In 2001/2002, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS) in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, entered into a partnership to reach the Shan/Tai peoples of Southeast Asia with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to see a church planting movement begin among them. This partnership includes a commitment to send at least one short-term team per year over a period of 20 years to work among the Shan and to seek to send at least 20 GCTS graduates as long-term workers among the Shan over the same period. In the summer of 2005, the fourth short-term team went out from GCTS, spending a total of five weeks in Thailand and Burma (Myanmar). Among the team activities was the conduct of ethnographic research in northern Thailand (near the border of Burma where large numbers of Shan refugees from Burma have fled), and in Shan State, Myanmar.
Ethnographic research is of great value in mobilizing and equipping missionaries to accurately and meaningfully communicate the truth of the gospel cross-culturally, especially to distant cultures. The teams in each of the previous years also conducted ethnographic research, with the focus being “Who are the Shan?” in 2002, Shan religious beliefs in 2003, and Shan children (including family and education) in 2004. Only the 2003 team was able to visit Burma, so the 2005 team initially decided to revisit the topic areas explored by the previous teams, to see if answers were similar. Consultation with long-term workers raised a number of additional questions to which they desired answers, and the team revised the ethnographic goals based on their input.