BANGKOK, Thailand (BP)--It's Sunday morning and Arti, 29, smiles as he teaches Bible verses to a class full of children at the Church of Blessing in Bangkok, Thailand. Slight in build and neatly dressed, he doesn't look like a man who spent five years in prison for a drug conviction.
But Arti shares a past with many of the individuals attending this church today. Like him, most here are former prisoners who served time for drug offenses or worse. They also are now followers of Jesus Christ.
Arti found his way to Christ through the House of Blessing, a halfway house that shares the same grounds with the Church of Blessing. But it was a journey that began within prison walls when a Christian aunt brought him a Bible and devotional materials.
"The reason that I came and stayed here was that I had no place to live ," Arti recalls. "And my auntie said that this is a good place for me to start.
"My first time here I never believed that this place could help me and give me the hope."
The halfway house and church are part of the Christian Prison Ministry Foundation of Thailand. Soonthorn Soonthorntarawong, director of the foundation, started both to meet the needs of former prisoners. Because of their past, former prisoners often become outcasts in Thai society and are rejected even by their families.
Both the halfway house and church grew out of a prison ministry begun in 1971 by International Mission Board missionary Jack Martin. In the early 1980s Soonthorn joined Martin in the work and eventually assumed leadership of the ministry when Martin and his wife Gladys retired in 1999.
Like others who live at the halfway house, Arti's spiritual life took root and flourished in the Christian environment.
"While I was here I was learning many, many Scriptures and many people shared God with me," Arti says. "I studied the Bible with the group here until I was sure and believed that God loved me and Jesus died for me. That made me decide to walk with Christ and give glory to Him in my life."
After he accepted Christ, Arti was baptized and then married Siriporn, another former prisoner at the halfway house. He has begun seminary classes and the couple has a young daughter.
Looking back on his former life, Arti says he can see the steps along which God guided him to his new faith and life. He insists that all good things that have come to him have come through God's grace, not through his own abilities.
"Since I learned about God and feel His grace in my heart, I believe that without His grace I have no today.
"I want to walk with Christ and give glory to Him in my life."
Released by the International Mission Board communications office. Thailand is the focus of the 2010 International Mission Study available from WMU (www.wmu.org) or LifeWay Christian Stores.
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