The Gospel has been among this people group in Asia for over 150 years, but the people have remained resistant to it. It has been a long season of breaking up hard ground and sowing seeds.
But something happened in the region about twenty-five years ago that changed everything – some seeds were planted in good soil – and today, our workers are involved in reaping the harvest.
It all started when someone’s boat broke down.
The boat belonged to a team of scientists. In one of the most creative attempts to access this area, this group of scientists, all committed followers of Jesus, set out on an expedition to find the source of one of Asia’s largest rivers. While navigating the river in the remote highlands, their boat broke down. They were stranded. Providentially, the scientists were rescued by a caring group of locals.
In gratitude, the team of scientists felt that they owed their lives to their rescuers, and they wanted to give back. They entered into dialogue with these people about local needs and, in the years that followed, they became involved in a wide variety of practical efforts to bring medical aid, economic development, and educational programs to the region.
The locals were grateful. Gradually, the scientists built strong friendships with community leaders, including the leader of the Buddhist monastery in the area, a man who was referred to as a Living Buddha. This man showed deep appreciation for the sincere efforts of the scientists and began to reflect on Christ and Christianity, so much so that he had an idea to invite these Christians to send short-term teams to help train young monks and nuns in English, to give his future leaders an awareness of the teachings of Christ.
For several years, the scientists arranged for teams to visit this remote village to educate these young monks and nuns and expose them to the Gospel. But this past year, the leader of the monastery proposed a new idea: instead of teams going into the remote region, why not send the young students to the city where he knew other foreigners who could also teach the way of Christ.
Our workers were among those “other” foreigners. In fact, one of the young families on the team had hosted this Living Buddha on occasion while he was in the city receiving medical attention. By simply showing him love and hospitality, they had earned his respect and trust.
Still, our workers were amazed at the Buddhist leader’s proposal. It came at a time when a number of them were on the verge of giving up. They had been in the region for almost twenty years, faithfully engaged in the hard work of this season without seeing much fruit. They had poured their lives into concerted prayer, building friendships, and sharing their faith in Jesus. Exhausted and sometimes frustrated, they had wondered if things would ever change. For our team, the invitation to teach the Bible to young Buddhists was unprecedented and almost unbelievable. Suddenly, the future for this people group looked very different. And today, in this isolated region, dreams are coming true for Gospel workers that thrill their hearts.
When the group of fourteen young monks and nuns finally arrived into the city for their training in Christianity, these workers, along with an ad hoc team of Christ-followers, received them with open arms and gave themselves to this unique opportunity to impart the Gospel to a keen group of young people.
During the following four weeks, the Buddhist students gathered each morning and began their day with praise songs to Jesus in their own native language. Many of the songs were based on tunes that they already knew, so they learned the new words fast and sang loud.
After singing, the sessions focused on Bible learning. The workers decided to use an oral approach and planned to teach eighteen different stories that would give the students a well-rounded understanding of the Gospel, beginning with the story of creation and ending with the growth of the early church.
Every story was read and re-read in the national language, and then in the various dialects that were represented in the room. Each story would be retold while some of the students acted it out. Often, the main events of the stories were sketched out in notebooks to aid memory. The students participated wholeheartedly and learned to tell the stories themselves.
Each new session began with an interactive review of the previous day’s stories. Each session ended with a time of reflection and discussion on what the stories taught about humanity and about God. Questions were always encouraged. Most of the time, the question would be turned back to the students, first to discuss in small groups, and then to share answers with the larger group. The teachers had to resist the urge to give answers and rather to let the students reflect on the stories and come up with their own answers.
Occasionally, the Buddhist leader would drop in on the classes. When he entered the room, everyone would stop what they were doing and stand up to honour him. After he sat down, everyone else would sit and wait for him to speak. They gave him such respect and reverence. The monks and nuns also honoured their leader by being committed to their studies.
Aside from Bible storying, the students were also helped to upgrade their national language skills and to learn some English. There were even sessions on primary health care. Weekends were filled with activities, some at local parks and some at small fellowships of local believers. Two separate dormitories were set up for the students and believers volunteered to live with them, allowing further opportunity to demonstrate the love of Jesus.
By the end of the month’s training, all of the students were impacted not only by the teaching but by the hospitality of their hosts and the practical modeling of Christ’s love. All of them left the city with a clearer understanding of what it meant to follow Jesus. For at least one of the students, that was not enough. By the end of the training, he decided to become a follower of Jesus. Others are also in the midst of considering this path.
For the Buddhist leader, this was completely acceptable. He wanted those young people to learn in sincerity and be free to choose their own path. In his own experience of Christian love, he was also impacted by the practical benefit, although he himself had not yet chosen to forsake all and follow Jesus. Though the workers believed that that also was possible, since they had already seen other mountains moved.
It was a new day for the work of the Gospel in this region. God had opened a door that no one could shut. Each of the workers involved in this opportunity was refreshed and encouraged.
As the initial group of fourteen finished their training and left the city, the Buddhist leader was talking about sending another group to the city to be immersed in the message of the Gospel.