Cultural diversity, spiritual unity at New Hope International Church

Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter Four-year-old Anita Rungsigul cozies up against her father while he listens to Pastor Laohaprasit speak at Sunday’s service. -
Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter Four-year-old Anita Rungsigul cozies up against her father while he listens to Pastor Laohaprasit speak at Sunday’s service.
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On Sundays, more than 200 people representing 15 nationalities worship God together at New Hope International Church (NHIC) on Mercer Island. Thai, Latinos, Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Mienh, Taiwanese, Laotians, Vietnamese, Indonesians, Malaysians, Cambodians, Filipinos and even Australians — all experience spiritual unity in Jesus Christ.

“His [God’s] power sets us free...and we become more in tune with God and have more victory in life,” said Pastor Varun Laohaprasit, who founded NHIC. Laohaprasit has also helped establish churches in Thailand, Japan and Arizona. His life changed completely, he said, after he encountered “the powerful, tangible presence of God — the fire of God.”

Laohaprasit and his wife, Da, are from Bangkok, Thailand, and currently reside in Bellevue. They have three children. “God called me to start a church and sent me to the United States,” Laohaprasit said.

NHIC began meeting at the Laohaprasits’ Seattle home in 1988, then moved to the Island nine years ago. The Island location is both safe and central; members come from as far as Smokey Point and Tacoma. Caesar and Naly Prelow serve as assistant pastors.

“We want to be a blessing to Mercer Island,” Laohaprasit said. In August, NHIC organized the Friends Helping Friends Summer Festival in Mercerdale Park and raised more than $13,000 to benefit children refugees from Uganda.

As NHIC grew, a need for two services became evident. Seven months ago, the church added a Thai service, which follows an English-speaking service. Laohaprasit speaks at both services, which precede food and fellowship. He is not paid for what he does; his ministry, he says, is a “supernatural gift.”

Laohaprasit earns an income as a neurosurgeon with Neurological Associates of Washington. He graduated at the top of his class from King Chulalongkorn Royal University’s Medical School in Bangkok, Thailand, and trained in residency at the University of Washington School of Medicine in the Department of Neurological Surgery.

As a pastor and doctor, he sees that the spiritual realm affects the physical realm.

“Every Sunday, I stand up and bless the members, speaking the blessing: in the name of Jesus, I command that cancer, sickness, disease and poverty cannot touch these people,” he said. His vision for NHIC is that more people will “come and experience new victory in the power of God.”

For more information about NHIC, visit Mercer Island is also home to the First Taiwanese Presbyterian Church.

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