Dr. Wayne Sehmish was pastor of the Good Shepherd Baptist Church for twelve years. Then he felt God’s call to Thailand to train national pastors and reach the lost. He spoke with The Baptist Voice about his unusual calling, his family, and their new ministry.
What has shaped your passion for people?
I think for me I have a continuing awareness of the grace of God in my life. I was a rough product. My family was not saved. I reflect on how God has worked patiently with me, even when I was zealous without knowledge, particularly in my early years. Because I feel very much aware of that, I want to extend the same mercy to others.
There was a lot of trauma in my life, but those experiences have softened me to understand that everyone has hurts. Sin is always sin, but I understand that many things are an outworking of people’s pain. We want to correct the sin, but with compassion. When people have strong compassion, it is usually because their own hearts have been broken.
How did the church respond when you announced that you were leaving for Thailand?
People didn’t want me to go, but they were not surprised. They had seen it lead up to that. God provided a good pastor, a young man whom I had trained in the church, Nathan Lloyd, who is doing a great job now. I always believed that if God was in it, then it would be a win for the church and a win for Thailand. The day we told the church was still a very sad day. People cried, and I was sad. I loved the people of Good Shepherd Baptist Church, and I still love them. If I am ever blessed to have a church like that again, it would be special.
Were there people who misunderstood your decision?
Most were supportive, but one or two questioned the decision. A dear man whom I love said to me, “Don’t go. You’re leaving the will of God. What about us?” But I think that was just his pain. He didn’t want to lose me. He came back afterward and said, “Pastor, I’m sorry,” and we prayed together.
I think people questioned it because that is not the normal thing to do—to walk away from a church of that influence. When you make a decision like that, it is easier to look back and say, “I can really see the hand of God in it.” You don’t always see it as clearly in the beginning.
How did your family react to the move?
I gave our two oldest children the option of staying in Australia or coming with us. They really agonized over it. It was particularly painful for my oldest son. He had grown up with me in the church. Every Sunday morning he and I would have breakfast in my office before I preached.
I will never forget driving up the street to the airport. He was standing on the sidewalk looking at us in disbelief with tears rolling down his face. It was a very hard time for him. He had to adjust to a new pastor. He was almost embittered toward Thailand, thinking, “You have taken my family and my life.” If I had to do it again, I would have taken him with us.
How has missions in Australia changed over the years?
Years ago, our independent Baptist churches were dominated by American missionaries. I remember when I first went into the ministry, I attended a pastors’ meeting where sixteen of the eighteen pastors were American missionaries. It put something in me and I thought, “This has to change. We [Australians] need to be leading our churches.” Missionaries need to get a mindset to train nationals, hand over the churches, and move on to do it again.
Tell us about Thailand.
We have been there nearly three years. We have converts and are working with local churches and pastors there. Missionaries have been going to Thailand for about 200 years, but with respect to the sacrifices of those who have gone before, there is not a lot to see for all of the labor. Right now, the population is about 96% Buddhist and 3% Muslim. They have been very resistant to missionary endeavors. There is a handful of Baptist churches in Thailand for a population of sixty million, and most of those are small and struggling.
There are not that many missionaries in Thailand, but out of those who are there, I estimate about 40% don’t work with Thai people. They work with Burmese people on the border or in printing. Our goal is to work to set up a training place where we can train men and send them out to plant churches. I think God is going to do something there, and I appreciate people praying about that.