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A View

Working on the Roof: A Personal Perspective

By Tsering

Ever since the days of Jesus and the Roman Empire, the East has been shrouded in mystery and wonder. A place whose history is not considered with that of “civilization,” but existed far apart from the “known world.” Even the famous Marco Polo had a hard time convincing those in Rome of the authenticity of his stories, despite the fact that the tribes of the Central Asian steppes were right on the doorstep of Europe. Aside from the ignorance, the East has had profound influence on western civilization in ways that many today cannot even imagine. For centuries the East brought fine goods like silk and spices. But it wasn’t just material goods that were important. As is already known, countries like India have religious writings that date as far back as 3000 BC. It was these religions that had major influence during the times of Jesus through secret cults that permeated the Roman Empire. The Gnostics and other sects were said to have picked up many of their ideas from Eastern philosophy with an emphasis on special revelation through aesthetics and meditation that only an elite enlightened few could participate in. Much like some schools of Hinduism and even Buddhism, the Gnostics believed that the material world was inherently evil and needed to be escaped. I wonder if Buddhism, which already existed by that time, had a role to play?

Philosophers like Plato, Siddhartha Gautama (founder of Buddhism), and Zarathushtra (founder of Zoroastrianism) all saw a partial truth, but without a complete revelation, they were deceived and founded systems of thought that to this day are still used by Satan to, “blind the minds of unbelievers, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them” (2 Corinthians 4:4). But these men came before the Christ, who fulfilled their longings for an absolute Truth, an escape from suffering, and a final victory over evil. After Christ, there has been no major religion founded apart from Him, with even Islam having to include him as one of the most important prophets. Even the Dalai Lama cannot escape him and has written a book about him. The Marxist is forced to admit that if the story was true, he must have been a revolutionary. The whole world runs on a calendar based upon his existence and eventually “every knee will bow and every tongue confess to God” (Romans 14:11). 

With all this wonderful knowledge, we can go on and on writing dissertations and apologetics on the differences between Christian thought and Buddhist philosophy, on new strategies for reaching out to these people in darkness, on what is contextualization vs. syncretism, etc. But for our sake and the sake of those we are reaching, God has made the Gospel a simple, yet powerful tool. From the words of one of the greatest evangelists in history: “And I, brethren, when I came unto you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). With all the people I’ve argued with, debated with, and explained concepts to, all of it falls by the wayside in comparison to the gentle pulling of the Holy Spirit on a sinner’s heart and a straight forward presentation of the Gospel. May God’s power through Christ reach into the darkest corners of this earth – even Tibet!

The mystery of Tibet

 

Prayer flags seeking merit

For centuries the “Land of Snow” or Tibet, has been a focus of romantic adventure and mysterious discovery. Surrounded by almost impassable mountains and isolated intentionally by the Tibetan people, the country was able to develop a very unique culture. Before Christians could penetrate its borders, the people had already been influenced heavily by religion. These various belief systems still exist today, having evolved into what people now call Tibetan Buddhism. Ancient Tibetans, broken into many tribes, adhered to an animistic belief system they call the “religion of humans.” It was this system that brought about shamanism, magic, mountain deities, “wind-horse” (lungta) prayer flags, cairns, geomancy, and so forth, as a way to ensure a better life and to ward off evil. Later, the religion of Bon was introduced from Persia and adopted by the first Tibetan kings, who claimed to be immortals, but when the immortals died, mortal kings took over, and the religion focused on adverting death through “ransoms.” Some believe human sacrifice may have been prevalent. When Buddhism was introduced in the 7th century, the Bon religion was forced to retreat and adopt Buddhist ideas into its practice. Sacrifice was abominable to Buddhists, who believed that compassion must be expressed to all sentient beings. Because of the harsh environment of the plateau and its naturally isolating geography, Tibet was the perfect wilderness for the Buddhists to set up their monastic system, which is one of the keys to the religion – hence the Three Precious Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma (his teachings), and the Sangha (monastic community). In the 15th century, the Gelukpa order (Yellow Hats) gained ultimate control when the Mongolian Empire accepted it as their state religion and instituted the Dalai Lama as the spiritual and political ruler of Tibet. Coupled with Tantra (a practice from Nepal), Tibetan Buddhism became a powerful force amongst the people to the point that even today Tibetans will say that to be Tibetan is to be Buddhist. I remember standing outside a small grocery store in a remote Tibetan town talking to a wonderful Chinese Christian who had moved there to plant churches when a Tibetan man looked me in the eyes and with a harsh tone stated that Tibetans will never become Christians. I know of a village that eventually murdered some Chinese evangelists to get rid of them.

But despite the efforts of Hollywood, Tibet during the turn of the last century, was anything but romantic. Trapped in a corrupt monastic/political system that relied on a merit system to gain wealth from the common people, Tibet was much similar to Europe during the medieval ages. Intruders were skinned alive and tortured, while bandits plundered travelers. Monasteries were laden with gold and precious stones, while whole villages lived in squalor. Monks asked lay people to do incredibly defacing forms of merit-making in order to gain better Karma. It wasn’t surprising that when Communism (another system based on human effort without God) was introduced to Tibetans by the Chinese, many genuinely believed it would be the answer to their problems and embraced it. In fact we see a similar thing happening today in Nepal and India. I often wonder if the concept of Karma and self-salvation is somewhat similar to the Law. “Do good, receive good; Do evil, receive evil.” You would think that people would get better, but Paul states in the seventh chapter of Romans that his sin nature takes advantage of the Law, and makes him sin more. No wonder Siddhartha saw desire as the cause of suffering, because in his context, human desire was completely fallen and corrupt. Even if man intended good, it ended up in pain and suffering. Thus Siddhartha was a good observer, but didn’t hit the mark. Following a system of merit and self-salvation never brought anyone closer to God. Instead it brought them emptiness, which is ironically the very thing that Buddhists seek in Nirvana. 

The only Way

 

Tibetan monks

There is only one way to be delivered from corruption and suffering – salvation through Christ, and not ourselves. In Christ we don’t get what we deserve. I remember hearing the Gospel preached to a houseful of Tibetans, when the man of the house finally said, “How can you say that all my good works are worth nothing? How can I accept this Grace after I’ve been proudly doing good works to get the heaven (heaven isn’t the ultimate destination for Buddhists, but is a good place to be reincarnated into) for the last 60 years!” This man passed away that year while drunk driving his tractor on a steep trail, blatantly in violation of the commands of the founder of his own religion. But it is not my place to emphasize the corruption found in the monasteries today, or the immorality practiced by the many Tibetans I have befriended over the time I’ve worked here. Like my own life before I found salvation through Christ, it was obvious that I was ignorant of anything better. Instead of condemning them, I weep over them; I strive with God for their salvation; I forgive them and continue to bless them. The Tibetan people are precious in His sight and God desires that none perish outside of Him.

For hundreds of years, missionaries have been sacrificing to reach these people with the Gospel and just as Jesus states, “the harvest is plentiful.” Tibet is no easy place; a famous missionary to China once compared working in Tibet to robbing a tigress of her cubs. But as the saying goes, “The light shines brighter in the darkness.” Tibet is different than it was a century ago, and today people are able to travel to places where past missionaries never dreamed of going. It is no surprise that a ministry with the name of Climbing For Christ and a mission statement that includes “mountainous areas of the world where other missionaries cannot or will not go” would end up being called to work on the “roof of the world.” But still, the question remains; who is willing to come?

 

What You Can Do

1. Get information on Tibet: There is a lot of information out there. Get it from every perspective. Did you know, for instance, that more than half of Tibetans actually live outside of the Tibetan Autonomous Region in the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan; that Sherpas are a Tibetan people group, not another word for porters; or that there are established Tibetan churches already in existence?

2. Intercede and pray on behalf of the Tibetans and for those who are working to share God’s truth and love with them.

3. Participate in a mission effort to Tibetan areas, which includes northern India, Nepal, Bhutan, and western China. Keep a lookout for future trips planned with Climbing For Christ!

The Word

“Do you not say, 'Four months more and then the harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying 'One sows and another reaps' is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
— John 4:35-38 (NIV)

 

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