It may have only sold around 15,000 copies, but in Thailand that makes it a best seller where Christian books usually clear only 10 percent of that number.
"Left Behind," the first in the blockbuster end-times series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, is part of a new media strategy that is impacting the Buddhist nation with the gospel, "Charisma" magazine reports in its January issue, out next week.
The novel has struck a chord in a country whose religion has little to say about the end of the world. Some Buddhists are fascinated by the idea of a second coming, as there is a legend of another Buddha arriving on the world's last days to bring about a period of peace.
At Bridge Communications -- which is also reporting a good reception for the follow-up release of "Tribulation Force" -- managing director Somjai Raksasee says: "Our strategy is to penetrate Christian values and references throughout society using the media. "That works in Buddhist society. If you share the gospel directly with a Buddhist, they will dismiss it as a Western religion. But they won't throw away something they buy in a bookstore."
After four years of operation, Bridge is producing some of the country's top-selling books, such as a children's Bible. The company also translates material from Focus on the Family, and has distributed drug and sex education literature in 40,000 secondary schools. "In this way we build relationships," says Raksasee, "we build trust, and we help people solve their problems."
One of the world centers of a religion that claims 360 million followers worldwide, Thailand is home to the strand of Theravada Buddhism, which is extremely resistant to Christianity.
Despite the heroic and sacrificial work of missionaries and national Christians, the growth rate of the Thai church is one of the slowest in the world. Evangelistic methods that work elsewhere are not so effective in a society that does not believe in God, and the demands of Sunday church and weekly Bible study do not sit well in a society used to only a few temple visits a year.
But despite its long history, Buddhism is losing its grip on the country -- though the change is not all positive. "Other religions are taking advantage of the weakness of Buddhism in order to gain their converts," says Tavivat Puntarigvivat, a Buddhist scholar. "Muslims in Thailand have been trying to enter Thai politics to pave way for the growth of Islam in Thailand. They have successfully pressured us to change a number of laws in favor of Islam. The number of their converts is increasing, which alarms Thai Buddhists."
Wirachai Kowae, who founded the Assemblies of God in Thailand in 1969, and pastors Romyan Church, a large Bangkok congregation with an adjoining bookstore, says he believes his country is "under control of the spirit of darkness, whose temples are everywhere."
He adds: "A lot of people say the Thai are hard to win, but they're not. They are open. They have a spiritual hunger. We can get them saved, but it's hard to make them strong." Pentecostals win most converts, he says, because "they are aggressive in their presentation. Sometimes people here beat around the bush too much."