Friday, July 6, 2012

Cambodians: converting to Jesus to save money


It is easy for we Christians to forget the context that others live in.

I am no missionary, but I have gained even more respect for them as my new job has taken me to poor areas which have never heard the Gospel. In our modern American culture we live in freedom, wealth, luxury, and religious tolerance; as such we have the luxury of spending our time and energy arguing over doctrinal stances and interpretations of ancient Hebrew word choices.

That is not the case in most of the world. Most of the world lives in a life filled with fear, superstition, pain, and suffering. They need Jesus more than we can possibly imagine. And our God is big enough to come to them where they are.

I think that many American Christians will be surprised by just how many believers there are in heaven. How many people are there who disagree with 90% of your doctrine, but believe in "Christ and Him crucified", place their faith and loyalty in Christ, and live with Him forever without ever having had a single doctrinal discussion.

This is what I am thinking about today, as I read this story about a small Cambodian village where about 80% of the population has turned to Christ...for shall we say unusual reasons.

One thing I have noticed when talking to those in other countries who have never heard of Jesus is how important it is to meet them in their context. How do they see the world? What are their struggles?

Thus the missionaries in this village chose a rather strange way to talk to the population: save money by coming to Jesus.

You see, this village was filled with believers who mixed a belief in animism and black magic with a belief in Buddha. If things were going badly or a relative was sick, they would be told to sacrifice a cow to the spirits of the forest. This was an exceptionally expensive sacrifice, one which most could not afford.

And so, Jesus began to grow in popularity because He was said to be both more powerful than their Buddha/black magic sacrifices and also much, much cheaper.

It may seem strange, but it was very effective: the majority of the village now attends weekly sermons, and they no longer fear spirits of the forest or black magic. One villager said that she saved enough money after converting to Christianity to build an actual house, which she had never before had. The villagers also are (because of the preaching) using Western medicine, avoiding rice wine and cigarettes, and finding a way to have Jesus in their cultural context.

They now report that 80% of the village are "strict" monotheists believing in Jesus Christ alone, and are growing in both their knowledge (learning about Jesus as well as English) and their virtue (cleaning up addictions to tobacco and alcohol). You may recall from my last post that these are the first two steps on the path to discipleship.

When I read things like this, I become humbled at our ridiculous first-world problems. Are we Christians really going to spend our time arguing about the health care bill and election year politics, when there are people who have never heard the name of Jesus and sacrifice a month's income to false spirits in the woods? Are we really so me-centric that we think our stances on Old-Earth vs Young-Earth, or Calvinism vs Arminianism, matter ONE BIT when people made in the image of God are needing to hear the name of Christ for the first time?

Reading stories like this, I get the same feeling that invariably arises when I travel to China for work: humiliation. I cannot believe how easily I get distracted by unimportant things when there are so many who need our God. What must God think, when He looks down at us with our ridiculous Internet commenting wars and our absurd fights becuase so-and-so said something that hurt my feelings?

Christ said that the needs for the harvest were many, but the workers were few. And sadly, most of we few workers would rather sit in the air conditioning and become offended because the guy next to us disagrees with our theology than actually go out and harvest the souls for whom Jesus died.


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