We believe there are great things ahead for Highland as we join God in restoring the world by combatting trafficking in Southeast Asia. The team at Highland overseeing this vision initiative will be praying about and investigating missionaries and organizations with whom we can potentially partner. We anticipate many opportunities for Highland members to join in this work of making disciples, training local church leaders, addressing root causes of trafficking, and ministering to those suffering from this horrendous practice.
While there will be new partnerships forged in the coming years, we are excited to announce that Highland has recently hired Ryan Binkley, along with his wife Ning and three children, to serve as a missionary in Thailand. The Binkleys have served as church planters in Phayao, Thailand (former teammates of Derran and Ann Reese) for six years and are about to move to the big city of Chiang Mai. This move creates great opportunities for Ryan and Ning to help jumpstart this new initiative. I asked Ryan a few questions about this new partnership. Here are his responses.
What excites you about the Restore the World vision in general and the partnership between Highland and your family in particular?
There are two things that most excite me about Highland’s vision. First, I love that Highland’s vision to restore the world is an outgrowth of what Highland is doing locally to restore Abilene. The emphasis on proclaiming the gospel in its fullness globally, in both word and deed, is a natural extension of Highland’s own efforts to manifest God’s kingdom in a holistic way. I look forward to seeing the creative and tangible ways that Highland will bring the light of Christ into the darkness of each overseas location. I am also looking forward to Highland’s emphasis on partnership with churches around the world. For too long now American sending churches have had a very patriarchal relationship with the churches and national leaders they support. Highland is clearly committed to being partners and, just as importantly, learners with churches around the globe. In missions circles we talk a lot about partnership between Western churches and young overseas churches but rarely see it come to fruition. Highland’s vision outlines practical for ways for true partnership and co-learning to happen.
As far as our particular context in Thailand, I am excited about being a connector between Highland and the churches/non-profits that are combating human trafficking. The problem is prevalent in SE Asia, and it is overwhelming to think about the complexity of it. If there is one issue in SE Asia that cries out for Christians to respond with compassion, it is this. I am excited to facilitate Highland’s efforts to bring restoration to communities here who are devastated by human trafficking.
Your family is about to move to Chiang Mai. How do you envision your ministry changing and evolving with this move?
In Phayao, a city with few churches, our primary task was to create Christian community and invite others to join. To use a metaphor, we were trying to cut through a thick jungle in order to make a clearing. In Chiang Mai, the land has already been cleared and foundations for the church have been laid. My role will now become more focused on equipping. I hope to primarily work with established congregations, discipling and training leaders. Along with my work to connect Highland with organizations fighting trafficking, this will be a significant change from my ministry in Phayao.
Christianity is still a minority religion in Thailand, and even after over 200 years of Western missionary presence Thailand remains less than 1 percent Christian. In some ways this makes Thailand unique from other SE Asia countries that have been more directly opposed to Christian missionaries. There is legal freedom for Thai people to practice any religion, yet Christians in Thailand face immense social pressure to remain loyal to their Thai identity, which is wrapped up in Buddhism and love for the Thai king. This pressure is one of the many obstacles that has made the church grow slowly here. Currently, with the Thai king in poor health, Thailand is on the brink of significant political and social change that might provide an opportunity for the church to flourish like never before. Pray that God will work in these changes to open up the hearts of the Thai people.
What is one thing Highland can learn from God’s people living out the gospel in Thailand?
Being a Christian in Thailand comes with significant costs. Few Thais follow Jesus without suffering socially or even financially. The words of Jesus in Luke 14 about the costs of discipleship are starkly relevant for Thais who consider following him. In Abilene, we rarely consider how our faith might be at odds with our social context or being a resident of the Bible Belt. However, I believe that underlying tension still exists, and careful reflection can reveal those areas to us. The Thai Christian experience can serve as example of how Highland can choose faithfulness even when it results in suffering.
After serving as a missionary for many years, what is one of the great joys and one of the great struggles you experience as you serve in this way?
The struggle of serving as a missionary, particularly in Thailand, is I rarely feel like I am accomplishing anything, especially if success is defined by conversion numbers. During those times when ministry is particularly hard, there is little to hold on to as a reminder that God is working. On my better days, I trust that God is working around me and through me despite the evidence, but it is just as often that I doubt my own calling and wonder what God is up to.
The flip side of that is when someone does decide to follow Jesus or expresses even a mustard seed speck of faith, it is a miracle. The joy that comes with seeing people come to love and worship Jesus, especially in their uniquely Thai ways, is second to none. These instances are awesome reminders of God’s faithfulness and people come to love and worship Jesus, especially in their uniquely Thai ways, is second to none. These instances are awesome reminders of God’s faithfulness and presence.