It touched my heart
By Denise Poon | Thailand in Asia Oriental
“It touched my heart,” PbeeMai says.
It’s one of his constant refrains, and when he says it, he puts his hand to his heart in a slightly dramatic fashion and smiles, shaking his head and making a face as if he’s really touched or just goofing off. It’s a little bit of both – PbeeMai is equal parts sincerity and lightheartedness.
In this case, the person who "touched his heart" was Brian, an American who did campus outreach at the university PbeeMai attended. According to PbeeMai, Brian reached out in a special way to the students within the department of physical education, which included PbeeMai.
“I was impressed with Brian,” PbeeMai says. “He invited us into his home, and that really touched my heart. I was surprised – I felt like I was part of a family.”
It is rare in Thai culture to be invited into someone’s home, but Brian regularly opened his home to a group of about ten of the P.E. students to eat and hang out.
“The students in the P.E. department were the hardest group of students to reach,” PbeeMai says. “In other departments, there were students coming to faith, but not with the P.E. students, because they’re prideful and don’t think they need it.”
PbeeMai says he thought that way too.
“I was very proud. I always wanted to be the best at football,” he said. “I was also angry and when I played, I was easily upset.”
He was also like any other twenty-year-old: looking for validation from his peers, wanting to be well-liked and popular. But he saw something different – something perhaps even worthwhile – in the way Brian welcomed students into his home and built relationships with them. Brian played futsal with the P.E. students and shared about Jesus and the gospel during their breaks – breaks that were only five minutes, but no one really paid attention.
“I didn’t really pay attention to Brian either,” says PbeeMai, “but I did hear what he would say. He talked about how God sees people as valuable, how every person has worth.”
Though it wasn’t as immediate, this message would also touch PbeeMai’s heart and gradually become more real in his life. He began to go to church and saw the love in the community as he spent more time with Christians. But he couldn’t shake his old habits: going out to nightclubs, drinking, things that he did with his peers in order to fit in and be accepted. He describes it like having a delicious cake in front of you that you know you shouldn’t eat.
He also wanted to “be good,” he said. This idea of "being good" is common in Thai Buddhist culture, where doing good deeds are valued for boosting one’s “merit” for their next life, and where karma shapes one’s actions.
PbeeMai talks about one night in particular, after being out and drinking. It was two in the morning, but he hadn’t had enough yet and wanted to keep going. He somehow wound up on the side of the street, sitting on the sidewalk and feeling like he was fighting a battle with himself for who he wanted to be and the overwhelming sense of helplessness that he couldn’t do it.
“I wanted to be good,” PbeeMai says. “I wanted a savior. I knew I couldn’t be a good person and get to heaven on my own.”
That realization pushed him to turn to Jesus, and today he works with Sports Friends, coordinating the ministry in the Bangkok and Isaan region in Thailand. He checks in with people who have gone through Sports Friends' Basic Training progam, continues building relationships, and participates in camps and training activities.
“I love the kids, and I feel so encouraged by the coaches. Some of these kids don’t even have soccer shoes at some of the camps we do, but they still come,” he says.
It's something else that touches his heart: seeing the relationships that sports can foster. PbeeMai knows that athletes can be arrogant and angry, but in his work now he sees young people who are humble enough to want to learn, even without proper equipment, and coaches who are patient and generous with those around them.
PbeeMai left behind several parts of his life when he began to know more about Jesus, and he grew in deeper relationship with Him. The anger and pride, the need for popularity, the nights out drinking and partying--all those were replaced by better things. But other parts have remained, like his love for football and his dedication to the game.
“I had never thought that there would be a way for me to serve God through sports. I had no idea," he says.
And that – loving a God who sees and knows the ways we are talented and can serve him – is something that touches PbeeMai’s heart.
Do you have sports skills God could use in overseas ministry? Contact SIM today to find out about opportunities to serve.