by Chaiyun Ukosakul
An indigenous perspective of how one faithful missionary impacted the lives of many through her obedience.
Norma Brainard went to Thailand to work for USAID and ended up spending all of her free time touching lives and making Jesus’ name known. Her home was the center of her ministry. It became known as “Happy Home.” She used the Good News for Modern Man version of the Bible as a tool for teaching English. During the six years Norma lived in Thailand, several hundred Thai heard the gospel clearly. Almost sixty of them became Christians and most are still faithful followers of Christ. Many are leaders in their churches. I am one whose life changed because of Norma Brainard.
Many sophisticated strategies, including organized training sessions, have been developed to improve missionary effectiveness. However, Norma exhibits how a single, middle-aged American woman can impact many lives simply through obedience to the Lord. In spite of Norma’s defects, her prayer life and her availability to God and to people made her tremendously effective in her ministry.
"I ALMOST DROPPED DEAD"
Just before Norma finished graduate studies in public health at the University of Pittsburgh, her advisor suggested that she should consider foreign service. “I almost dropped dead when I heard that suggestion,” Norma remembers. “She advised me to work for USAID in public health service. I was almost forty then. I had never dreamed of going overseas. I had spent almost my whole life in Kentucky. I was born, grew up and worked in the mountains.”
Norma, however, accepted the challenge, and in 1968 she began working as a family planning consultant for the Thai government. Her responsibility was to visit different health centers across the country—making observations, discussing health problems and consulting with local authorities before making suggestions. Norma worked for USAID in Thailand for three tours of service, each lasting two years.
During the first tour, she met a Thai youth named Prathes at Calvary Baptist Church in Bangkok. He asked her to teach him the Bible. Another youth, Suphat, asked her if she would help him improve his English. These young men became the seeds of a ministry that she had not planned but that would bear fruit for eternity. During this term, a group of between five and eight Thai youth came to her house regularly. During Norma’s second tour, about a dozen youth began to drop in. In her third tour, these developed into weekly gatherings that drew nearly thirty students. Both Christians and non-Christians found this such a happy place that they began to call it “Happy Home.”
On special occasions such as Valentine’s Day and Christmas, students came by the hundreds. Many were from local engineering and fishery schools. I became a Christian through Norma’s ministry during her last tour, eight months before she left Thailand and went on to her next assignments in Gambia, Tanzania, Somalia and Malawi.
WHY DEFECTIVENESS BECAME EFFECTIVENESS
Norma could not speak Thai. When she traveled around the country for USAID, her counterpart, Khun Pranee, translated for her. At Happy Home, this handicap forced Norma to depend on the Thai Christians. She had to allow the Thai to lead. Norma’s defect turned out to be an important factor in the effectiveness of the ministry. Because the Thai felt they owned the ministry, leaders and evangelists were equipped and non-Christians came to know the Lord.
“Happy Home was a training ground for me,” says Prathes. “We were young in age and in spiritual life. We didn’t know what ministry was or how to do it. ‘Mom’ encouraged us to organize things. On any given evening, while she taught English, we did practically everything else, making newcomers feel at home, praying at the start of the program, playing the guitar, leading songs and games, giving testimonies, serving food and sharing Christ one-on-one during the social time. These activities gave us many opportunities to be trained as leaders and evangelists.”
A former Muslim named Worawan adds, “Mom didn’t force anyone to do anything. She gave all of us equal opportunity to serve and to lead. She inspired us and, very importantly, she pointed out to us what spiritual gifts and talents we had, and encouraged us to use them.”
The core ministry of Happy Home was to make Christ known. This ministry had two parts. One was to motivate and equip Happy Home members to do the work of evangelism. The other was to help non-Christian visitors understand the gospel and know Christ personally. Both succeeded partly because of Norma’s deficiency in the Thai language. “Mom would make sure that everyone who visited Happy Home had a chance to hear about Jesus,” says Prathes. “But since she could not speak Thai, she would use one of us who could speak some English to translate.” Observing Norma, these students learned how to approach people. They learned the contents of the gospel as they heard Norma share Christ with others. They thought that evangelism was just a normal part of the Christian life. “Mom’s life was contagious when it came to sharing the gospel,” Worawan says.
Most Thai think it is self-evident that a Thai be Buddhist. Many cannot imagine anything else. It is necessary to help the Thai cross this barrier. The best way to do that is to show that there are Thai who are believers in Jesus Christ. Since Norma could not speak Thai, sharing the gospel was not solely identified with her. The Thai students had their own stories to tell and they did their part diligently. This helped the non-Christians move beyond their belief that they could not become Christians because Christianity was only for westerners.
MAKE THEM WELCOME
The door of Norma’s house was always open. “When people came, I would try to make them feel welcome,” Norma remembers. “When I talked to them (through translation), I would ask them leading questions to find out where they were at spiritually. For instance, I would ask, ‘Have you been to a church?’ or ‘Do you know any Christians?’ or ‘Have you been in contact with Christians before?’ I would make sure that I shared something with them about Christ or salvation. They would know exactly what was important for me, but I would not reject them if they were not interested.”
Mike, now the senior pastor of a church, says, “When I came to the house the first time, I could not speak English. I felt awkward, but Mom’s big smiles and hospitality made me feel comfortable. She would look for someone to help translate. She would listen to me attentively. I could see that she was interested in me and cared for me. I felt like coming back again.”
Somchai, now director of a Christian organization, says, “I was very impressed with Mom’s hospitality. She always smiled. People came to her house and ate her food and used things that belonged to her, and she never complained.”
Malasri came because she liked music and wanted to meet people. “The love of the people there attracted me,” she says. “People came up to me and talked to me about God. I did not feel uncomfortable at all. I saw friends who became Christians and saw their lives change. I became a Christian after Mom left Thailand.”
Nongluk came to learn English. After awhile, the relationships of the people were an even greater attraction. They were different from what she had seen elsewhere. “Mom was like a magnet,” Nongluk recalls. “She was a good model of serving the Lord. When I became a Christian, I wanted to serve the Lord and see people come to him too. Today, I am teaching English at a local college, following her path.”
Naree says, “She shared the gospel like a loving mother talking to a child.”
Tuu, a high-schooler when she joined the Happy Home, remembers, “At first, I felt very uncomfortable because people there seemed to pray about everything. But I could not deny that Happy Home was very warm. Mom was like a real mother to me. She spent her money to feed us when we were hungry and she took care of us when we were sick. People there often shared their experiences with God. They prayed for people’s requests and I saw God answer those prayers. I saw people, including myself, change their bad habits. Mom gave me new life. Without her, I might not have come to know the Lord.”
NORMA’S SIMPLE STRATEGIES
When young men and women come together, problems sometimes arise. “If I noticed that there might be some problems, I would tell the persons our house rules,” Norma remembers. Couples were not allowed to be by themselves without other people around. “But I never kicked anyone out,” she adds.
There were problems from outside, too. A Thai pastor thought Norma was stealing his members. A missionary thought she was trying to pull people out of the church. Later, when he saw these young people becoming church leaders, the missionary apologized. Prayer, obedience and love were Norma’s simple strategies. While students shared the gospel downstairs, Norma would go upstairs to pray, inviting a few others to join her. “I was listening to the inner voice of the Lord regarding what he would like me to be or to do,” she says. “As a midwife, I have delivered only a few babies, but I have had the privilege of seeing many Thai children born in the Lord.”
When we allow God to use us, he can use not only our strengths but also our deficiencies.
Chaiyun Ukosakul is a Thai and serves as an equipper/consultant in leadership, interpersonal relationship and cross-cultural communication. He is a faculty member at the Haggai Institute.
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