As more and more Finns are finding their way to Thailand the demand for a priest has increased proportionally. Five years ago Jyrki Markkanen was appointed by the Finnish state church to serve Finns in Bangkok. This is done from the premises of the Scandinavian church at Sukhumvit soi 33, where the Finnish church is renting the facilities on Mondays and Tuesdays.
It’s still not heaven but definitely a haven when you walk in to the premises of the Scandinavian Church in Bangkok. Even if it’s just a hundred meters walk from the somehow seedy soi 33, and just a short walk from the busy and noisy Sukhumvit it’s like entering another world. A big lush garden with space to sit and relax in the grass, a children playground at the back, outdoor seating facilities and even facilities for serving a draft beer.
Coming here as a first timer you get the impression that this is not strictly about religion, but also a natural meeting place for Scandinavians and their different activities. In the middle of it all proudly stands the large wooden white house which actually could remind you of a very big Scandinavian summerhouse. This is the kind of place you feel comfortable to just be and hang out. And the fact that various types of Marabou and Anthon Berg chocolate, specialties like herrings, beets and cucumber salad for sale are piling up in glasses on the shelves, doesn’t make it less cozy.
Pastor for two congregations
It’s Monday afternoon and the church is closed. But on the second floor, where the praying room also is situated, Jyrki Markkanen is trying to keep up with his work. Jyrki Markkanen has become increasingly busy since he came to Bangkok a long time ago.
“I came here ten years ago when I was appointed by the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission for a four years period. I became the pastor of one of the eight congregations in Bangkok totaling around 2-3.000 members in Thailand most of them being Thais. Five years ago I was asked if I wanted to be responsible for the Finnish state church in Bangkok. I said yes so now I actually have two jobs”, says Jyrki Markkanen.
When Jyrki Markkanen describes his job at the Scandinavian Church he divides it into two categories of people who use the church service. First of all there are the Finns living in Thailand and then the tourists. Both groups come in increasing numbers.
From weddings to funerals
“This morning I had a wedding at the church. It has become very popular to get married during a holiday. Thailand is no exception. Its one of the areas where I see a big increase in numbers and especially in the high-season from October to March”, says the pastor. But the fact being that Jyrki Markkanen is pastor only for Bangkok he doesn’t have the opportunity to go to Southern Thailand and help Finns with their romantic dreams of having the ceremony held at a beach.
Less romantic are the visits to various hospitals in Bangkok when people have fallen ill or have had accidents. This high season Jyrki Markkanan has been to hospitals several times to assist or just talk to hospitalized Finns. “
I get the information about hospitalized Finns from the Finnish embassy, the travel insurance company or the patient’s travel agency. But it’s only when the patient wishes to talk to a priest that I’m contacted. It also happens of course that Finns die in Thailand. In these cases I can help comfort family and friends who find themselves in a situation of grief and being in a foreign country doesn’t make things easier. Relatives need somebody they can trust and talk to. It’s about being present and sometimes it can be a matter of understanding procedures and practical things” explains the pastor who both writes and speaks Thai and it can be a big help when misunderstandings occur.
No promotion needed
Fortunately the weddings are much more frequent than funerals. Jyrki Markkanans guess is that he has fifteen couples saying yes for every time he has a funeral, and there are already bookings for the coming high season in October, but not for funerals. As service information it costs around 6000 baht for a wedding if anybody is interested.
Besides weddings, funerals and hospital visits there are private consultations, baptisms and confirmations. Besides this all the administrative work. Jyrki Markkanan is also responsible for the regular activities held for Finns at the Scandinavian Church like “Silent Masses” or church service. “It’s not necessary anymore to do promotion. I’m pretty sure that institutions involving Finns in Bangkok know us. From the embassy to the hospitals and travel agencies to most Finns living here know us. And the need for a Finnish church here has proven to be big, says Jyrki Markkanan who could probably use more than a couple of days at the church, but as he diplomatically puts it “I use the time that has been given to me”
Not in a hurry
And with more than ten years here you could say that Jyrki Markkanen surely has been given time in Bangkok with his family. Jyrki Markkanens wife is working as a nurse at a shelter for unmarried pregnant women called “Home of Grace”. Their children, the daughter seven years old and their son 11 years old are students at Bangkok Pattana School. The family has no plans of leaving Bangkok soon. “Nobody knows the future but we are not in a hurry to go anywhere else. At present we feel quite all right here” states Pastor Jyrki Markkanen.