A matriarch, a passion, and the gospel

Dan Dyck
February 25, 2014
Mennonite Church Canada
Tom Poovong, Phimchanok, Joseph, and Christine Poovong
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Tom Poovong’s passion for sharing the gospel was first fuelled by his mother, a women he describes as deeply spiritual and abundantly generous.

Tom was just 15 years old when his parents and seven siblings immigrated to Calgary, Alta. from Laos in Nov. 1980. In those early years, his mother, Bouying Poovong, would trundle her children onto a bus each weekend and commute to downtown Calgary in search of a Buddhist temple. Not finding one, they attended a Catholic church for a time.

She eventually met some Mennonites via connections with other Laotian immigrants. The family initially began attending First Mennonite Church in Calgary. As a teen, Poovong recalls how a faithful church member with a station wagon would pick up the large family on Sunday mornings.

The more the Poovong family learned about Jesus, the more deeply they became involved in the church, says Tom. He has since studied at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Fort Worth, Tex., been in ministry with the Lao Mennonite Church, led Bible study groups, served on the refugee committee at Trinity Mennonite Church, started a house church, worked at an MCC Thrift store, owned and managed convenience store franchises, and installed granite countertops.

But much changed over the last year. In the summer of 2013, Tom and his wife Christine Poovong accepted a Mennonite Church Canada church planting assignment in Thailand, where Christine grew up. They are currently settling there with their one year old son, Joseph, and recently adopted 3 year old daughter, Phimchanok.

Both Tom and Christine cite their families as inspirations for their faith. When Tom was a child in Laos, his parents owned a small restaurant located along a major transportation route. His mother gave him the job of ensuring a container by the front door of the restaurant remained full of drinking water  so travellers could quench their thirst at any time – even when the restaurant was closed. Today, Tom calls his mother an evangelist. At aged 74, she has travelled back to Laos several times to share God’s message of love with anyone who will listen. On her first trip back, she personally financed the drilling of a well in her home village.

Christine, who also has six biological siblings, grew up as an adopted child of Canadian missionary parents in Thailand, Al and Terry Purvis. In addition to the Purvis’ biological family, they adopted numerous children, adding a total of 32 brothers and sisters to Christine’s family. The Purvis’ opened El Shaddai children's home in Thailand in 1982 in response to an influx of orphans resulting from the Vietnam war.

“The most important [thing in life] is to obey God’s call,” said Tom of his desire to plant a church in Thailand. “When a person receives something so big and sometimes even confusing, we cannot escape God’s call. My experience of moving from a war torn country and getting to know many God-loving people in the Mennonite community was really something for me. Growing up in two cultures, it seems like God was constantly calling on me to bring good news to the people.”

The couple, now married for 15 years, is excited to work with Mennonite Church Canada to help form new Anabaptist Christian communities northeast Thailand.  The Poovongs are now based in Khon Kaen, about 90 kms from where former Mennonite Church Canada workers Pat and Rad Houmphan established the first Anabaptist congregations in Borabu and Ban Daeng. Key to the process will be small business and economic development, and building relationships with other Mennonite/Anabaptist groups in Thailand.

The Poovongs are delighted to receive prayer and financial support for this ministry: https://donate.mennonitechurch.ca/project/Poovong.