God totally blew my mind the other day. Here’s the story.
One of the temples in Chiang Mai does something called Monk Chat. Basically, a tourist can sit down with a monk and ask questions about Buddhism and what it’s like to be a monk. We use this as a ministry opportunity. It’s a cool setting to learn about Buddhism and to show God’s love to the monks.
I met a monk there named Vijay who is actually from India. He travelled to this particular temple in Thailand to learn English because it has a great English program for the monks. He was 24 years old, and had only been an official monk for about a year, but he had been a novice (attending a Buddhist high school in preparation of becoming a monk) since he was 14. He spoke perfect English, so he and I were able to communicate easily.
I asked Vijay many questions about what it meant to be a monk, who Buddha was, and what his teachings were all about. He was very happy to tell me all that he knew (he was very educated), and he even took out his journal with his class notes that went through the history of Buddhism.
While we were speaking, I was actively praying and asking God what I should say next and I was praying that it would be His words coming through me, not my own. After about an hour of listening to him and asking him questions, God gave me an open door.
*Let me preface the rest of the story with this: As some of you know, I am not a Biblical scholar. I am also by no means an apologist. I haven’t even read the entire Bible yet (Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Lamentations… pretty much any book over 3 syllables intimidates me). I tell you this so you can see how God used this conversation for His glory, even in spite of me.*
In Vijay’s journal, he had dates written down for events, like ‘500 BC’ and ‘250 AD’. So I asked him if he know what ‘BC’ and ‘AD’ meant. He knew that they referred to Jesus. He said that Jesus was a good teacher, and he was tortured and killed, but as he was being killed he called out to God, “Forgive them”, and after 3 days he was resurrected (he actually said ‘reincarnated’ and I had to correct them).
Ok, so he knew about Jesus. From here I just developed some very basic (remember my Biblical credentials… not many) arguments for my faith. If you’re really into apologetics, you probably could’ve gotten way more into this, but I’m not. I asked him who he thought Jesus was talking to on the cross (when he said “Forgive them”) since Buddhists don’t believe in God. I brought up the fact that Vijay said Jesus was a ‘good teacher’. If anyone is familiar with CS Lewis, you probably already know his argument against this type of statement. If you have no clue what I’m talking about it, I can briefly explain it below.
*Basically, Jesus never said he was a ‘good teacher’. He said he was the Son of God. In order to imply that He was simply a ‘good teacher’, you are saying He was lying about being the Son of God. If He was lying about being the Son of God, then He wasn’t a ‘good teacher’ because He would be a liar. So basically you have to believe Him that He is actually who He says He is, the Son of God, or you have to believe He’s a deranged crazy man who can’t be trusted because of the lunacy of what He proclaims about Himself. Lewis argues that there is no in between, and he presents this argument (way better than I am) in Mere Christianity, which if you haven’t read, you should.*
The awesome thing about this discussion was that Vijay was totally tracking with me. Him and I each presented our points and discussed the differences between them. Through all of this, I got to hit on the basic message of the gospel many times. Before I left, I thanked him for the talk and he was beaming. He said, “No, thank you. People always come and all they do is ask me questions and listen, this is the first time someone has actually taught me something.” We made plans to talk again. Super cool.
The next day, we go back to the temple and he isn’t around. So I began chatting with another monk who didn’t know very much English at all. After about an hour, Vijay showed up. We pretty much hopped right back into the discussion we were having the day before.
We began presenting arguments again (Note: when I say ‘argument’ it actually wasn’t an argument at all; it was an awesome conversation where we were both presenting evidence for our beliefs) and as we talked, people began to gather around. I don’t know exactly how many people were listening, but there were 7 at our table (Vijay and another monk, and 5 tourists, including myself) and a few people at surrounding tables listening in as well. I kept asking God what to say next, and it was awesome because Vijay kept leading me into chances to explain the gospel. Vijay and I had been talking about specific scenarios, without anyone else chiming in for probably 20 minutes, when something awesome happened.
One of the other tourists at the table, a Dutch guy about my age, turned to me and said, “It sounds like if you saw a little girl on the side of the road who had no way of helping herself, you would stop to help her so that you can go to heaven.” I got to explain to him that actually, I already know I’m going to heaven. Jesus already covered my sins, so I don’t have to worry about earning favor with Him. The reason I would stop to help her is because of the love that God already has for me, not so I could earn his love. He understood. Then he asked the monk a similar question and the conversation continued.
It was getting late, so I jotted down my name and email address for the Dutch guy and another girl who seemed interested at the table and Grayson, my former DTS roommate, and I took off. Leaving the temple, we were both pretty amazed that God created such a great opportunity for the gospel to be openly shared during the conversation, and for how many people were there to hear it. As we went through the temple gates, I ran to the 7-11 across the street to get a bottle of water. When I came out, I saw the Dutch guy standing there talking to Grayson. He had apparently followed us out of the temple.
When I approached them he said, “Hey man, I was hoping you could explain to me more about what you were saying. I know some Christians back home who say that they are pretty sure that they won’t go to Heaven because of some of the awful things they have done. But it sounds like you know that you’re going to Heaven.” I’ve only been a ‘missionary’ for a handful of weeks, but I’m pretty sure this is an evangelist’s jackpot.
So right there on the temple grounds, right outside the main gate, I got to go through the gospel with him. I even got to use my Bible (which may sound weird, but many times it’s hard to have an opportunity to pull out your Bible because people get so turned off by it). He had already heard about Jesus and God the Father while I was talking to Vijay, so I took him to Ephesians 1:13-14 and explained to him how, because I have the Holy Spirit living in me (the deposit that guarantees our inheritance), I know I’m going to heaven.
He ended up walking with us for about 15 minutes, in the opposite direction of where he was supposed to go, in order to ask us more questions about Christianity and about God. It was so cool. When he finally left, Grayson and I were pumped. We praised God, high-fived, and smiled from ear to ear the rest of the way home. It was insane how God had orchestrated the whole thing.
That Dutch guy didn’t come to know Christ that day, but he was obviously seeking and very open to hear about Him. Statistics say that it takes the average Christian about 6 times of hearing the gospel before they accept Jesus (for me, it took 20 years and countless times). How crazy would it be for that guy, if maybe 10 years down the road he prays for his salvation, and looks back and realizes that the first time he heard the gospel was inside a Buddhist temple, in Thailand, from an American ‘missionary’, who happened to be there at the same time as him.
That’s how awesome God is. He is everywhere and He can reach people anywhere. He is on a relentless pursuit of His children. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a Buddhist temple, a bar, a strip club, at work, or the back row at church, God can reach you. Jesus said in John 6:41, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
One thing I’ve learned about evangelism is that most of it is planting seeds and trusting God to make them grow. What an honor it was to be able to plant the seed in that guy’s life.