Thailand: King’s funeral marks uncertain future

Thailand (MNN) – For over a year, Thailand’s citizens have dressed in black to mourn the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej who passed away on October 13 of last year. Yesterday, the nation began a five-day funeral to celebrate and honor their King. Today, he will be cremated in accordance with his Buddhist beliefs. The ceremony comes with a price tag of about 90 million dollars and is expected to draw a quarter of a million mourners while millions more watch the events remotely.

AMG International has work in the area, and so we spoke to Tasos Ioannidis of AMG to get some context.

He says, “It is a tradition in Thailand and the King is a very revered figure, especially King Bhumibol. He reigned for approximately 70 years and he was highly respected. His reign was a good reign, the people liked him a lot. And he’s revered almost as a god, one would say.”

According to Ionannidis, Bhumibol had a relatively stable reign and a great reputation. He was a unifying figure that the people of Thailand desperately needed, due to the shifting forms of the government.

King Bhumibol (Photo courtesy of Dinhin Rakpong-Asoke via Flickr:

“Outside of the monarchy of Thailand, there has been a tradition also of political instability. There have been a lot of changes in government over the years in Thailand. They have kind of gone from democratically elected governments to military regimes and it has kind of gone back and forth but one aspect that has not changed, and the person for whom there was always great respect, was the King.”

When Bhumibol passed away, his son, Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun ascended the throne and is expected to be crowned after the funeral is over.

And while he is the heir of a well-revered king, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding him.

Ionnidis explains, “The king who’s now taking over– there are more questions about his character. He has a reputation of living a life that was not the best, of being a playboy. So there are questions about his reign, how it will evolve, whether he will reign wisely.”

The other element which is creating uncertainty is the military regime currently in place. Ioannidis says this has been of particular concern for their ministry as well as other western-based ministries.

“Some things are becoming more difficult for specifically western Gospel workers. There are talks about visas becoming harder to get for people to go to Thailand to serve in some capacity. So all of these elements add uncertainty both in terms of what the political situation will be— how the King will reign–and also from a perspective of Christian ministries, what level of openness and freedom there’ll be to do Gospel work in Thailand.”

So far, nothing has changed for Christians in the country. However, they are a very tiny minority. There is a Muslim minority, as well, which is a bit bigger. The cultural dominance of Buddhism makes ministry in Thailand quite a challenge.

“The next few months and the next couple of years might be very interesting because there is a military regime in power right now and a new king who nobody is certain how he is going to act moving forward.”

Photo Courtesy AMG International

Fortunately, Christians can have confidence in times of uncertainty. That is because, while man cannot know the future, God does. That’s why we’re asking you to pray with us and AMG International.

“One way that we need the people to be praying is that the Lord will keep the doors open in Thailand, that the restrictions that are being considered or that are rumored will not take place,” Ioannidis says.

“Also be praying that the seed that is planted among Thai people will bear fruit. Again, it is a difficult place to minister and it takes time to develop relationships and share the Good News.”

Pray also for local and foreign Christians who are sharing the Gospel in Thailand. Pray that people would come to saving knowledge in Jesus Christ.

Ionnidis says AMG is prayerfully waiting and asking God to use recent events in Thailand to open doors to the Gospel in ways they never expected.

If you’d like to partner with some of AMG’s work in Thailand, click here.