The Chief Apostle in Thailand

On his visit to Thailand, the Chief Apostle will be taking a trip into the future. This is because the Buddhist calendar is several years ahead of the Christian calendar. But before we look at the events coming up this weekend, we will take a journey back in time to the beginnings of the New Apostolic Church in Thailand.

When Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider conducts the divine service on Sunday in Chiang Mai, Thailand, he will be ahead of his time by 543 years. This is because around 94 per cent of all people in Thailand are Buddhists. And they use a calendar that began with the death of their religious founder Buddha Siddharta Gautama in the year 543 BC. The Thai lunar calendar is based on the sun and moon. Holy days are calculated by the moon’s phases. As Wednesday is split into morning and afternoon in the Buddhist calendar, the week has eight days. 2024 is the year 2567 in Thailand.

Fortunately, the days and months now correspond to the Gregorian calendar, which makes international relations easier. The Gregorian calendar, which is based on the course of the sun, begins with the year of the birth of Jesus Christ and dates back to Pope Gregory XIII.

Situated on the elephant’s ear

The Chief Apostle will conduct a divine service in Thailand’s seventh largest city, Chiang Mai, on 17 March. The city is in the northern part of the country, a mountainous region, and is located on the elephant’s ear. Because when you look at a map and with a little imagination, Thailand could be taken to be roughly shaped like an elephant’s head. Chiang Mai is the economic and cultural centre of the northern region. It is located on the Ping River. The city has a population of about 130,000. The urban area with all the quarters and neighbourhoods has a combined population of around 1.2 million.

It is not only Thailand’s lunar calendar that seems futuristic to other cultures. Thailand is an industrial country and is highly developed economically. The country is well ahead in indices such as the Global Competitiveness Index and the Index of Economic Freedom.

Difficult beginnings

Back to the past: it is believed that before the arrival of the Thai in the eleventh century, Hinduism, Shivaism, and Mahayana Buddhism were predominant in what is now Thailand. Most of the population is now Buddhist. The state protects and promotes Buddhism, but also all other religions as well as religious freedom.

This was also the experience of the first New Apostolic people who began to testify of their faith in Thailand in 1979. In the 1987 Yearbook, Apostle Ernst Horn reports on missionary journeys to the country. Many were very successful, but they also came across difficulties.

For example, when he wanted to seal some children on a normal weekday in February 1986. He noticed that not all the children that were to be sealed were in the divine service. The then Evangelist learnt that a teacher in the local school had spoken negatively about the Church and had not excused them from classes.

He said: “The king has decreed religious freedom for this country. Everyone can believe what they want and practice the religion they want.” Although this worked, it was too late for the divine service, as the Apostle had to move on to make urgent pastoral care visits the next day.

Development in the countryside and in the church

One of the first to spread the teachings of the New Apostolic Church in Thailand was Apostle Fred Wolf from Germany. Already as a teenager, he enjoyed travelling to faraway countries, including Thailand. After training in agricultural engineering technology, he applied to the German Development Aid Institute and began training young people in Thailand in agriculture.

He had been a Deacon in Germany, but there was no church in Thailand where he could practise his faith. When he asked what he should do, the answer from his ministers was simple: start a congregation. He received pastoral letters and consecrated wafers. Whenever possible, he travelled through Thailand with Apostle Ernst Horn.

“At some point, somewhere in the mountains in the north of the country, he ordained me a Priest,” Apostle Wolf later reported in an interview. From then he was able to conduct divine services—at first for himself and then later also with his wife, Sunisa Ann Tateyapum. “The next step was to attend divine services in the country’s capital,” he later said in an interview. “This meant a ten-hour bus trip there and a ten-hour trip back. We were a handful of members in the service.”

New terminology for a new faith

After his contract expired, Fred Wolf wanted to return to Germany, but Apostle Horn did not want to let him go: “You can’t go home, we need you. I need you in Chiang Mai.” Fred Wolf had already packed his bags because he no longer had a job, and then he received a phone call with a job offer in Chiang Mai.

Fred Wolf and Ernst Horn travelled throughout Thailand to spread the New Apostolic faith. Fred Wolf spoke Thai, the official language, which made many things easier. But not everything was easy, especially when it came to explaining our teaching. “Some of the vocabulary used in our Church does not exist in Thai,” he said at the time. “For example, if I wanted to explain the ministerial levels in the Church to someone, I had to invent words.”

The brothers and sisters in the country are expecting the Chief Apostle on Sunday. The divine service will be transmitted throughout the region, which falls under District Apostle Edy Isnugroho.

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