Trip to Thailand yields insights for Lutz college student

When Hunter Rasmussen was a 10th grader at Berean Academy in Lutz, he began learning biblical Greek — and that changed his life.

“I just loved it. I thought it was the most incredible thing,” said Rasmussen, now a 20-year-old student at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. “That made me excited not just about biblical languages, but language in general. I just felt so convinced that this is what I am supposed to do.

Hunter Rasmussen’s village ‘sister’ Khwan presents him with some traditional fabric that was woven by hand. (Courtesy of Hunter Rasmussen)

Hunter Rasmussen’s village ‘sister’ Khwan presents him with some traditional fabric that was woven by hand.
(Courtesy of Hunter Rasmussen)

Rasmussen now takes linguistics classes at Covenant, where he majors in biblical studies with minors in missions and linguistics.

He began looking around last year for an opportunity to do a mission trip, an internship or to take linguistics classes during the summer. When representatives from Wycliffe Bible Translators USA came to Covenant to talk to students about an opportunity to work in Thailand, Rasmussen felt called to pursue it.

Wycliffe is an international organization that has worked for more than 70 years to translate the Bible into every language in the world. This Orlando-based nonprofit organization is named after John Wycliffe, who first translated the Bible into English in the late 1300s.

After hearing about Wycliffe’s Get Global program for college students, Rasmussen began seeking contributions to help him come up with the $4,000 he needed for the trip.

“I just shared with people in different communities that I’m associated with and in my churches, both home and here, and with people at school,” said Rasmussen, who is a member of First United Methodist Church of Lutz. “Lots of family and lots of church members and even some of my peers provided for me.”

Rasmussen spent three weeks in May in Thailand. He seized the opportunity to go to the Asian country, and said the trip yielded valuable insights.

“I think I got the affirmation out of it that God can use me in cross-cultural ministry,” he said. “It’s something I’m able to do.”

Rasmussen spent much of his time immersing himself in the culture of a Thailand village that’s so small, the people there go only by their first names.

When he and his team arrived to the rural village in a pickup truck, Rasmussen noticed many traditional wood homes built on stilts. There were more modern ones, too, with concrete foundations, such as the one where he stayed.

The food was spicy.

“The people group that we stayed with is known for having food that’s even spicier than Thai food (is generally). It was pretty hot, but it was also delicious,” he said. “I loved the food. God really blessed us because nobody on the team got sick at all, or were unable to handle it.”

The villagers there abide by the concept of eating locally produced foods.

“When it’s dinnertime, they’ll go and pick some mangoes from a tree, or grab some leaves from a bush, or pick off some roots, and you have dinner right there,” Rasmussen said. “There was a lot of fish and a lot of chicken.”

They also often gave people nicknames that were associated with food, added Rasmussen, who was given the nickname “Sticky Rice.”

“They named somebody else in our group, ‘Watermelon,’” Rasmussen added.

He noticed a big difference between the American way of life and the village culture when it came to how work is completed.

“They would definitely do work, and we helped them plow fields and catch fish and do things,” Rasmussen said. “But they do them as they need to be done. They don’t follow a strict work schedule.”

In general, he found the people of the village to be laid back and to esteem the values of comfort, convenience and fun.

As a student of linguistics, Rasmussen was fascinated by the fact that the villagers spoke a different language than mainland Thailand.

“Part of the trip is learning and realizing that language-learning and cultural-learning is not only foundational for Bible translations and foundational of ministry, but that language learning is itself a ministry,” he said.

Minority languages often are considered inferior by the nation at large, he explained. “So, by learning their language we show that their language is valuable and created by God,” Rasmussen said. “To be able to do Bible translation, you have to know a tongue.”

The college student said his trip to Thailand didn’t shatter any previously held misconceptions. He had been prepped well by the team leading the trip, he said, where they were told, “When you’re doing cross-cultural living and ministry, don’t expect anything.”

He followed their advice.

“I really tried not to expect anything and just to learn,” he said.

Rasmussen is interested in pursuing a future involved in Bible translation.

“Bible translation is what enables any other ministry,” he said. “That involves not only church planting, but literacy work. Then that opens the way for people to be able to improve their situation, like know more about health care and know more how to nourish themselves correctly and how to do agriculture better.

“Bible translation is also again affirming that God knows even these little languages that are only spoken by a few thousand people, and he values them as much as English, spoken by millions upon millions, or Thai, that’s spoken by the nation at large.”

Rasmussen intends to complete his degree at Covenant and pursue a master’s in linguistics, although he’s not sure where.

“I thought that I would be going to the Graduate Institute for Applied Linguistics, which is in Dallas, part of the International Linguistics Center,” he said.

That path is less certain now.

“Through this trip, I’ve learned there are other ways you can do linguistics schooling and also transition onto the field,” Rasmussen said.

He plans to find out more about those possibilities.

Published June 25, 2014

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