missiologically in the face of new circumstances? For example, how are we supposed to think and react to the prevalence of people’s stories of encounters with spirits and ghosts? (I will blog about this at a later date.) I understand that some of these are aspects more specific to Thai culture, however my hope is that you might be able to see some connections to your own context.

It is so fun watching Brynn at her Thai school. She has done a great job of adapting and meeting new friends, despite the linguistic and cultural differences. Every morning I drop her off in the courtyard where her friends Champoo and Thaem come to greet her. Brynn is almost always hesitant and reserved as we approach all the students standing in line in front of the flagpole, but, as soon as her friends offer their hands, she is happy to leave my side. I usually then walk away before she changes her mind. However, there have been a couple of days when I stayed to watch the morning courtyard routine.

The various classes stand in lines while announcements are made. Then, the Thai flag is raised, and they sing the national anthem. Following that, all the teachers and students in unison say, for lack of a better term, a Buddhist/animistic prayer as they all “wai” (cup their hands together in front of their faces as a sign of respect).  Finally, everyone says together, “We love the nation, love religion, and love the king.” The older kids are then dismissed as the younger kids prepare for a time of exercising or dancing together. Brynn enjoys trying to follow the leader at this point but is usually a beat or two behind. It is so fun watching her.

So, the obvious question, as a parent and missionary, is how should I/we react to this morning ritual at Brynn’s school. We are the ones who have chosen to enroll Brynn in a Thai school, so we are more than open to the cultural norms of this context. The last thing we want to do is insist that people change for our sakes. However, as responsible parents, how much should we be willing to expose our children to? Our kids are at such formative ages, and we want to be careful with what influences them. So, is there a danger in them participating in, for example, a Buddhist prayer at school? Or, should we be concerned about them being exposed to nationalistic creeds at school? And would it ever be appropriate for us to express the fact that those practices marginalize our kids?

Those are some questions we’re asking ourselves. And to be clear, we really like Brynn’s school and are thankful for the people there. But, we want to be thoughtful about these issues. So, any thoughts?



  1. Wow. I have absolutely no insight or parallel examples to share. That’s a really tricky situation. We’ll be praying that you will navigate this and other tricky cultural situations with grace and love (as I know you already are) and that the Lord will walk with you through these difficult and uncertain days (as I know He is). We love you guys!!

  2. I have so much respect for the way you guys are immersing yourselves and your children in this culture. It seems to me that it’s important what you are doing: that you don’t shelter your kids from every nuance of the culture. They won’t escape the Buddhist theology around them. But they do have parents at home that can (and I know you do and will as they get older) talk to them about the implications of these Buddhists prayers and practices. What a rich theology that will give them…to actually understand from experience how to talk to people about their faith as they get older. A very silly example (or maybe not so silly since it worked) is that whenever we watched movies growing up that had any bit of romance in them, my mom would say afterwards of the male lead, ‘would he make a good husband?’ I mean, she even said this after ‘The Little Mermaid.’ It was annoying at the time but she was trying to teach us what a false picture of romance we see all the time around us. But she didn’t stop us from watching every falsely romantic movie.
    Maybe that’s a stretch but I guess my point is that your repetitive probing questions to your children will work. My mom’s worked for me.
    Love you guys.

  3. That last anonymous quote was from me. Sorry!

  4. D,

    I’m really glad you included a few pictures for us with this post. Because when I read your situation and then look at the pictures I ask myself this question, “What does God care about in this picture? Where is his heart in this situation?” The answer I believe is that he cares about those teachers and students. That he wants to be “with them” and for them to be “with him.” This mission of his is much bigger than rituals, appearances, the school institution and even spirits that may or may not reside there. He is seeking out that teacher standing right of Brynn and the little girl in the red jacket (it was probably 90 degrees that day). What you do with the prayers, rituals, incense, wais, spirit houses, etc… is all dependent on what God is trying to accomplish in the life of the little girl in the red jacket.

    You guys are a blessing to me. Peace.

  5. I have been praying for Brynn’s school, her friends and teachers. I don’t know how we would choose to handle the tough situation of the ritual prayer, but I think the advice on the previous two posts is pretty good. I will also add that though there is nothing as overt as a ritual prayer that we are faced with here, I feel that in the US, we are not free from false worship and idolization. It just takes different forms. Having the TV on during the day reminds me how many images and phrases my kids experience in a day that idolize beauty and materialism. I can’t keep them completely out of the culture, but we just have to fight against it all the time. You are amazing parents and so full of wisdom. I am praying that God will give you peace as you continue to teach and train your kids in a foreign country. Love you and miss you so much!

  6. I admire your thoughtfulness and I’m fascinated by the differences in primary education in Thailand. What an amazing experience, challenge and opportunity for Brynn and for you, and I think it’s really great that her friends are so open-minded and welcoming to her. What a great example of God’s hospitality. I’m sure that it’s tough and sometimes awkward to negotiate when and how to respond to cultural contexts as you form deeper relationships and put down roots there, and I think you’re doing really well.

  7. […] very aware that she “bows down” to someone other than who her friends “bow down” to. (Click here to read a previous post about Brynn and the morning rituals at her school.) The faith of my […]

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