On Death and Dying and a few thoughts on being a Christian Missionary. 

Death.  The human condition.  or would that be dying?  regardless…

I hadn’t really been exposed to death much before moving to Thailand.  Aside from my great grandma dying when she was quite old and quite ready to die and my cat being put to sleep (which is still perhaps the biggest tragedy of my life)… death hadn’t really affected me.

I suppose there were the few random relatives that I had no connection to but attended funerals out of social responsibility (or just because I was a child and had no choice in the matter).

But that’s it.  I’m not an expert on grief or grieving patterns of the West or even of the grieving patterns of myself.. but it seems that Americans tend to keep grief, death, dying and the process there of to themselves.

We dress in black and go to the funeral and find comfort in the close few around us and cry in private and then continue on as normal.

Moving to Thailand I’ve been exposed to death and dying on a new level.

The neighborhood we live in is filled with old people.  and those old people die.  all the time.  Some of the time I didn’t even know a household housed an old person until the said old person died.

The process of grieving death is quite different here.  Families of the deceased literally close off the street around their house, and invite any and everyone to there house to pay respects to the deceased through drinking, eating and loud Buddhist chanting for three days… until they all, as a community, escort the body (in true parade form) to be cremated at the neighborhood cremation place.  [I’m not being funny.]

Funerals are loud, long and very public.  The process of grieving is in your face.

Living in a neighborhood where your Buddhist neighbors are dying all around you, all the time can get troubling.

As a Christian (missionary) and carrier of the Light of the world—what is my responsibility to my neighbors?

As my neighbors die around me I can’t help but ask, ‘Lord, what will become of him/her?’  Did they know the truth? Had they ever heard the Good News? Did they ever say the prayer? Had they ever been evangelized to or received a Gospel tract?  I don’t know???  But I know that I didn’t give it to them…. (well, I may have, but the number of neighbors I’ve evangelized to verses the number of neighbors that die are not in my favor…)

Is my neighbors’ eternal salvation dependent on my evangelizing to them? I mean…how can they call on Jesus if they haven’t heard of Him and how can they hear of Him if no one tells them… and I’ve been sent to tell them.

But telling them doesn’t seem to work.  Preaching the Bible to people who have no context for Christianity is like speaking Thai to my brother… it doesn’t translate. And in most cases, as soon as anyone finds out I’m a missionary their walls go straight up and I am labelled as a cultural imperialist with impure motives and a desire to control the thoughts and actions of any person who does not share my christian heritage.

There’s a lot working against me.

If my neighbors’ only hope of avoiding eternal damnation is by hearing and decidedly accepting the gospel message from me, I’m really sucking at my job.

I mean, instead of devoting days to door-to-door evangelism, I’ve stuck to fostering deep relationships and building trust.  Instead of microphones and loud speakers, my teammates and I have chosen the quiet and not obviously fruitful route of hospitality.  Instead of defensiveness and imposing viewpoints, we have chosen to be quiet and listen.

Our door is open to convicted criminals and abused wives, gay socialites and hilarious college students. Young and old, rich and poor come into our house, eat our food, share their stories and listen to ours.  Relationships are born and trust is established.

Sure, we’ve had some friends give their lives to the Lord.  But our best, longest and most intimate friends have yet to do so regardless to how many times we’ve prayed for them or shared the Gospel.

And my neighbors are still dying.

If Jamie hadn’t already stolen the title, I think I would label myself ‘the very worst missionary’.

But I’ve come to a place in my missionary life, where I have released the responsibility of my neighbors’ souls to the Lord.  Of course I will listen and obey–continuing to share and pray, but no longer will their eternal fate rest in my hands and my missionary performance. No longer will I decide the fate of people based on my perceptions of their relationship (or lack there of) with the Lord.

God can have that job.

So what is my responsibility?

This is a question I have asked and asked and asked.  And you know what the answer I get is?

It’s to love God, love myself and who God created me to be and to love my neighbors.  To be their friends.  To meet needs when I can.  To pray when I can.  To die to my innate selfishness.  And to die to my reputation.  To be fully present where I am and to invest in the people in front of me.

So that’s what I’m doing (or trying to do…).  Reputation be dammed.  I’m going to love my neighbors to death…



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5 responses to “On Death and Dying and a few thoughts on being a Christian Missionary. 

  1. Katie

    I’m so glad you shared these thoughts. I’ll keep praying for you to feel confident in the love of God and who he sends to your open door.

    • samara marie

      Thanks Katie. This blog is mostly inspired by our conversation… it’s been a long time coming. The blog itself didn’t turn out quite how I was expecting, but thanks for reading 🙂

  2. Last year I pondered death and mortality quite a bit. 2015 was a hard year, and one of the factors contributing to the year being a difficult one was the death of loved ones of several people I know. A number of people I know lost loved ones and it weighed quite a bit on me to see that, even though I didn’t know the actual people who died that well (or at all). It caused me to consider the importance of grieving, counseling, mental health professionals, etc. It also caused me to consider the church’s role in walking with people who are grieving. I realized this is a very important role, but one we don’t always think about until it’s needed.

    I’m glad your neighbors embrace the process of grieving and hope their methods of grieving help people to find closure. For me and many others after Ty and Terri Schenzel died it seemed like the best way to process was to talk to each other, to remember Ty and Terri, and reflect on the tragedy of the loss and the legacy left for us to follow.

    I think you came to the right conclusion as far as people’s eternal fate being God’s responsibility. Your own responsibility reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:37-40 “He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

    I don’t want to sound apathetic toward the eternal fate of the people in your neighborhood who are dying, but it doesn’t seem realistic to me that you or the Lorensens should hold yourselves accountable for everyone who dies. Beating yourself up over something like that isn’t going to help anyone. One person can only do so much. Sometimes I think that our American focus on numbers and results creeps into evangelism (although, the Bible does say that God wishes all would be saved).

    I’m reminded of Silas and Kimberly’s investment into Gautam and Rekha in Nepal. When we visited last year their love for Jesus was evident in all they said and did and their family was a shining light to their community. Yet, Silas and Kimberly spent ten years there sowing into their lives. It seems to me that if you want a long-lasting change it takes a long time and you won’t be able to invest that heavily in a great crowd of people. But this is getting a lot longer than I expected. I should probably stop rambling.

    • samara marie

      I really appreciate you comments and insight Paul. Yes, being a missionary can come with a lot of outside stress and feelings of needing to ‘perform’ for supporters… but that pressure doesn’t come from God, it seems like over and over, God is asking me to focus on Him and be myself. So… I’m trying

  3. gramma Sharon

    Ecclesiastes 3
    God Set Eternity in the Heart of Man
    11 He has made everything beautiful and appropriate in its time. He has also planted eternity [a sense of divine purpose] in the human heart [a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God]—yet man cannot find out (comprehend, grasp) what God has done (His overall plan) from the beginning to the end.

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