Jamie and Lily Somerville are experienced missionaries, having served in Thailand for ten years, discipling young people. After returning to NZ to complete theological education and English study, they are preparing to head back to Thailand with NZCMS where they will serve with EmpowerAsia, an organisation that disciples young people for future Christian leadership in their communities. Their home church is St Martins and St James Anglican Church in Christchurch. Lily is Thai and comes from Buriram Province on the border with Cambodia. She grew up in a rural village and speaks Khmer. Their son is named Paul.
My name is Pattama, but in New Zealand I am called Lily. When I was 16 years old, I lived in EmpowerAsia’s Thailand home for three years. This is a foster home for kids who have family problems or are poor. I was one who was poor, and living in the home taught me about God and I decided to believe, because I thought it was an easy way to go to heaven; just believe in God who sent the son of God to die for us, who was then raised from death to heaven. I used to believe in Buddhism, just only five commandments, but I still coundn’t do it because if you missed one thing you couldn’t go to heaven.
At that time I just believed in God by knowledge, but when I studied at university I went to church and received the Holy Spirit. That made me feel that God is Truth, I was so excited that God is Truth and I tried to study more about God, and I wanted to serve him because he rescued me from poverty, sadness and especially sin. I didn’t know how to serve God
because I didn’t know what my gifts were.
One day my sister prayed for me in the Spirit and told me I will make disciples of many people in my life. I didn’t believe her because I never taught anyone. Even when my pastor asked me to teach children, I still thought “how?” I prayed for my future husband to lead me to serve God and said that anywhere that he goes I am happy to go too and support his ministry. And it came true! I met my husband, Jamie, and we serve God together very well. We have the same vision and values. We never argue about how we serve God.
We started to serve with EmpowerAsia by discipling teenagers in the same ministry I grew up in. I started by teaching the Bible and I realised I could do it! I loved it, and I did it very well. This reminded me of my sister’s prayer for me all those years ago, that I would disciple other people in my life. We served in Thailand for many years then moved to New Zealand.
We both worked and didn’t do any ministry, but my husband realised that his life was for serving God not just having a job and saving money, and I wanted to support him with what he wanted to do. He found a way to serve by working through NZCMS and EmpowerAsia, and our work is discipleship, which is my gift. I’m really happy to go back to Thailand to disciple, teach let others go to proclaim the name of Jesus. I’m happy to go anywhere that God wants me to go.
We will live in Nakorn Pranom and disciple teenagers there. Many churches only have pastors but no one to disciple the young people. Some churches don’t want to waste time discipling them because the young people will go to university, find jobs or get married. I don’t think like that. I think children, teenagers and new believers are important to disciple, as Jesus said to “go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that I commanded.”
Jamie is a New Zealander, but moved to Thailand when he was two years old with his parents who followed a calling from God. Jamie’s parents, Paul and Carlie Somerville, pioneered discipleship ministries in Southeast Asia which became EmpowerAsia. Their ministry now disciples nearly 300 children and young people in several countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Central America, mainly working with young people from historically Gospel-resistant communities.
I am a bicultural kid, having grown up in a Thai village speaking Thai fluently from childhood. I returned to NZ as a teenager and completed my schooling and university study in Dunedin. I returned to Thailand again as a young adult where I taught in a Thai private bilingual school in Khon Kaen city. Lily and I were married, and we took over Empowerasia’s girl’s discipleship ministry, and had 13 Thai teens living with us like a family. We lived life together, praying and studying scriptures. Most of the girls became Christians and desired to be part of the Christian community. We went to our local church and journeyed together in faith.
I have felt a strong sense of calling to mission since childhood. I grew up in a family devoted to serving God and learnt many lessons on how to teach and lead others first hand from my parents. They have been a huge influence in my life, allowing me to be exposed to, not only the dark and difficult aspects of ministry, but the fulfilling and joyous experiences we are privileged to participate in — the mission of God in action.
God called us as a family to minister in Thailand and Southeast Asia. Even as a child I got upset when people talked about ‘my parent’s mission work’ when I felt strongly that I was playing a part in their ministry too! My parents showed me that I had a part to play and a responsibility towards the great commission of Jesus Christ. Now as an adult I can see how Lily and I are continuing in their footsteps by being the next generation of Somervilles to join the Spirit in His mission to Southeast Asia.
I’m good at relating to people, even those with vastly different experiences to me. I connect well particularly with Asian people due to my upbringing and find myself ‘at home’ with Asian ways of living. I am passionate about encouraging and equipping Southeast Asian Christians to be able to do theology in an authentic way and hope to be involved with theological education in Thailand and other locations in Southeast Asia, alongside my discipleship work with EmpowerAsia.
I am equally passionate about advocating for indigenous Christian leadership and helping them to access funds for their own ministry. The church in Asia, though numerous and vibrant, is very poor compared to the New Zealand church. I want to build bridges between Asian and New Zealand churches and ministries, so that trust and relationships can flourish.
Jamie and Lily will be living in Nakorn Pranom, a border town with Laos, in the East of Thailand. There is very little Christian mission there, and no missionaries. Jamie will continue to coordinate EmpowerAsia ministries in Thailand and Cambodia along with some other locations we cannot name online, travelling to each place as necessary to assist the local boards with their ministries. Some of the locations he will visit have some particularly cruel conflict affecting the whole country which needs extra support, and living just a short flight away makes all the difference.
Lily will co-lead the Thai ministry, which provides financial support for about 30 young people attending 11 rural churches across the province. She will develop the discipleship programme, assisting churches to minister to youth well. She will also work together with some of the young women who grew up with Jamie and Lily (and are now in their early 20s), training them to replace her. It’s encouraging to see these young ladies stepping into the call of God for their lives and to be able to support them to do it.
Both Jamie and Lily are trained teachers, so Lily is also exploring the idea of opening a Christian preschool. Buddhists do not have a problem sending their children to Christian schools, thus it is not only a good opportunity to witness the Gospel in the community, but it also provides employment for the young people.