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…