Tag Archives: dying

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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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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If Tracy Lorensen can do it, I can!

This is not a motto I mold my life around.  Know why?  Because Tracy Lorensen can do anything.  Yes.  She’s like a hybrid of Aquaman, Thor and the Amazing Flash.  I’m not even joking.  So yea… I do my best not to compare myself with her.

Yet somehow, somehow, I find myself training for a half marathon with her.

Often, as I’m putting in the required amount of training miles, I relive the day that I agreed to this absurdity.

I had just taken a shower, Caleb, who had been talking about running a full marathon in the States for at least a year now, was anxiously awaiting the minute registration would open and out of the blue I hear, “Samara!  When are you getting into the States?  Do you want to run the Lincoln half with Tracy?  I’m signing us up now…”

There had been no prior talk of Tracy running the half, in fact, I was under the impression that Tracy didn’t particularly like running… but without any prior thought, the word “Great!” was blurted out of my mouth as if an alter ego had momentarily taken over my body and mind.

And that was it.  Mere seconds after that word tumbled out of my mouth I was registered and the registration fee was paid for out of my eager team leader’s pocket.

Things just got real.

….

I had trained for and ran a half marathon before.  The training process, while vigorous and exhausting was actually kind of enjoyable for me.  I did all my long runs with a close friend and I found various other different people to do the short runs with.

I’m a social creature.  If anything made that process at all bearable, it was being able to do it with people whom I love.  The conversation and relationships built during those unthinkably long runs outweighed the fact that every morsel of my being was screaming, “Why!! Why are you doing this to us!!”

The actual day of the half marathon, I did really well…until the last two miles when my body decided that it had had enough and was going to just die. Literally die.  I could barely pick up my feet to cross that finish line and I promised myself, ‘Never again.’

Well promises are made to be broken?  Right?  Right?

….

So, here I am again.

The first two months of training were actually ok.  Tracy and I would go on our runs together and used the month of January to get our bodies used to running…so the runs weren’t long or fast, just nice.

Knowing that Tracy was soon getting on an airplane for the States made these  runs very special to me—something I looked forward to (read ‘looked forward to’ with the understanding that there was still a fair amount of moaning and groaning on my part,) they were part of our busy schedules that I knew I would get exclusive time to just spend with Tracy.

And then.  She left.

Yep.

I mean, I always knew it was going to happen.  Always.  It was never a secret.  It wasn’t a surprise.

But… still…

And you know what didn’t leave?

The fact that I needed to train for this freaking half marathon that is haunting my future.

….

Tracy left and in her place came this giant cloud of smog covering the entire province of Chiang Mai.  Public service announcements about not exercising in the current weather conditions were aired and thousands of Thai people began wearing masks while they drive their motorbikes trying to keep the toxins out of their lungs.

But training called.

Tracy’s absence also brought on the increase in miles.  Four miles turned into five, then into six and eventually a nice ten.  Forty-five minute runs have gradually become two and a half hour runs…

By. My. Self.

….

At this point, my body has pretty much rejected me.  I have dealt with every runners ailment you can think of.  From runners knee to lost toe nails to nasty blisters to chaffing… flipping chaffing.  Chaffing chaffing chaffing.

As the miles were getting longer and the days were getting hotter I started getting extremely dehydrated, but being stubborn and not wanting to run with a bottle of water in my hand, I did the next logical thing…

The night before my long run, I went and hid bottles of water along my trail.  Genius.

The next morning as I was running along, my little self was just soooooo excited about these hidden oasis’ that I would stop, thirsty or not, and gulp down some water.  Five times I did this.

And then, blump blamp blomp, went my stomach for the rest of the run.

Still not sure which was worse…total dehydration and inevitable heat stroke, or the pure excitement I had over the hidden treasures that, in turn, led me to running with a stomach that was getting closer and closer to vomiting at every step.

Meanwhile, Tracy is growing stronger everyday in Omaha continuing her training like the graceful gazelle she is.   As my miles continue to take me longer and longer to accomplish, hers, it seems, are taking her less and less.

I’m sure you’ve all seen this image:

running

Change the wording a little to read: “What Tracy looks like when she’s running”… the rest can stay as it is.

This week, I’m supposed to take off.  I had a small procedure done in my armpit (I told you my body has turned against me,) and the doctor said I’m not allowed to sweat.  Ha.

Normal Samara would be all, ‘BooYah!!’ but something strange has happened to me and I feel kind of gyped out of my precious training time.

I have yet to process these feelings… they are new and confusing to me.

….

So here I am.  In Thailand.  Alone.  Training to run the Lincoln Half Marathon on May 3rd.

Because, if Tracy Lorensen can do it, I totally can too!

run

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