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East Asia – March 2017

04 Mar

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me” Jeremiah 9:23-24

The first part of our trip was spent with Brian, who is trying to reach a certain sect of “T” people living in the more rural, mountainous regions of the country. There are over 1 million “T” people in this area and very few believers. The size and geography of the region makes it difficult to get to this group and believers among them are often isolated with few chances for discipleship. There are only 60-80 people trying to reach them with the gospel.

We got the opportunity to travel to a ‘T” village and stay in a home there to get a sense of how this people group lives. Everything there is seen through the lens of Buddhism, which is intricately linked to their culture and identity. The main tenet of Buddhism is removing suffering and reaching a state of peace but, at its core, is essentially the idea that one can be saved by works. There are colored flags strung along every mountain, usually near the peaks, with the hope of bringing good fortune to the area and, in some cases, to appease local spirits or gods. “Prayer cards” with various mantras written on them litter the ground, especially near temples, where the charred remains of burnt offerings linger. There are prayer wheels (cylindrical wheels containing scrolls inscribed with mantras) next to rivers that use the running water to make them turn. The idea is that spinning the wheel gives the same benefits and good karma as reciting the mantras inside. The more revolutions made, the more merits earned. In this particular village, there was even a woman who would get upset if travelers dared trek around a sacred mountain without first paying a “fee.” It was not done with the intention of getting rich, but rather with a sincere belief that not doing so would bring bad fortune upon the village.

In the house we stayed at, images and icons adorned the walls and shelves. While we were there, a monk was hired to perform a ceremony for the grandson. There was a lot of chanting from the monk and occasional rituals performed by the family at set moments. Yet, for all their fervor for décor and ritual, the family didn’t appear religious in any sense of the word. They were completely disinterested in what the monk was doing, casually going about their own business while he chanted away, and only performing in it when called to do a particular work. The grandson was on his phone the whole time. When asked whether she thought these rituals worked, the grandmother’s response was “Who can know?”

In his book, Knowing God, J.I. Packer writes, “we are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is and who runs it. The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know about God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfold, as it were, with no sense of direction, and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.” I saw this cruelty in the lives of this family, saddened from the realization that there was a lot of work done for nothing, words uttered into the void, and hope flung in vain. Oh, that they might know the hope and assurance in Christ.

Written by Jennifer Gidden

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