Tag Archives: christianity

On Death and Dying part 2

I had recently written a blog to discuss some of my thoughts around death and dying and living as a missionary in a Buddhist culture.  I started the blog stating that I haven’t had much experience dealing with death.  Unfortunately, that statement is no longer true.

About a month ago my Thai teacher’s brother—Khruu (teacher) Gung, unexpectedly died.

Khruu Gung had been my Thai teacher for six months prior to my beginning to study with his sister Khruu Naamrin. Khruu Gung is the teacher who painstakingly taught me how to read and write Thai.  In those six months as Gung’s student we became dear friends.  [Dear friends here essentially means that I poked and teased him constantly regarding anything from his food choices to his singleness (shame on me) and that he quietly sat back as I adamantly professed that I knew more about the Thai alphabet than he…at his funeral his sister introduced me as ‘the student Gung loved’.] 

We just *got* each other.

After learning how to read and write with Gung I began studying with his sister Naamrin and have been her diligent student since.  While I was no longer studying with Gung, he was still a constant in my life.  He was there whenever I went to study and we would spend at least the first hour of my two hour class chatting and arguing about current affairs.

His passing away came as a complete shock.

I was in my last class of the semester getting ready to do my biggest presentation of the year when I got the news.  Honestly I thought it was a cruel joke.  I swiftly left class and began the process of clarifying information, informing Tracy and changing our plans for the next week.

I was sick to my stomach and felt so alone on the campus… far away from anyone who knew and loved Gung. I gave the worst presentation of my academic career and headed home.

Tracy gives a good description of what came next on her blog, which you can read here, but I want to spend the rest of this blog talking about Gung’s death amid christian theology.


Khruu Naamrin is a fairly new believer.  While she has told her students that she is a christian for nearly 10 years now, she just recently encountered God in a real way, was baptized and has really begun to understand the love of God and what being a christian really means.  Gung had not.

Though Gung had been evangelized countless times by his well meaning students, Gung never said the prayer or outwardly confessed allegiance to God.

Gung’s death was a double hit for Naamrin.  Not only did she lose her brother and best friend, but he is now, in her mind, spending eternity in hell.

Naamrin, looking for consolation, brought this up to many of the christian funeral attendees and she received plenty of the customary, ‘we just have to trust the Lord’ responses with looks of sadness that could be easily read as ‘he’s in hell’.

But, from me (and Tracy) she received something a bit more controversial.

I told Naamrin that I sincerely believe that Gung is with God.

And I do.

No, Gung did not outwardly identify as a christian.  If you would have asked him what religion he was—Gung would have said buddhist.  And I guess that is as cut and dry as some of us like eternal salvation to be.

Outward Confession of God = Heaven.    Any Other Option = Damnation.

I cannot accept this.

As Americans, growing up in a nation built upon christian morals and ethics with the separation of church and state fully in play, it is nearly impossible for us to understand how intertwined religion and culture are in other nations.  In Thailand, to be Thai is to be buddhist.  These two facts are not separable.  When Thai people take the brave step of outwardly professing Jesus, they are, at the same time, loosing status, reputation and relationship. This is a big deal. We Americans can so easily shrug that off and say, ‘it’s worth it for the sake of the gospel’ or ‘Jesus said we would be hated by the world’ and go back to our cushy lives and our religious freedom, but Thai people do not have that luxury.

For this reason, there are many people (not only in Thailand, but all over the world) who hear the gospel, accept the gospel and believe the gospel, but who do not—and may not ever— outwardly identify as christians.

I cannot accept the idea that the cross and all that it represents: Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, only covers salvation for those who say a prayer in the allotted amount of time.  And if we are to believe that Jesus wants all to be saved and desires that not one of his children perish—why does this free gift expire with our bodies?

The more conversations I have with Western Christians about death and the after life… and the more people I piss off with my ideas… the more I realize that Western salvation theology is really nice and neat… when it stays in the west, but it gets really convoluted when you believe that God wants the WHOLE world to know Him.

God made so many unique people with unique cultures and languages… God’s world is so much bigger than nice, neat, clean Western christianity… and yet, for some reason, we seem to want to make the whole world fit into our neat box.

I believe that Gung is with God.

I believe that when he died, he saw Jesus.  I know that Gung knew the gospel and I believe that when he saw Jesus face to face, that he fell to his knees and repented.

And I guess, from there… Jesus gets to decide whether or not Gung performed the scared ritual in time…

I’m sure this blog post has ruffled a few feathers.  I know it’s uncomfortable to talk about things like this.  You can write me off as a heretic or just assume that I’m not thinking straight because I’m grieving.

But in the end, what I desire to communicate, is that I can not be the judge of ones salvation.  And if I am asked to make that decision, I will always lean on grace and will always believe they are with God.

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I don’t like going to church.

 

Yesterday at a staff meeting I took part in one of those ‘getting to know you’ ice breaker games… I’m sure you’ve played it.

Everyone sits in a circle, with just enough chairs for those sitting and one person stands in the middle (there’s no chair for the person in the middle.)  The person in the middle makes a statement like “I like cheese” or “I’m wearing a pink shirt” and everyone who shares the like of cheese or is also wearing a pink shirt has to stand up and then on the count of three, everyone, including the person in the middle runs and tries to find a new chair.  The person left standing is the new ‘man in the middle’.

You’ve played this game.

Anyway, yesterday after a bunch of rounds of this game and lots of crazy running around and getting to know one another, someone in the middle made the statement, “I like going to church”.

Working at a christian school with an entirely christian staff, one can easily assume… everyone stood up.

Everyone, that is, except for me.

Sure, I felt the urge to stand up… Thoughts like, ‘what will people think?’, ‘I’m a missionary…’, ‘I have to like going to church…’, ‘how bad will I look if I don’t stand up?’ flooded my mind, but I was compelled to remain seating.

What’s worse, I thought, lying to please the crowd and save face or being honest and raising a few eyebrows?

After the game was finished another missionary came up to me, she had noticed my being the only person sitting during the ‘I like going to church’ round and she wanted to comment.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but instead of assumed reprimand or the usual questioning of my devotion to God, she said, “Yea… sometimes going to church here is really hard.”

And that’s the truth.

Sometimes, going to church here, is really hard.


Before reading on I need to say, I come from a great church family in Omaha, NE.  The people in that church have become my family and have helped me grow into the person I am.  I love my church in Omaha and while, it’s not perfect and still developing, I would not be where I am or who I am without the love and support of that body of people.


Since living in Thailand I have regularly attended three Thai churches.

The first of the three churches was the most international and the most western.  The sermon was in both English and Thai, the worship was done in full Hillsong style and the Sunday meetings were held in a very air-conditioned, comfortable hotel ballroom. This was like the ‘adjustment’ church, while I was learning Thai.  This church was comfortable, the sermons were predictable and no one talked to you, so you didn’t have to get out of your comfort zone.

But in the end, I think that was the biggest problem with this church.  It definitely served its purpose in its time, but it was extremely comfortable.  There was no ‘community’ aspect to the church, no need to adjust to a new culture, no need to adapt to something unfamiliar… and so, after about 6 months, we (the Lorensens and I) transitioned out.  [No one noticed.]

The second of the three churches was a local Thai church near our home that many of the students from School of Promise attended.  As Caleb and I were both teaching at the school, this church seemed that the natural place for us to land.

The sermon was completely in Thai, there was no air conditioning and everyone ate lunch together that was prepared by members of the church.  At first this seemed ideal.  The church congregation was a community.  Everyone worked together, lived life together and shared church responsibilities together.

Unfortunately, the shiny ideal wrapping of this church quickly wore off and it became apparent that a lot of the ‘community togetherness’ was actually ‘community obligation’ enforced through guilt.  Missing a week of church was followed up by the third degree.  Performance, saving face and adherence to rules were more important than love and compassion.  I left this church after a year of begrudged attendance

The final church I was part of was a church made up of people that I still love and respect very much.  Coming off the bad experience from the last church, this church seemed like a breathe of fresh air.  Again, it was all Thai and very community orientated.  Everyone worked together and for the most part, lived together.  This church was a family and welcomed me in quickly.

But again, after a couple months of attendance, it became clear that the congregation was there out of religious and communal obligation, rather than out of pure satisfaction and joy.  Duty and tradition, adherence to rules was more important than the inner health of the individual members. I said a sad goodbye to this church family after a year.


So there is my church attending history.  I haven’t formally gone to church in the seven months.

What I have done, however, is:

-prayed together with my housemates

-shared meals with my neighbors

-helped get a woman out of an abusive relationship

-worshipped with released criminals

-prayed for my struggling classmates

-loved on kids who don’t get enough attention

-listened to my friends’ burdened hearts

-hung out with the teenagers that I live with

-travelled to Malaysia to be a companion of a lonely friend


I was recently pretty rocked by this blog.

In this blog, the author, talks about how Jesus never actually told us to worship Him–but instead, 29 times, He tells us to follow Him.  He gives a list of things that happen as people lay down their lives (and their religion) to follow Jesus.  This list includes things like: the hungry were fed, the sick were healed, people were loved and discipled and the religious leaders were challenged.

The author also highlights Mark 7:6-9:

And He [Jesus] said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:

‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’

Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”

He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.”


How often do we allow the ‘tradition of men’ to keep us blind to the commandments of God?

How often does ‘saving face’ mean that we withhold truth or compassion?

How often do we allow religious duty to smother stopping for the one?

I know I’m guilty.

I know that I often bow to the god of approval from man rather than hone into the God of grace. I know that I often begrudgingly say yes out of fear, rather than be honest with my desires.


So, with all of this going on in my head and my heart, I can confidently say, right now, I don’t like going to church.

But I LOVE being THE church. Following Jesus.  Saying ‘yes’ and ‘here I am God, I’m willing’ and ‘what do you want to do today God?’.  I love smiling at people whom I don’t know and praying for people I just met.  I love getting to be the vessel in which the Holy Spirit flows out of and being surprised in my times of quiet worship alone.  I love being the body of Christ in my neighborhood, with my family…

Following Jesus is uncomfortable. It’s unconventional. It’s unpredictable.  It’s uncontrollable.

Following the law is easier, clear cut, measurable… but it’s not through following the law [and going to church] that we will encounter God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me.”

So while I will surely be part of a formal congregation again in the future, for now, I just don’t like going to church.


verses to ponder:

John 14:6; Colossians 2:16-23; Isaiah 29:13

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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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The Gospel

Yesterday, in one of my classes, we were asked to shortly describe ourselves.  My classmates’ self descriptions stated their country of origin and their current profession.  So that would make me: Samara, American, studying TESOL in Thailand.

How very weak that introduction is. How void of the most important parts of my identity.

Samara. Daughter of God. Created to create. Loved to love. Accepted to accept.

I would say that that more accurately describes who I am.

Jesus and I will be celebrating our ten year anniversary pretty soon.  Ten years.  A whole decade.  I cannot believe I’m old enough to be celebrating a decade of anything… but that is a whole other issue.

With this memorial date approaching I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting.

Reflecting on my life. Reflecting on who I was and who I’ve become…and who I was while I was becoming who I became : ) [got that?]

A statement that I’ve been making a lot lately is that “christianity didn’t change my life, my relationship with Jesus changed my life.”

Every time I hear myself say this something jumps inside of me.  That statement is the most true statement I can make.  Nothing has had a more profound impact on me, my life, and who I am, than my relationship with Jesus.

I grew up with christianity.  I grew up with the stories, the rules, the systems, the commands, the expectations… but I didn’t grow up with the reality of the Gospel.  It wasn’t until that Reality became my reality that I was able to experience the freedom that has forever marked my life.

***

I recently finished reading “The Jesus Storybook Bible” with my Thai teacher.

photo.PNG

If you haven’t invested in this children’s Bible yet, you’re missing out.  I have yet to find the Gospel more beautifully illustrated (figuratively and literally).  The authors of this Bible have so beautifully pointed out how God has been working from the beginning of time to get His children back into right relationship with Him.

Every story whispers Jesus’ name.

For God SO loved the world that He sent His Only Son.

It was always God’s plan to send Jesus. Because it was always God’s plan to get His children back.

And who does Jesus pinpoint?  Who does Jesus call out for greatness?  Who does Jesus choose to befriend?

The Extra-Super-Holy-People?

No.

He chose people like me.

People who were lost, depressed, lonely, dirty, poor, addicted, deserted, alone, condemned, guilty, hurting, oppressed, possessed, angry, blind, deaf, dumb, doubting, drunk… the list goes on.

He chose whomever would chose Him. He chose the hungry. He chose the needy.  He chose the difficult.  The unrighteous.  The annoying.

***

I’ve been a missionary for about three and a half years now.

Demonstrating the Gospel is my job. Literally. It’s what I get paid to do.

So often the job demands of newsletter writing and supporter relations tempt me to act like an Extra-Super-Holy-Person.  I mean… that’s what missionaries are supposed to be, right?

My life needs to be clean. structured. organized. predictable. newsletter appropriate. and those knees better be covered… do we even need discuss the shoulders?

Right?

My paycheck depends on it… right?

Wrong.

Jesus’ Gospel wasn’t clean.  Jesus’ life wasn’t structured… organized… predictable and His supporters probably wouldn’t have liked His newsletters.  (He hung out with women and was at parties where people got drunk… I mean… you can’t really write about that kind of stuff…)

For God SO loved the world that He sent His One and Only Son, that WHOMEVER may believe in Him will be saved and have life eternal.

So that’s my Gospel.  Believing in Jesus and receiving that life eternal.  Life eternal starting ten years ago.  Life eternal now.  On earth.  Life eternal full of messes and mistakes and unexpected turns and hiccups and high highs and low lows.

Life eternal, right now.

Life with Jesus.

And that’s what I am in Thailand to share.

Not a good English education. Not an introduction to critical thinking. Not an education full of the creative arts.

I’m here to introduce my friends to Life Eternal. Right now.

Life with Whom you may converse. Life with Whom you may walk. Life with Whom you may be messy and unpredictable.

Life—Who will never change, never leave, never reject.

Life.  Real.  Messy.  Unpredictable.

Life with Jesus. Free. Safe. Abundant.

 

***

I was recently reminded of this video:

Not much I can say after that.

So to end this blog post I want to challenge myself to another ten years. Another ten years of Life.  Another ten years of greater intimacy and greater depth of relationship.  Another ten years of walking with Jesus wherever He may bring me.  Another ten years of saying yes to impossible situations and messy people.  Another ten years of taking risks and looking foolish.  Another ten years of failing and hurting.  Another ten years of Jesus picking me back up. Another ten years of Abundance walking with me.  Protecting me.  Guiding me.  Providing for me.  Another ten years of adventure.

And I challenge you too.

What is the Gospel?

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