Christian Values from Unexpected Places

Post a Comment » Written on February 17th, 2009     
Filed under: News
By Nathan Albert

CHICAGO, IL (February 17, 2009) – My shelves are covered with Christian books, comprising every topic from apologetics to theology, from how to live out the Gospel to tips on evangelizing in coffee shops. I sometimes get caught up in the sin of reading my exciting Christian theology books more faithfully than Scripture. All too often, my desire to live out the way of Christ is based on lessons from best-selling books and gripping Sunday sermons. Yet after two weeks in Thailand as a part of class at North Park Theological Seminary, I have learned Christian values from some unexpected places—namely from Buddhists.

In January, thanks to generous funding support from Covenant World Relief, I was able to spend two weeks with families in the slums of Bangkok and meet many missionaries who faithfully work throughout Southeast Asia. While living in the slums (called chum chons in Thai), I was able to witness unconditional love, hope, and evangelism.

The people who live in the chum chons are poor even by Thai standards. Many work selling fruit or meat from carts they push around the streets. Many are drunks who spend their days sleeping off hangovers. Many are members of large families who live packed together under one roof.

Homes in the chum chons are situated above standing water and piles of trash, dirt, and at times sewage. Walls are made from the thinnest wood, roofs are sheets of tin, and floors take the shape of the earth below. Those with “extra” money have doors, glass windows, and perhaps a shower. There are miles of sidewalks made from planks of found wood that wind in and around these homes. Yet the people in the chum chons are not homeless. They have bedrooms, living rooms, and full kitchens. Many people own flat screen TVs, video games, cars, or mopeds. The chum chons are community at its richest and most complex.

While there, I was introduced to an eight-year-old named Fai. After her shyness wore off, Fai and I began to play games. She would teach me Thai, and I would do my best to teach her English. We played badminton endlessly, and thumb wrestling and piggyback rides quickly became some of her favorite activities as well.

At one point in the afternoon, Fai cuddled up in my lap and reached out her finger and thumb toward me. I did not understand what she was doing, so I jokingly pulled her finger. She shook her head no and again reached out her finger and thumb toward me. This time rather than pulling it, I shook her hand. Once again, Fai shook her head no.

Impatiently, she took my thumb and finger and bent it into the same shape as hers. She then took her bent fingers and connected them with mine. When our fingers and thumbs connected, they formed the shape of a heart. As soon as I realized that, Fai looked me in the eyes and said, “I love you.”

For the rest of the week Fai made me one of her friends. She made sure I always had a glass of water to drink after playing a wild game of badminton. When she ate a snack, she was sure to offer me the first bite. Once, when I asked if her dinner was delicious, she insisted that I try some of her meal even though it was the same as my own. After buying ice cream from a local shop, she ran to me to feed me one of the first tastes.

After a week with Fai and countless other Thai children and families, I was blown away by their unconditional love for me. That week I was loved in ways that I had not experienced back home in the States. Moreover, Fai’s unconditional love made me realize how conditional my love tends to be. I am finicky in who I love. I want to love the popular people, those who are the best of the best. I want to love those who are easy to love. Shying away from the unlovable is too easy.

Although Christian missionaries have been working in Thailand for more than 200 years, Thailand is still 95 percent Buddhist and approximately 1.4 percent Christian. It is possibly the most unreached nation in the world. I used to see such statistics and immediately think, More missionaries are needed there, or We are failing at God’s mandate to make disciples of all nations. Yet after meeting so many Thais, I found myself longing for Thai Christians to come as missionaries to the United States. We in the West can learn from Thais, whether Christian or Buddhist, about building honest community, sharing our possessions, honoring our elders, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Given that such a large percentage of the Thai population rejects the Christian message, I easily get discouraged and lose hope. Yet Thai Christians are hopeful for all people. I met one woman whose father murdered her mother, who was cursed by her entire family, who was abused by missionaries, and who, after becoming a Christian, decided to be reconciled to her father in order to show him God’s love. When asked if her father was a Christian, her immediate response was, “Not yet.”

The woman I lived with in the chum chon is the only Christian in her family. When asked if her boyfriend was a Christian, her response also was, “Not yet.” These two women, living in different parts of the country, responded to challenges with unconditional hope.

It’s a hope that I do not have. My response to many non-Christians is often a lackadaisical “Oh well, that’s their choice.” Has the Good News not become good news to me? Do I want everyone to hear it, or do I only want certain people to hear the hope that I have? Do I believe that the odds are against God in a country that is 95 percent Buddhist?

Living for a week in the chum chons of Bangkok, I experienced a type of evangelism that did not include words or even a Bible. I quickly learned that foreigners do not walk, let alone, live in the slums of Bangkok while visiting Thailand. Our presence as a group of Christians was incarnational evangelism. Showing love to the children of the chum chons was evangelism. Simple actions, such as picking them up, giving them piggyback rides, and showing them attention, spoke volumes of love. When we helped wash dishes, sweep the floor, and serve our hosts, we were serving Christ.

The results of such incarnational evangelism were remarkable. The mayor of the chum chon invited us back, concluding that Christians would always be allowed in his village. A Buddhist woman we called Bah felt honored to house Christians for a week, and as we said our good-byes, she remarked, “When you come back to Thailand you stay with me. You always have a mother in Thailand.”

God’s love came to us through the Incarnation. As the body of Christ, we must continue to be incarnate, especially in a text-message, cell phone, and Internet-crazed world.

Although two weeks in Thailand gave me the opportunity to learn countless lessons, the most remarkable was learning Christian values in a Buddhist culture, a place to which I thought God needed to be introduced. I learned that evangelism is more than words. I learned that Christians hope at all times, even in the face of horrible odds. And I experienced Christ’s unconditional love for me through an eight-year-old Buddhist girl.

Nathan Albert is a student at North Park Theological Seminary and attends New Community Covenant Church in Chicago.

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