Tag Archives: hell

the suffering missionary.

There are some groups of people that subscribe to the notion of the ‘suffering missionary’.  You know, the idea that being called overseas as a missionary is a death to your former life of joy and pleasure and a birthing of a life of misery and woe.  This ideology is held by missionaries and laymen alike.

I think the thought pattern is all somehow tangled up in support raising:  If you’re not suffering, then you’re not being used for the purposes of the gospel.. and so you can’t get any money and then you can’t eat… so now you are suffering…and so on…and so forth…

Maybe I’m wrong. Regardless. It should be no surprise, I do not subscribe to this notion.

But today, I am writing to tell you all that I am SUFFERING.

SUUUUFFFFEEERRIINNNG.

Yes.

I have this increasingly intolerable struggle with microscopic red ants.

The freaking things have decided that their new favorite place to live is inside my towel.  So this evening, after an impromptu and uncharacteristic evening shower, I wrapped my vulnerable, wet body into my nice, dry towel and was immediately molested by thousands of the little suckers.

They just go right for it.  I literally just picked 15 of their itty bitty bodies off of my body and am now full of red itchy welts.

WHAT’S MORE is, as I was transcribing this blog in my head and lathering myself with anti-inflammatory/anti-itch cream, I felt a tickle on my foot… I look down there was a HUGE freaking COCKROACH on it.  To which I reacted to by smashing its body several times with my journal. I didn’t even scream. This has become common place.

The struggle is real.

In conclusion, I am suffering, so please send me all of your money.

Thank you.

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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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“Don’t mind me; I’m a universalist heretic.”

I’ve been on a bit of a Graham Cooke kick lately–specifically his message titled, “Inheritance” (which, if you have never listened to–or just haven’t listened to it in a while, you should click here and have a listen before reading on).

This message has had a profound impact on me over the years, but recently, the truths God speaks through Cooke have been running through my head on repeat.

With the help of my Thai teacher, I translated Cooke’s message into Thai and have shared it at church, in the art studio and in one on one prayer sessions with my Thai friends.


The School of Promise (SoP) recently held their annual English camp which I volunteered to help at.  During a planning meeting we were discussing the objective of the camp and trying to come up with a camp theme.  As this message has become a staple in my spiritual life, I suggested, “God loves you 100%”.  I talked a little about Cooke’s message, said that I had it translated in Thai and suggested that we read it to the kids and base our ‘spiritual time’ on this message.

My colleagues liked the idea and we designed camp around this theme.

Camp went well.  The kids listened to Cooke’s message, a couple of teachers shared testimonies on how the revelation of God’s great love has changed their lives and we had an activity where the kids wrote out the things they don’t love about themselves, nailed those to the cross and them proclaimed God’s 100% perfect love over all our short comings and imperfections.

All in all, I would say it was a successful camp.


On the final day of camp, one of the SoP teachers stopped to thank me for sharing what I had shared with the kids.  She told me that she really loves this particular Graham Cooke message and will often share bits and pieces of it with Thai unbelievers.  She told me that she loves telling people, “God loves you 100%,” but that after sharing this she often feels remorse because she worries that if we stress God’s great love to sinners–while they are still walking in their sin–how will they ever feel conviction and change their ways?

My favorite part of “Inheritance” is when Cooke says:

“He (God) loves you 100%, He won’t love you any better when you become better.

He loves you 100% right now; and even if you have no plans to become better, He will still love you 100%, because He loves you, because that is what He is like.

And even if you don’t want to change, He will love you 100%.

Even if you have no plans to walk with Him, He will love you 100%.

Because that’s His nature. He loves all the way, all the time.”

These truths directly contradict the idea that we need to stop sinning in order to receive God’s love and salvation.

Through out my conversation with the SoP teacher I began to realize that while she really wanted to believe this message–it had yet to become a truth to her.

Our conversation went back and forth for a little while.  She quoted scriptures to me about God’s hatred of sin and how He turns His back on sinners and I did my best to explain my thoughts on God’s infinite love and our justification through Christ.  We were both stubborn in our views so in order to diffuse the conversation I just said,” You know–I can’t pretend to understand the vastness of God and His love and my opinions may not be very popular…so you can just write me off as a universalist heretic, it’s ok.”

Conversation over.


 Throwing the words “universalist” and “heretic” around do tend to make people uncomfortable.

But more and more, I feel like these may be words that the majority of mainstream christians would use to describe me.

After living in Buddhist country for three years and being forced to learn how to connect with God without all the christian lingo/ideology/iconography that has surrounded the first seven years of my walk with God–my idea of who God is and how great His love is has expanded.  It has been forced to.

Having Buddhist grandma die after living a devout life of Buddhism, not ever knowing Christ’s specific love for her…

or having a young man die in a motorbike accident after living a life of neglect and abuse, never once being told he has value or purpose…

or a girl taking her own life after being sold and used since she was a child, not ever being called a beloved daughter…

These sorts of situations begin to challenge ones views on eternal damnation for not accepting Christ in your life.


God loves you 100% right now.

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

while
noun
  1. at the same time; meanwhile.
    “he starts to draw, talking the while”
conjunction
  1. during the time that; at the same time as.
    “nothing much changed while he was away”

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Before circumcision was law, Abraham was justified by God. Before the disciples believed who Jesus was, they were chosen to do great works.

While we were still sinners…

Even if you have no plans to walk with Him, He loves you 100%…


It seems that, more and more, performance and religious rituals have taken the place of justifier in the church.

That the free gift of salvation is only free as long as it’s followed up with a devout, religious, holy, sinless life.

I can not believe this.

If righteousness comes through performance, Christs’ death is worthless. Christ paid the price.  100%. End of story.

The price has been paid.

Christ’s death covered my past sins.  Christ’s death covers my current, repeated sins.  Christ’s death covers my future sins, my unbelief and my incomplete theology.

Is his death not enough for my buddhist brothers?


So. Maybe I’m a universalist heretic?

Maybe you’re going to be worried about my theology and praying for my mind to renewed…and for my salvation.

Maybe this is just a phase that I will grow out of (like obsessing over cats or drawing pictures of robots).

Maybe?

But in the meantime, I chose to stand on and believe in God’s perfect love.

I chose to believe that nothing will draw people into God’s family in a more complete and authentic way than their experiencing the infinite love of the Creator.

And I choose to honor the Lover God by loving those He loves–even when they don’t (won’t) love Him back.

He loves you because He loves you because He loves you because He loves you because He loves you because He loves you because He loves you because He loves you because He loves you because He loves you because that is what He is like.


An Addendum:

    I was really worried about writing this post, knowing that it may be slightly controversial in a couple of places.  I do want to make it clear that I still very much believe that Jesus is the One way to life eternal and I believe in hell.  The Bible seems clear about these facts.  I, however, believe that we, in our christian minds, send people to hell much more readily and freely than God does and that it is God’s greatest desire to see all of His children honored with Christ in heaven and that He will pull out all the stops to get everyone of us with Him.
    I do not, necessarily, believe that sin sends us to hell. Every single one of us will die in our sin–even conscious, repeated sin (gossip, unforgiveness, half-truths…etc, etc, etc…). But rather, I believe that some, having experience God’s ridiculous love will still chose to reject Him and chose hell for themselves.
    I am also aware of my youth and ignorance and incomplete revelation of God and am willing to be refined in my understanding as I continue to walk with the Lord.

 

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