On our way back from the child development center we had some time to visit with Gade. I wanted to know more about the idols and shrines we were seeing in Thailand. We observed many people coming to bow, kneel or pray before the shrines and Buddhas. Sometimes they left food or other offerings. The shrines seem to be in so many places — in front of stores, on street corners, near motels, and at attractions. In some cases, the shrines are miniature replications of a larger temple. The tiny ones are easy to put up just about anywhere.
We even passed a solemn funeral, right in the middle of the street. There was a Buddhist monk with a rope, straining to pull an elaborately decorated coffin, while the loved-ones of the deceased followed along.
Not having been exposed to this in my travels before, I had a lot of questions:
Who are they praying to?Why are they leaving offerings of food?What is their god’s name?What do they believe about the afterlife?Do they believe in multiple gods?Do the gods represent basic needs — weather, health, finances?What are the responsibilities of believers?What role do monks play in the community?
The answers, as I understood them, were surprising to me in many ways. Gade said that Buddha is not considered a god; he was a good teacher. Therefore, they are not praying to Buddha, even though they are bowing down before his statues. In fact, they don’t really know who they are praying to. There is no name for their god. She said that they try to be good and hope to be in a better state in the next world (often Hindu and Buddhist beliefs are intertwined). She explained that in evangelism it can be very helpful to share Paul’s words:
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone — an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God over looked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” – Acts 17:23-31 (NIV)
The other thing that Gade told us about was the border ministry for the Karen refugees of Burma (Myanmar). Thousands of people from the Karen tribe have been killed in Burma, and many people are escaping to refugee camps in Thailand. Unfortunately, they are not able to stay in the camps indefinitely, and they fear being sent back, where they are often killed or enslaved. It’s really a dire situation. I’m glad that my Compassion friends are in ministry and support to these people. In fact, Toni and Bruce’s LDP student, Pen, is from the Karen tribe. I know that Vision Beyond Borders is also working in ministry with them. I’m glad because my grandfather’s brother was a missionary to Burma from 1909-1945, and worked closely with the Karen people. It seems that they have always been under persecution, for I have a paper written at that time (by my great-aunt) about the history of this particular tribe.
Finally, I was excited to see on the recent Compassion prayer calendar that Compassion’s Asia Office is planning a meeting with pastors in Burma and Vietnam. Does that mean we may have child development centers in those countries some day? I hope so! I will be the first to sponsor a child in Burma, Lord willing!