By Tom Holmes
On April 19, St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church will host a team from the Moradokmai Theater Community, which will perform a masked dance drama titled, "Lonely Tossakan."
The story, told by the masked dancers who are accompanied by traditional Thai instruments, is taken from The Ramakien, which is "one of the foundations of Buddhist Literature in Thailand, and is taught in every primary school" according to the website veda.wikidot.com.
The Ramakien is a class of literature somewhat like the stories from Greek mythology which many Westerners heard in school. According to Veda, it is the tale of the God Vishnu who came to earth in the form of a human named Rama "to punish the Yaksa Totsagan."
The Moradokmai Theatre Community and Homeschool is located in Patumthani, Thailand. The teachers there "use theater and performance to address illiteracy and support the development and survival needs of people in rural Thailand."
Students as young as 12 grow their own crops, cook their own food, build their own shelters and live a simple, communal way of life.
"Using a traditional and holistic applied approach to theater, they perform in costumes influenced by their native Thailand and incorporate an understanding of the temple, the music (including traditional instruments, movement and theater forms of the culture) and the practical use of storytelling in educating the performer and audience," according to the website.
Rev. Pongsak Limthongviratn is both the pastor of St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church on the north side of Forest Park and program director for Asian and Pacific Ministries in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The congregation he pastors is both a faith community and a cultural center for Thai people in the Chicago area. Members drive from as far as the Wisconsin border to the north, Palos Hills to the south and Bolingbrook in the western suburbs.
St. Paul Church holds a worship service every Sunday at 3 p.m., but they also serve a homemade Thai dinner after worship, provide housing for Thai students, hold badminton tournaments and host cultural events as a way of introducing their faith community to Thai people in the Chicago metro area, many of whom are not Christian.
Pastor Pongsak said the Thai congregation's approach to what some churches call evangelism is relational. Often, for example, it is university students who come to play badminton, and the Thai members simply welcome them into their "family" without condition. If they respond to this welcome by taking the next steps of coming to worship and eventually being baptized, fine, but, said Rev. Pongsak, they are included in the family no matter what they decide.
The Moradokmai event will begin at 7:30 p.m. on April 19 at St. Paul Thai Church, 7416 Dixon. There will be no charge for admission, but an offering will be taken which will be used to support the dance troupe.