Chris and Dora Barbee joined God on his mission to make disciples on their first date. While most couples worry about moving too fast, Chris asked Dora to join him on a mission trip to Ghana West Africa. She said yes.
“I think that is one of the primary goals of short term missions is for the ‘goer’ to experience life from a different vantage point so God can ‘shake you up!’” Chris said.
Shake them up, He did. The two married a year later. Today, they live in a government-run, welfare boarding school in Roi Et, Thailand. They teach English as a second language, give music lessons, lead worship services and work alongside the Thai people. But most importantly, they develop intentional, incarnational relationships with their neighbors and students.
“We are not here to present just another religion, but we pray that Christ uses us to display his love and power to those that we serve,” Chris said.
The relationships born in the classroom are nurtured after school as the kids show up to hang out, receive tutoring, or study the Bible. Two years ago, interested students started to gather for worship, fellowship and Jesus stories on Wednesday nights. Through this group, Pen experienced Christ’s love for the first time. She wanted her friends to know what Jesus had done for her.
“Pen, not us, started inviting her friends to come and hear stories about Jesus at our home on Wednesday nights,” Chris said. Now, that group has grown to 15-35 students who are hearing about Jesus and sharing about His power in their lives. Most, however, hesitate to call themselves Christians to avoid being ostracized by their families. Professing faith in the power of Jesus allows them to maintain healthy family and friend relationships, while still showing the love of Christ to others.
“That is our hope,” Chris said. “Not that we create more Christians, but that we help people to see the love and power of Jesus. We want to walk alongside them as they pursue Christ in their lives!”
Roi Et city is the provincial capital of the poorest province in the Issan region of Thailand. Yet, the city is central to neighboring villages and houses the largest school served by the Thai-based English foundation, the Muang Thai Foundation. “We wanted to serve in a place where the Good News of God was not just good, but was still news,” Chris said, borrowing a quote from Max Wilkins, the current president of The Mission Society and an Asbury Seminary Alum.
Their work with these children, both academic and spiritual, allows the kids to pursue their dreams with further schooling at universities. God is opening doors to opportunities that these children may not have had otherwise, and they are being affirmed in their value and acceptance as children of God.
Chris and Dora serve under The Mission Society in Norcross, Ga. However, their vision is to always serve alongside native Thai leaders. Currently, they work alongside Drs. Nantachai and Ubolwan Mejudhon, both former Buddhists who have been following Jesus for many decades. “We believe this ministry should always be driven by God and spearheaded by Thai leaders, so we will continue to walk along with them and support them as long as God allows us to,” Chris said.
Chris Barbee shares advice for those serving in a cross-cultural ministry, whether overseas or one that takes you out of your cultural ‘comfort zone’ into another:
- Culture shock is not a one-time thing. Please don’t think you are a failure, or not-spiritual enough, or any other lie like that if there are new cultural rubs that continue to crop up and cause you difficulties throughout your ministry. Go to God in prayer and depend on Him to strengthen you!
- People will look at you differently and talk to you differently because you are a professional minister! The whole idea that “ministers and missionaries are lifted up on a pedestal” is very true and very dangerous for our own self-perception. Remind those that you encounter that we are all the same; we are all broken jars of clay slowly being reformed and reshaped by the same potter!
- Be vulnerable! I truly believe that one of the greatest reasons that God has blessed us with such faithful supporters and partners in ministry back in the States is because we have been willing to share about our struggles with life and ministry. We all feel more connected to people that we can relate with, and it also makes the ongoing sanctification process that God is doing in our lives more tangible. Be yourself, and then people will see the amazing God that is moving through you!
- Take a Sabbath, and don’t let ministry ever encroach on that sacred space. Also, don’t ever carry guilt for taking rest and vacation. If you are not being filled to overflowing with the joy of Christ, than you won’t have anything to give. Remember, our Jesus brings life, joy and freedom, and if we don’t live into that, nobody will receive that from us!