From the Heart: Where “Forgiveness” Crosses a Line
Here’s a letter we received recently. It’s a great testimony about bringing the Kingdom vision to a place where it is totally foreign.
I suspect that this email echoes some of the sentiments expressed by many others who contact you on a steady basis.
By way of a brief introduction, my name is Malcolm, a 37 year old missionary kid. I was born in Thailand to a British father and Dutch mother who married in Laos. I don’t know where I come from, but I know where I am going! My Swedish wife was born to missionary parents in Burundi. Our 10 year old daughter, Amy, was born on the mission field as well. We serve Jesus in Asia planting churches with WEC International (a mission agency founded by the eccentric sport star turned missionary pioneer C.T. Studd exactly 100 years ago. Crazy guy. You will have to search for some of his quotes. Priceless. ‘Cannibals Need Missionaries’ etc…) We have been here in a rural setting since 2002 planting churches.
I grew up in the Philippines during the 1980s when the dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ousted in 1986 by what has become known as the ‘People Power Revolution’. In other circles it is known as ‘Praying People Power Revolution’ – a miraculous non-violent revolution. That event, when I was 11, got me starting to think about ‘other ways’ God uses to approach problems. Now I read books about ‘the upside-down Kingdom’, but I didn’t have all the terminology then to describe what I was observing.
Here, I am surrounded by a deep-rooted belief in karma. Not a person, but a force, though it is the closest thing to a god Buddhism in this part of the world affords. You and I believe in and respect the laws of nature. At the edge of a precipice, we respect the law of gravity. It is powerful and we don’t have the power to defy it. Here, the law of karma functions in the same way. One does not negotiate with nor try to tamper with the law of karma. It is a law of the universe that we are powerless to stand against.
It is with this background that we bring the message of grace, mercy and forgiveness. The Kingdom, in this context, is not only upside-down – it is other worldly. I speak to Buddhist monks about theology, and they are keen to chat.
– Creation (a good starting point for Buddhists who don’t have a starting point in their infinite spiral of existence),
– God (no supreme god figure in this atheistic philosophy),
– Jesus (enlightened chap who was born at the beginning of Matthew, died four times at the end of each gospel, and made it to nirvana in Acts in his fifth reincarnation – very respectable to do that in only five lives),
– miracles (power encounters are very real here),
– evil spirits (Buddhist cosmology is filled with all sorts of spiritual characters).
All respectable topics for conversation. Once the word ‘forgiveness’ is mentioned, I cross a line. ‘Now you are talking about fairy tales’, they respond with annoyance. They like talking theology – not fiction. Would it be similar if, Greg, I now told you that I levitate? Could you take me seriously? Once I claim to toy with gravity, you may understandably question my credibility. You will be pleased to know (I think) that I do not float, and I live in accordance to the gravity God set in place to keep me attached to this planet. Without gravity, I would find it difficult to remain close enough to the people group He has called me to!
The message of the Kingdom is entirely counter-cultural, counter-worldly, counter-cosmological to folk here who have no God-figure in their worldview, who shun any emotion as an ‘attachment to this world’ from which one must become detached, and live in constant fear of spirits and karma. Karma leads to fatalism. Here is an example of this: Many locals ride motorbikes – without helmets. When I ask why, their response is, ‘If karma is set to kill me today, there is nothing I can do to prevent it. If I am not due to die today, I can live as I please, and no harm will come to me.’
I have spent more time studying the local culture and belief system than I have much systematic theology. I have always had a sense of ‘God’s Kingdom’, which is how I have gone through ministry. I had never really explored things like Calvinism. However, the way you describe certain aspects of it sounds frighteningly like the karma I come up against, nearly overwhelmingly so, on a daily basis. Your essay on the Book of Job is excellent. Your Kingdom emphasis has been a lifeline to a childhood revelation God began to show me.
I won’t write any more for now. I wish I had more resources to support you financially, but my family don’t have much. I pray for you and wish to encourage you with this email. A small token, but don’t give up on the ReKnew vision and project. It is infusing many parts of the world.
A picture from 1986 Manila of the kingdom was of a jungle under a city – even though it may not look like a jungle, there are signs of it everywhere – grass in the sidewalk cracks, a root breaking through a concrete wall, moss invading a roof, a vine covering an overhead cable. It’s there, and ultimately, the jungle always wins!
Bless you, Greg and your whole team. This is the new People Power Revolution. Kingdom People Power Revolution.