Since 2012, Christians in Pakistan have been violently persecuted by Islamic terrorists and also from local police, who should be protecting them. With nowhere safe to hide, many fled for their lives, leaving their country with the hope of applying for refugee status and resettling somewhere safe. To register as a refugee, they must contact a UNHRC office, but not every country has one. There is such an office in Thailand and it is relatively close to Pakistan, so asylum seekers from Pakistan have been coming to Thailand, so much so that there are now about, 3,000 to 5,000 of them living in Bangkok.
Initially, they come on a tourist visa as there is no special visa class for asylum seekers. They can apply straight away with the UNHCR for refugee status, but their tourist visa only lasts 90 days and the UN takes three to five years to process their cases. During this time, they must wait in Thailand, close by the UN office, as they may be called at any time for an interview on the same day. A work visa is also a possibility, if they can find the right company to both employ them and sponsor the roughly $1,000 paperwork to process the work visa; a very slim few are the lucky ones who have been able to do this.
The rest are illegal immigrants after their 90-day tourist visa expires and therefore subject to harsh imprisonment if they are caught. Its a difficult gap in the legal system, one which several Thai foundations are seeking to amend. So, it’s out of the fire and into the frying pan as their troubles are far from over.
God saw this trouble coming and made provision for His people long before they even left their homes. He sent another Pakistani Christian ahead of them to prepare the way, a man named Mark.
Mark grew up in Pakistan in a family that followed many religions and had strong beliefs in the demonic. Local residents often came to them for healing or other supernatural requests and as a child he accompanied his grandmother to grave sites to draw supernatural power from the dead.
When he was a young teenager, his older brother was struck with paralysis and neither their family nor any other witch doctors were able to heal him. An Assembly of God pastor came through their area preaching the gospel. He prayed for Mark’s brother, and he was completely healed and restored.
Several months later, Mark found himself at a Christian crusade where he again heard the gospel preached. Already knowing a lot about spiritual power, he prayed and asked Jesus to prove his power. Jesus did and not once, but twice Mark found himself on the floor under the power of God.
Mark was radically transformed by this encounter. Shortly afterwards, he took over the leading of a local church, preaching for the first time at the age of 15. He preached to larger and larger congregations in Pakistan, but God had another plan for him and in 2005 God led him to move to Thailand. So Mark moved to Thailand, but after being there for only a few months, he endured a severe trial. The agent he had trusted with his visa paperwork defrauded him, which left him with an invalid visa and landed him in a small Thai prison. He did his time and was able to be released, but God had allowed it to prepare him for something much bigger. When many Pakistani Christians started arriving in Bangkok fleeing persecution, Mark was already there running a small fellowship as part of a larger church. Seeing his fellow countrymen fleeing persecution he took up the call to pastor them.
Pastor Mark has now baptised over 150 people in water and seen many more baptised in the Holy Spirit as well. Their faith is growing, and for many of them, three or more years in on the journey, they are closer to God than they have ever been before.
Pastoring a church of refugees is not easy, but to make it more difficult, he has only a few financial supporters and takes odd jobs here and there to get by, completely trusting God and living by faith. God’s plan actually makes a lot of sense as his congregation is also ‘living by faith’ because it is very difficult to legally find work. Being in the same situation as them, he is well placed to lead them.
Three years ago, Pastor Mark married a woman from New Zealand named Felicity. Their wedding was a complete testimony of Gods faithfulness and favor upon His people. When they decided to get married, neither of them had much money. In fact, they were unsure if they could even marry at all! Yet after prayer and seeking council from elders in their lives, they decided to not only go forward, but to believe God was going to highly favor their wedding. So, Mark booked a 5-star riverfront hotel in Bangkok with a buffet dinner.
While doing the initial booking, the hotel straight away gave him a $6,000 discount on the cost and accepted his small deposit – the gates of favor were open! Despite fear creeping up at the last minute that they wouldn’t have the money, the wedding went ahead with many guests coming, including people from many different countries. Mark and Felicity received many monetary gifts, but the next morning as they went to close the account they were still quite short on the bill. Knowing this, they approached the counter in faith knowing God would supply. At just that exact time, one of the guests who had also stayed overnight saw them there and handed his credit card to the clerk, offering to cover anything that was left over. Little did he know, Mark didn’t have enough money to cover the shortfall! So, Mark and Felicity enjoyed a 5-star wedding with no debt. Then they boarded a plane for their honeymoon, which was also gifted by a friend. On the way back home from their honeymoon, there was an issue with one of the tickets and the airline upgraded both of them to business class! The favor of God was very clearly on their marriage and lives.
Mark continued to pastor the church he had started, despite very little offering money coming from his congregation, which was not even enough to cover the church expenses, let alone his salary. But being a man of faith, he pressed on and God continued to supply. Often people come and give him an envelope of money, even people he doesn’t know. Sometimes money appears in his bank account and he doesn’t know where it has come from. Other times, money has even appeared inside his bible when he needs it. God always provides!
Mark’s vision is to esteem, grow, and encourage those who have been entrusted to him. He has now founded Revive Thailand Ministries and often invites other preachers from the US, UK and India to minister to his congregation and encourage them. In November 2016, he invited two Indian pastors and worship leaders from India. Not moved by the little he saw in his hands, he saw what God wanted to do and moved accordingly. In Thailand, you do not need a large deposit, so he was able to book their flights and the hall for the meeting all in faith, with no idea how the full amount due would come in.
Pastors Raman and Shamey from India flew to Bangkok and the meeting hall was completely full for three days with around 300 people in attendance, singing praises to God, listening to the Word being preached, and being greatly encouraged. Since most of them are unable to work or even in hiding, in the natural their future appears uncertain, so coming together and worshipping God was incredibly encouraging and edifying for them. Each day they took an offering and they gave sacrificially, so much so that by the end of the event they had collected $3,000! However the budget was $4,000 thus leaving a $1,000 shortfall.
Pastor Mark believes strongly in the principle of sowing and reaping, so at the end of the event despite what the budget showed he blessed the two pastors with a love offering, leaving himself with an even larger deficit!
Going home that night he prayed and called on the name of Jesus to provide the money. God answered and the next morning he awoke with an email of money pledged from overseas. Later that day more came in and after only a couple of days, everything was taken care of! God had provided all they needed to hold the event and to honor their guest speakers with generous gifts also!
As I have walked alongside Mark for several years, his faith has often come across as reckless. I have often struggled to even have faith enough to believe with him while we pray together. And yet, time and time again I have seen how God backs him up and he is not left hanging. Slowly but surely, I too am also developing this kind of ‘reckless’ faith that moves when God leads without looking at physical resources or trying to balance the budget. This kind of faith draws people and inspires them. This is the kind of faith that gives generously, sowing before reaping, knowing God will bless and make a way.
We talk about the end times and the great amount of faith we are going to need in those times to survive without the mark of the beast. In fact in those times ahead we will all be refugees without the legal right to work. Thus I believe the Pakistani Christians are demonstrating to us all right now the kind of faith we are going to need in the season ahead.
In addition to running the church, Mark has setup a small home school in his house for some of the Children who are unable to attend Thai schools. He has now employed a teacher to teach them and they are all growing both in knowledge and faith in God.
Revive Church is holding another conference in two weeks time with Pastor Subhash from India, who now lives in the UK. The entire community is really looking forward to this event, especially this year as many refugees are in their fourth year of waiting to be resettled. Again, the entire program is funded with faith. As I pray with Mark this week, we wait expectantly to see how God is going to bring in the finances.