2019 Alumni Distinguished Service Award | Henry Breidenthal
At eighty-seven years old, Dr. Henry Breidenthal continues a spiritual discipline that began with the phrase, “No Bible, No Breakfast.” This saying may seem familiar to some, but when Henry first heard it at Youth for Christ, it challenged him to commit to reading the Bible daily. Even now, he refuses to take nourishment until he feeds upon the Word of God.
Henry grew up as the youngest of six siblings in Kansas City, Missouri, during the war years. He studied medicine and while he did his residency in Dallas, Texas, he attended Scofield Memorial Church. It was there that he would challenge the young people to attend DTS. Someone later asked him, “Why don’t you attend DTS?” After receiving his medical degree, Henry enrolled at DTS and earned a ThM in 1962. Once ordained, he ministered working in the local church. It was in 1965, however, when he made missions his lifelong work or, as he often explains, “Jesus made the decision for me.”
At the age of thirty-two, Henry joined Overseas Missionary Fellowship and chose to go to central Thailand—the heart of Buddhism—to help lepers. “The people of Thailand are very self-sufficient,” Henry explains. “They didn’t feel they needed God. The lepers, however, needed the hope Christ offers.” This year Henry celebrated fifty-five years serving in the mission field in Thailand with OMF International. The Thai people who know him well refer to him by the Thai title “Mor Henry.”
Larry Dinkins (ThM, 1979), who ministered alongside Henry for forty years, nominated him because of his dedication to working with the Thai people. “I first starting praying for Dr. Breidenthal in 1974 when I was a first-year student at DTS. I later met him and taught with him from 1986 to 1993 in Thailand. We also worked together in establishing Chiang Mai Theological Seminary in 2001.”
Describing the first time he met Henry, William Merry, a friend and mentee, wrote, “I first met Dr. Henry in the hills of North Thailand. Single men were needed to work among the tribes, so he was sent to a tribal group and traveled widely to evangelize.” William visited a village where Henry lived and could not find Henry. Instead William visited Henry’s small hut with barely any furnishings, no food, and very few clothes. “He was supposed to be fed by a tribal family, but at that time of year, they worked in their fields and could only provide a few meals. He didn’t mind living simply and going hungry at times. He was reaching people who had never heard the gospel.”
When other people tell of all of the accomplishments Henry has achieved in Thailand, he often explains, “The gospel is the power, not me.” Larry wrote that in 1971 Henry saw the need for a distinctively evangelical Bible college in the Thai capital. “He served as the founding director of Bangkok Bible College, a school which serves as the flagship institution of theological education in Thailand to this day.”
Henry has also worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators. He helped bring Bibles in the Thai language to the people he serves. He once commented that while Africa has the highest number of people without Bibles, the second most significant number is those in Southeast Asia. “It’s like if you are going to help hungry people, they are better off if you teach them to fish than if you give them fish.”
The current director of Chiang Mai Theological Seminary, Daniel D. Kim, wrote, “I have never met any missionaries whom Thai people respect as much as Dr. Henry. He has influenced lots of Thai leaders in Christian circles in one way or another. I have heard from many of them of how Dr. Henry has personally impacted them. He has been God’s special blessing to Thai Christianity for the last fifty years. His impact on raising leaders for Thai churches is immeasurable.”
Even though he has retired, Henry still lives and works in Thailand, and continues to share his faith. He is as dedicated to evangelizing as he is to teaching God’s Word. For the past forty years, Henry has had an unwavering commitment to hand out gospel tracts in local parks every Sunday afternoon. He has been arrested and removed from two Asian countries while evangelizing.
In 2004, while in Vietnam, he was interrogated for three days after getting caught with a tape recorder. “I told people I was doing a study on language,” he explains with a grin. “And I was. I had on tape the people from Thailand speaking in the Mien language to the people who spoke the same language in Vietnam. What I didn’t tell them was the tape I played for them was all about Jesus.”
William wrote, “He was always an evangelist. Some criticized him saying giving out tracts was not a good way to evangelize. He would reply, ‘Well, that’s my method. What’s your method?’”
Henry’s passion for evangelism and God’s Word has served as a catalyst to his dedication to learning, often asking others, “What new books are you reading these days?” He has also had a prayer life that has changed people’s lives. He often stayed with students so that he could disciple and pray with them.
Along with keeping a weekly fasting regimen, he is known by all his students as a true “prayer warrior.” Larry wrote, “He leads daily prayer and starts and ends most conversations with intercession. His cherished prayer book has hundreds of names which he systematically covers in a daily ritual of prayer and petition.”
Today there are about one and a half million members of the Mien tribes in China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand with no access to communications that would tell them about Christ. And so, Henry has taught them about Jesus and now they lead their churches. Still, only about forty villages have some knowledge of Christianity. For Henry, there is still work to do.
“Dr. Henry is a man of incarnational principle,” Daniel explains. “He has lived among Thai people for over fifty years. He mingled among the local people, living with them, eating with them, fellowshiping with them, and speaking Thai with them.” Throughout his life, Henry has refused to accumulate anything in this world. Instead, he has invested his whole life in God’s kingdom. “He has shared his possessions with other people, especially for training the church—the Thai church leaders, church leaders, and Yao church leaders. Dr. Henry cannot stop living, talking, and teaching on missions, even at the age of eighty-seven.”