Sunday, December 20, 2009

Not Finished Yet.

Last week, I got a phone call from a good friend of mine.  Her great aunt was in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt. She was doing poorly—and she didn’t know Christ.

"I want to visit her and tell her about Jesus," Hannah told me.  I encouraged her and prayed with her, figuring that would be my only part in the matter.  I told her to call me back to let me know how the visit went, but instead, when I heard from her several days later, she asked  if I would also go along to help share the Lord with the family.

So, I just got back from Washington, DC.  It's a good thing the trip was last-minute and I didn’t know many of the details before we left.  Two and a half hours into the trip, Hannah told me the family was devoutly Buddhist.  And I was floored.  I didn't know anything about Buddhism—I was nervous enough about sharing the gospel with unbelievers....but Buddhists?

I watched the highway disappear under the car, mentally bracing myself for the fact that we were on our way—we weren't turning around—and we were going to share Christ with the family no matter what.  Buddhists.

Then, as if the Buddhism factor wasn’t enough, about 15 minutes from our destination, Hannah told me that her great aunt didn't speak or understand English. Her uncle and cousin (who were looking after her great aunt) spoke Vietnamese as well, but were also (thankfully) fluent in English.  "I'll translate for you if you need it," she promised.

Now I was really in a state of semi-panic.  Buddhists that only spoke Vietnamese?  What was I even here for?  I stared blankly through rain-streamed windows as the countryside fled past.  What am I going to do?

“One thing you’ll notice about my uncle and his family is that they’re so rich—they have everything they need—they don’t think they need Christ,” Hannah said as we pulled up to their brick and pillared mansion.

Her uncle came to the door and let us in without a smile.  We took off our shoes, dropped our luggage in a corner of the massive kitchen and looked around.  Her uncle pointed to the sofa in the livingroom—the one with its back to us.  Of course.  Her great aunt wanted to see us.  We greeted her enthusiastically and she immediately asked Hannah to help her take her medicine in the other room.

So, in less than five minutes, I found myself alone in the livingroom with her rather-imposing, rather-Buddhist uncle.

First, “How do you know Hannah?” Easy enough. “Church,” I said.  We looked at each other awkwardly before the phone rang and he went to answer it.  I stared around at the 10-plus Buddhas I could see from my vantage point on the couch.  My heart sank.  This wasn’t going so well.

By the time he came back, I’d lectured myself sufficiently and the conversation wasn’t quite so stilted, but it was far from comfortable.  He still scared me to death.  I knew right then and there I’d never be able to share Christ with this rich man who was clearly self-satisfied with his life, his accomplishments and his beliefs.

After a grand tour of the house, Hannah suggested that we give her aunt a massage.  I could read the message in her eyes.  In the seclusion of her aunt’s bedroom, Hannah pulled out her Vietnamese Bible.  I prayed silently as Hannah read and shared Christ with her aunt.  Tears sprang into my eyes as I listened to Psalm 139 in another language.
  
Her great aunt fell asleep at some point.  Hannah and I looked at each other over her head, feeling defeated.  “How about your uncle?” I asked.  “Will he listen if I try to talk to him?”  She looked hesitant.  “I think so,” she finally said.  “I can’t be the one to do it, though.  In Vietnam, younger people never speak to their elders about things like that.  I don’t know if he’ll be angry or not.”

As her great aunt snored and we massaged her bony, wrinkled arms, we whispered about our plan of attack.  I had a massive list of questions about Buddhism, some of which Hannah knew the answers to, but most of which, we just guessed at.  Looking at the wall covered with her uncle’s awards and certificates, a lump formed in my throat.  To ignore a conviction was sin.  And I was convicted to speak to Uncle Hung—somehow.  Lord, give me strength, I prayed.  I still didn’t think I could do it.

I think that afternoon was the longest of my entire life.  When Hannah’s great aunt woke up, we helped her out to the livingroom sofa and massaged her back.  Hannah read the Bible again, keeping it tucked into her lap so as not to rouse her uncle’s anger.  I also held my Bible on my lap, partially covered by my prayer journal, and continued finding passages for Hannah between silently praying and journaling.

As I listened to the truth spoken in a tongue I didn’t understand, I desperately begged the Lord to open this poor woman’s ears and breathe hope into her hopeless soul.

Over and over her great aunt said, “I feel like such a burden.  I just want to die.  I wanted to get better, but now I know I won’t, so instead I want to die, then I won’t be a burden.”  It broke my heart.

After dinner, Hannah and I cleaned up the kitchen, then went back to sit with her great aunt.  Her uncle was again absorbed with work in his office—the French doors faced out into the livingroom and we felt like we were in a hostile fishbowl.  We’re leaving tomorrow, I thought.  I have to do something—tonight.  But how?

Finally, her uncle came in with a camera and snapped a picture of the three of us on the sofa together.  As he walked past me, back to his office, I said, “Um, excuse me.”  He said, “Yes?”  I said, “That picture—right there on the wall.  What do the words mean?”

He turned and studied it for a moment, then replied, “It says, ‘Breathe, my child’.”

“What does that mean?”

“Breathing is a big part of meditation—that’s what we have to do when we meditate: forget everything except for breathing in and breathing out.”

“Really?  What’s the purpose of that?” I asked.  “Like, what are you meditating for?”

He obliged and the conversation grew.  Eventually, he seated himself on the floor, beneath the picture and set the camera beside him.  The minutes ticked on.
  
“So,” I continued, “just saying there is a little Buddha inside of me and I never acknowledge it, what’s going to happen to me?  Do I go to hell?”

Uncle Hung winced slightly.  “Well, I think there are other options for you.  You will be reincarnated as something less desirable, for instance.  But you get nine chances.”

“And then what?” I asked.  “What if I still never acknowledge Buddha?  Or—what about all the people who never realize they have a little Buddha inside them: what’s going to happen to them?”
  
“I don’t think the past or future is worth discussing,” he replied.  “The present is the only thing that matters.  That and your personal happiness and peace.”

“But see, I guess I want to believe something that answers my big questions,” I said.  “I want to know where I came from, who put me here, what they want from me…and where I’m going.  It just seems like Buddhism isn’t answering those questions.  I don’t think I could have true peace and happiness unless I had more security.  I mean, you believe Buddha was a good man—well, so was Jesus, right?—so was Mohammed.  What sets Buddha apart?  What makes Buddhism more appealing to you?  Why choose it over the other religions?

“I know all religions require a certain degree of faith since there’s no way to prove everything, but Christianity at least answers more of my questions than Islam or Buddhism.  Such as the question of where I came from.  I mean, it makes more sense to me to know that an all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful God created this world and placed me in it for His glory—than that I’m just floating around, trying to do good things and hoping that the little Buddha inside me will think it’s good enough to let me achieve humanity again.”  Can Buddhism answer those four questions?”

I could see the thoughts swimming behind his eyes.  I tucked my shaking hands further under the pillow that I clutched to my stomach.

“Well,” he said.  “Maybe not those questions necessarily.  But they’re not the important questions.  “Are you a good person?” is the most important question.”

“But who gets to say what’s right and what’s wrong?”

“The Buddha inside you will tell you.”

“Who gives him permission to say what is right and what is wrong?  Wasn’t he a human just like us?”

“But he was the person who did the most good.”

“So if I do a lot of good, does that mean I can be like Buddha some day?  Will I get to say what’s right and what’s wrong then?”

“Well, perhaps it is possible, but the only people who really have enough time to become so good are the priests, I think.”

It went back and forth.  But at one point, I had the perfect and unforeseen opportunity to present the gospel—from a completely objective standpoint: “I….guess it just makes sense to me that I was given the will to disobey God, and that when I did, I faced the fatal consequences of my sin (because the cost of sin is death).  I brought it on myself. But God gave me a second chance: He had mercy and sent His only Son to be the sacrifice for my sin—to pay the penalty for me—so that I don’t have to die—you know, I don’t have to go to hell—and I can have eternal life.

“He died so that I don’t have to.  In the Bible, God tells us that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  We all fall short, but He has promised salvation if we repent of our sins and confess Him as Lord.  I guess it just seems like Christianity has a good answer for those hard questions.”

When I finished, Uncle Hung studied my face carefully for several seconds before finally replying, “All I can say is that right now, all that matters is your own peace and happiness.  If you are happy by living a good life, you don’t have to worry about the future.”

“But….what if you’re wrong?” I asked.  “What if you’re wrong and you die?”

He was silent for a long time, reflecting.  “I don’t know if that’s something I can think about right now,” he finally said.

That night, as I lay awake beside the bed of Hannah’s great aunt, listening to her talk and moan in Vietnamese, I thanked the Lord for taking my weakness and inability and fear, and using it—despite me— for His glory.  I thanked Him for Hannah’s heart and for the burden she’d been given for her extended family.  I prayed that the seed would continue to grow in their hearts—and that it might eventually yield a good harvest.

The next afternoon, as we packed our suitcases and made our last round of farewells, Uncle Hung approached me and said, “Thank you for the discussion.  It was very interesting.  It gave me a lot to think about it, so thank you.”

“No, thank you,” I said, shaking his hand.

“Come back anytime,” he added.

When Hannah and I pulled out of their driveway and drove four hours home through the streaming rain, the dread was gone.  Only hope remained.  The Lord wasn’t through with this family.

7 comments:

Kami said...

Wow, what a great testimony of God's grace! I got to go on a mission's trip to Honduras last summer and it was awesome! There were sooo many Catholics there and I learned alot about Catholicism so I really feel comfortable talking with other Catholics about Christ now. Also in Honduras I was really pulled out of my comfort zone and stretched by God and he was sooo faithful to me and my friends. Praise the Lord!

Anønymøus said...

I loved reading this - wow. :) That's such an encouragement and inspiration. Thank you.

It never ceases to amaze me that God uses vessels like us - imperfect and weak - to display His power. He has all the host of heaven at His command and yet He chooses to send US? All I can say is "Lord, send me."

Nick said...

That's a neat story. It's always astonishing how people can stand to live there lives not knowing or seeming to care about what comes next. You were absolutely right- their focus is peace, but how can they really have it?

There's a Buddhist girl at my work and we've had some discussions, but she's defensive and often even hostile. One of my elders gave me this link from Christian Answers, which, although not exhaustive, I found helpful.

It's good to know where the other party is coming from so you can have a ready defense in case they start attacking Christianity. Most Buddhists are absolutely brilliant people with lots of information and facts at their beck and call.

Here's the link: http://www.christiananswers.net/evangelism/beliefs/buddhism.html

Also I thought this testimony was kind of cool: http://www.christiananswers.net/q-aiia/aiia-buddhism-harris.html

Thanks for sharing, Jenn.

Jenn Joshua said...

Thanks for the links! I'll definitely check out the article and testimony.

bondChristian said...

First... returning the "Hey." :>)

Second, I like what Nick (in the comments) said echoing what you wrote: "You were absolutely right- their focus is peace, but how can they really have it?"

Many of their ideas are so close... if they just searched a little more, asked "why" a couple more times, they'd have it.

Thanks for sharing this. It's inspiring.

-Marshall Jones Jr.

Anønymøus said...

BondChristian,

Hey! Your comment intrigued me. What did you mean when you said that Buddhist ideas are "so close" and if asked "why" a little more, that they'd have it?

I guess I don't see a lot of similarity between Buddism and the truth - especially in terms of their ideas about sin and righteousness and atonement.

Explain, please! :-)

Mark Wilson said...

Hi Jenn

I've been reading your blog for a short while now and I wanted to comment on so many things you share with honestly and courage. I resisted then, but I can't resist now, this is a wonderful post. You write with a clarity and humanity that is rare. Your heart is right there on the surface and your motivations are so honest.

I totally enjoy reading what you have to say.

God bless,
Mark Wilson.