Culture first, Christ later
I met her my second week in Thailand. She doesn’t speak much English but her smile speaks volumes, making up for what words cannot say. She has a Thai nickname that is easier to remember and so it has been easy for us to become friends. She comes to church every weekend, most Friday nights for vespers and sometimes to Wednesday night meetings. She does not understand that this is rare for teenagers her age. That is probably a good thing.
One Wednesday night she brings her brother to church with her. He is older and attends the University here. The following Sabbath when I do not see him, I ask her about it. Through her limited English I find out that she is the only Christian in her immediate family. Both her parents are Buddhists. She came to know God some years earlier when her grandmother started bringing her to church. She does not understand that this is a big thing for a teenager her age. This is also probably a good thing.
I am not an expert on Buddhism, but from what I gather it is not an extremist religion. It is unlikely that you will be killed for choosing to be a Christian. In fact, most Thai Buddhists I have met are open to hearing about Jesus, even if they do not necessarily believe He is for them.
Where it is similar to other religions, however, is that Buddhism is more than just a religion. It is not like Christianity which many people can tune into for one day each week and turn off 24 hours later. Buddhism is a culture. It explains the reason Thai people do a lot of things they do. It is a lifestyle. It advises how you eat, work, play and relate to others. So when someone, like my friend, relinquishes Buddhism, they in many ways give up some of their culture.
How willing am I to give up my culture for Christ?
In the west we have these long debates about music, dress and style of worship. We cling to our drums, and jewelry like lifelines, often tossing the word culture into the mix as a reason for holding onto them. I don’t want to judge whether these things are wrong or right. But when I meet people who give up lifestyles that they have been born into for Christ, I can’t help but wonder why it is so easy for them and so hard for us. Is it because they love Jesus more? Does it mean I love Jesus less?
Hmm. Something to think about.