1978 was a year of special prayer throughout OMF for spiritual breakthrough in Thailand.
On January 14, Thailand’s Children’s Day, several OMF families left Manorom Hospital for an outing. On the way home their minibus was hit head-on by a truck. Five adults and seven children died instantly, including two whole families. Five more were seriously injured.
Though used to violence and losses in service in Thailand, this crisis was greater than any of us had been through.
To all affected the events are as vivid now as they were then. Time has not erased the pain of loss, nor the courage and spiritual fortitude of the survivors and grieving relatives.
Surpassing our inabilities to cope was the overwhelming reality of God’s enabling presence, and an assurance that what happened was under his loving sovereignty.
These impressions remain because I saw them up close as a personal friend of all who died. As the young, newly appointed OMF field leader in Thailand it was a crisis beyond my capacity to handle.
Questions flooded my mind: what could be said to the bereaved and the injured? Upper-most in my mind: Why had this tragedy happened? Why this waste? (Mark 14:4)
Like me, people asked ‘why?’ and many other questions, but amazingly with reverent trust and faith, rather than anger or dulled acceptance.
A surgeon whose wife and two daughters died but whose son survived, explained ‘God does not have to justify to me or give his reasons for what he has permitted.’
Another bereaved relative quoted Job ‘the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord’ (Job 1:21) and spoke of ‘the privilege of offering to the Lord our costliest treasures, namely our children’.
An injured mother shared God’s love with many saying: ‘God cocooned me in his love. He wouldn’t carelessly let this happen.’
To the question of whether this was spiritual warfare, and connected to the prayer for breakthrough, there were no simple answers. Spiritual attacks were relatively common in Thailand. But we all understood that ‘in the battle, the cross precedes the crown’: that suffering is a price to be paid and an honour in following Christ. One parent speaking of their loss and the cost of evangelism said ‘in Thailand we don’t count converts, we weigh them.’
There was puzzlement but never despair, and a note of hope throughout the events and beyond. The Lord’s comfort and reassurance was real and some of our friends were ‘home’ and in heaven.
God led volunteers to come and strengthen the depleted team. News of the accident moved a Thai paediatrician to serve at Manorom, the first Thai doctor to join the staff.
A memorial fund for the 12 who died also helped pay for an excellent site for a conference centre and campsite to serve churches in Central Thailand.
Latterly as I travelled around the world I met many whose lives had been touched by the book In His Time by the mother of a surgeon who died.
We sang then as now: ‘How good is the God we adore, our Faithful Unchangeable Friend’.
In 1978 David was Thailand Field Director. He went on to serve as General Director from 1991 to 2001.