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Signs of Maturity

By Lydia Gingerich, RMM staff writer

William and Rebecca* and their four sons enjoy living in East Asia, where they are involved in a retail business. They work with about twenty employees and are leading a small worshipping group of local people and occasional seekers’ Bible studies. They are also developing new, contextualized materials that bridge into the Buddhist world view.

During their nineteen years of ministry in East Asia, William and Rebecca have observed many believers exhibiting a difficult time developing a close relationship with God. But now, they are starting to see growth and depth in two significant ways.

The first way is by believers talking about their faith with friends and family members who are not Christians. Revealing their own conversions from Buddhism could incur alienation from both society and family. Previously, this has been enough to stop them from openly sharing, “but it feels like they are experiencing Christ at a deep enough level that they want other people to know how wonderful he is.”

While drinking tea with a group of neighbors, Agnes,* a member of William and Rebecca’s fellowship, encountered a man who stated that westerners have no morality. Some of his children moved to a nearby country where they often interact with Americans and they have found these people to be unfaithful in marriage – moving from one divorce to another. Agnes responded, “I have worked for a lot of foreigners, and they are not that way. They are good people and they get married and have children and they live with that person the rest of their life, and they are faithful to that person.” Not stopping there, Agnes chose to use this conversation as an opportunity to talk about Christ, proposing that the difference between this man’s experience and her own might be because of faith. She was excited to share this idea with her neighbors: “They believe in a God that you cannot see. But he’s everywhere and he is the one who made the world and he knows everything about each person in the world. He knows exactly how many cups of tea you drank today, and he knows what is in your heart and what you are thinking, and what everyone is thinking right now. And if you believe in him, when you die, Jesus will take you to heaven to live with God.”

The concept of going to heaven to live with God brings excitement to those who have grown up in a Buddhist tradition because of its stark contrast to the belief that the “lord of death” will judge each person after they have died. According to Rebecca, this lord of death “is the one who sends you to different realms of reincarnation and he meets out punishment based on what you have done in this life. If you have lied a lot, he’ll cut off your tongue. If you stole, your hands, and so on.” That God would invite them to heaven and love them despite the sins of their past is a liberating notion.

After sharing this message with her neighbors, Agnes had a woman come up to her and ask more about the faith she spoke of. This woman was touched by the way Agnes’ face shined as she spoke about God. When Agnes shared this story with William and Rebecca, they could tell how happy she was. “She had been looking for an opportunity to share and she felt like God gave it to her. And others are starting to have more opportunities and experiences like that where they can share.”

“… it gives us hope that this loyalty to Christ may be beyond just their parents.”The second way growth and depth are shown is by the children of these believers who are owning the faith. “Perhaps the Kingdom is expanding to a second generation,” William reflected, “it gives us hope that this loyalty to Christ may be beyond just their parents.” William recalled a worker in South Asia saying many years ago that it takes three generations for people to become Christian. “Now I think I see what he was talking about. It takes three generations for a culture to be changed significantly by encountering Christ – at the root level.”

Many members of William and Rebecca’s fellowship have moved to their current city from a smaller town to get a better job after they started to have children. The education regulations are such that a child can only benefit from free schooling in their town of birth. To be able to afford education for their children, the parents in William and Rebecca’s group send them to boarding school in their hometowns. Because of the strong Buddhist influence within this country, their children’s independence is not only physical but spiritual as well. Being away from their parents and regular fellowship, means they are not closely monitored on how they live out their faith. During this time away from home, they are deciding how important their faith really is.

An eleventh-grade girl who was the top student in her class often got picked on for “showing off by getting good grades” and “ruining the curve.” One day, before a test, some of her classmates told her she must purposefully get a low score to make the others look better, threatening to beat her up if she did not follow their instructions. After agonizing over the decision, she heard Jesus tell her in a dream not to be afraid, and that he was with her. Rebecca shared that this girl decided she was “just going to do the best that she could. And she did. And she got first place. And she got beat up.” This girl was able to tell her mom that it was okay – Jesus was with her, but that does not stop bad things from happening.

Another girl in seventh grade had a similar testing of faith. She was experiencing bad dreams as a result of watching a scary movie with friends. Over a phone call, her mom counseled her to pray and ask Jesus to calm her fears. She chose to take this advice seriously. Every night before bed she would pray that Jesus would protect her, and the scary dreams went away. She also decided that she would not watch scary movies anymore. William and Rebecca are impressed that “as a seventh grader, she is learning to live on her own – with Jesus.”

Both Rebecca and William notice a maturity as they disciple these children. These children do not have to struggle with Buddhism like their parents do. Most of them are better educated than their parents and can read the Bible with ease. Even at their young age when they participate, they are an asset to the group through reading aloud, translating, and participating in discussion. This is an encouragement to the work William and Rebecca are doing and a gift to the local church.

Believers responding to the gospel by sharing their faith and by children owning their faith brings great joy and excitement to William and Rebecca. While they recognize that this is a fragile maturity, they know God is at work. “We believe there are things Christ has done at a deep level – things that can’t be undone so quickly.”

*names changed for security