In this second post, I wish to discuss the need for developing and implementing Biblical Counseling ministry (and the use of psychology responsibly) in the Asian contexts. I believe Western Christians have a valuable tool that Asian Christians are lacking. First, I will explain the need for trained Christian counselors in both fields of Bible and Psychology. Then I will share a few ideas on how we can use counseling in the church.
When I was teaching ESL at Suan Dok Temple here in Chiang Mai for Buddhist student-monks coming from Southeast Asian nations to study in the International English Program, I learned about the meditation retreats and camps which the temple conduct for Thais as well as for foreigners. I am curious as to how Buddhist meditation works for the sake of understanding it although I would not interested in learning it by actually practicing it. One reason is because I have met two Thais both who have said to me that they are Christians. They suggested to me that I should try meditation. I believe that in the case of these two individuals, they are not connected to a local body of Christ. They appear to me as nominal Christians who have not joined a church. I am sure that their understanding about meditation would be different if they had been connected to a church and if they had been fed the Word. In contrast, a few of the Christians who were Buddhist monks that I interviewed several years ago would totally oppose a believer practicing Buddhist meditation.
What is it about the Christian belief that Westerners — most who were brought up in a Christian community — find it unattractive? Why do they turn to Buddhism and flirt with meditation / contemplation? I am referring to the Western foreigners who are cultural Christians, i.e. “Buddhists-want-to-be.” Is Christianity not real and practical enough for them? Why is it about the psychology in Buddhism that Westerners find attractive? Why do they feel and think that Christianity has failed them? Whatever the reason may be, contemplation or Buddhist meditation is not the Way for the Asian Christians particularly those who were at one time devout Buddhists.
However, in my opinion there is a great weakness among Asian churches, especially here in Thailand and Burma based on my observation and experience. We are not “advanced” like the Western churches in psychology to utilize the science for advancing the Kingdom. As Christian mystics in the past re-defined “mysticism” from the original meaning of the term and have redirected it and applied it Biblically, so Asian churches can benefit greatly by using psychology within the boundary of the Scriptures to add another tool in practical theology.
When I was studying for my bachelor’s in Christian ministry in the States, I wanted to add Christian counseling as another major in my study. However, the time given for the student visa limited me from pursuing it. Also, at that time I thought that it would not be worth investing my time in the study and perhaps it would not be culturally practical in Burma or Thailand since I was planning to return to Asia for ministry. Time has changed. Two months ago I met a Burmese Christian lady who is interested in pursuing a study in Christian counseling. It is my belief that this generation of Christians in Burma is now beginning to see the benefit of Christian counseling. As one American Baptist pastor from Seattle goes to the Myanmar Institute of Theology in Yangon periodically to teach a seminar, the students there are beginning to have a greater appreciation for the use and the need for Biblical Counseling.
The Chiang Mai University students who are majoring in psychology are embracing and utilizing the discipline of Western secular mental health practice. As America has been faithful sending missionaries, it is also a leading nation exporting pseudo gospels. Psycho-Culture values are being dumped here in Asia and we live in a global village of shared ideas and values. Although mental care service in Asia is perhaps not as appreciated or highly recognized as in the West, this may change 30-50 years from now. If Christians in Asia do not provide Christian professional mental clinical health care, then Asian Christians in need of such service (even ordered by a doctor) may have only the secular professional health care providers to turn to.
In Seattle there are few cases of Karen refugees who are seeing a non-Christian psychiatrist and these Karens are on medication. The church leaders there are not acquainted with counseling. What I am stating here is that if the church is unable to provide the quality of support, then certainly some Christians will reach to the world expecting to get help either if it is by their own will or at another person’s suggestion. In addition, as the bond of the nucleus family weakens due to busy lifestyles, entertainment, and personal commitments (as Burma and Thailand are developing), the Christians might turn to some form of “therapy” to feel good spiritually. Moreover, Asians are less transparent to talk on sensitive topics. The real feelings are suppressed inside. This is unlike the West where verbal communication is highly encouraged. Incorporating Christian counseling would groom the present generation and the generations to follow to feel free to speak more openly about their struggle in a non-threatening environment. They should then get the spiritual support they need rather than be judged and feel ashamed.
The practical application is to begin by strengthen the family values in the church setting whether it is here in Asia or in developed countries. This could include more pastoral preaching sermon series on the topic of what a Christian family should look like. Also, home cells or care groups should be more student-centered so people can share what is on their hearts. Furthermore, there should be enrichment workshops hosted by churches. It is my desire that I can study professional Christian counseling in the future to serve Asian churches.