A 35-year friendship between a former Laotian refugee turned church planter and a 92-year old Minnesota man has stood the test of time and distance.
In 1980, Ed Winters was part of a committee at Pease (Minn.) Christian Reformed Church that helped sponsor Laotian Tom Chaleunsok and his family when they fled Thailand. Winters and his wife, Sophia (now deceased), became like grandparents to the Chaleunsok family. “We were always excited and happy to see Grandpa Ed,” said Chaleunsok, “He, the church congregation, and community taught, helped, and cared for us while we lived in the area.”
After living in Pease for five years, the Chaleunsok family relocated to the Twin Cities area. Chaleunsok graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon in 2005. He felt called to be a church planter in Thailand, a country dominated by Buddhism. “I never forget that it was Pease Church that sponsored us out of a refugee camp,” said Chaleunsok. “I wanted to spread the gospel and teachings to those in need back in Thailand and Laos. With guidance and blessings, I am now able to do that.”
When Winters and Chaleunsok were reunited in Minnesota last fall, Winters said, “[Tom] begged me to come [to Thailand]. I am 92 years old and I wasn’t going to go alone.” This past spring, Winters, with his two daughters, traveled to Thailand to see Chaleunsok’s church.
“In Thailand, I am the head pastor [of] Nongkhai Lutheran church, and I teach those who also would like to do Lord’s work,” said Chaleunsok. “The best part is teaching the younger kids. There are about 48 children who take part in our classes and Bible schools.”
“They have Buddha all over [Thailand],” said Winter. “When I got home and I sat on my bed, I cried for the people because they don’t have a chance. However [Chaleunsok’s] people were accepting Christ.”