Tuesday, March 30, 2010

East Asia

I had the opportunity to go on a week-long vision trip to East Asia over Thanksgiving break. Here is a glimpse of my experience:

The first night we ate dinner with the long-term missionaries. Walking back from the restaurant, I was overwhelmed by the general darkness and despair. As we darted through the crowded streets, I was heartbroken by an old man playing a traditional instrument, as his empty and deeply sorrowful music seemed to be the cries of a lost heart.

The next morning we went to the university and began meeting students. I was overwhelmed by the graciousness of the East Asians. One girl approached me and offered to buy me lunch. She sat me down, ordered my food, and then served me—only to tell me she needed to go to class!

Later that day, my partner and I were able to share the Gospel with a girl who had never heard of Jesus Christ before. She shared how she felt empty inside—and yet her deep spiritual hunger did not result in an acceptance of truth. Instead she responded in the manner every person I talked with did: “We 'East-Asians' do not believe in God.”

East Asia is a spiritually dark place where Satan has a stronghold. He is using the government to disseminate lies and block out the truth. Take for instance, Wang, another girl I talked with. Specifically, when I asked her if she felt like something was missing in her heart, she paused and responded: “You know here in East Asia we honestly do not have time to think about deep things.” I was heartbroken beyond words.

Despite Satan’s manipulation, Jesus Christ is victorious over darkness. People here do respond to the Gospel and over the course of the week my team saw one person accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. His response, I believe, illuminates an even deeper spiritual reality: East Asians need a Savior just as much as people anywhere else in the world.

No clearer is this evidenced than in the suicide rate: Monday night one of the long-term missionaries debriefed us, explaining how students are responsible for supporting their parents and both sets of grandparents, as there is no social security or health care. Pressured to succeed, students work extremely hard during high school to get into the university, and while some assume acceptance to the university will allow them to relax, they soon discover that competition is high at the university as well. Some fail tests and classes, and rather than face the disappointment of their families, many ultimately resort to suicide. I was horribly burdened and heartbroken by the fact that people take their lives because they simply have no hope.

Tuesday my partner and I had three spiritual conversations. We shared the Gospel with a junior, who like the rest expressed that there was emptiness within his heart. Following our conversation with him, my partner and I talked with two freshmen. The one looked horribly depressed, and when we asked him about his experience at the university he explained how he did not enjoy it and wanted to go home. As we continued talking, we discovered he had questioned the existence of God and had a Bible in his room. My partner and I went through the Gospel, and looking back I now see God’s sovereign hand at work: Our friend had a Bible, but he did not understand it. God, therefore, used my partner and I to explain what Jesus had done.

Ultimately, our friend had to leave for class, leaving my partner and I the opportunity to talk with his friend. He had little exposure to Christianity, and yet he said something quite profound: “You know, if there is a God, I think He must be love.” My partner and I both readily agreed, and we pulled out our bilingual Bible to show him 1 John 4:7-9: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” My partner and I proceeded to go through the Gospel with him, and at the end we prayed for him, asking that Jesus would give him a real experience of Himself. It was very powerful to pray for him, and I pray that as the long-term missionaries follow up with him the Lord will be working in his heart.

Wednesday I spent time with a girl I met on Monday. When I asked her about her religious traditions and beliefs, she explained that she worships her ancestors. I asked her if she ever felt like her prayers were left unanswered and she responded with a resolute yes. She admitted, moreover, that something is missing within her heart. I shared the Gospel and again I heard those paining words: “We 'East-Asians' do not believe in God.”

Thursday we had our main outreach. Specifically, we hosted a Thanksgiving party for all the people we had met throughout the week. I was paired off with Wang and her friend Mary. After making a craft project, we each shared what we were thankful for. When it was my turn, I shared that I was most thankful for Jesus, to which Mary responded: “Oh I know about Jesus. He makes you warm in your heart.” I proceeded to ask her if she followed Jesus, and she said she didn’t although she had searched for information and wanted to know more. I explained that I could tell her more and we went through the Gospel together. Neither Mary nor Wang accepted, but in sharing truth I planted seeds which prayerfully God will make grow.

Friday evening we had a final team dinner. Two professed Asian believers from the university attended and each shared what God had done in their lives. I was particularly affected by the last testimony shared—namely that of a young man who had wanted to kill himself until, by the grace of God, someone shared Jesus with him. I was moved to tears by his story, mostly because it was a faint glimmer of hope: The East Asian people do not know the relentless love of Jesus Christ because their government, like the horrific pollution of the city, darkens the light. They do not know a hope that never fails and they do not have salvation. And yet God is moving. He is victorious in the darkness, as He is victorious in the light. His truth is as real in East Asia as it is in the rest of the world, because the Gospel deals with the deepest and truest realities of the human heart. Everywhere people struggle with sin. Everywhere people turn away from their Creator, seeking fulfillment in other things. And everywhere people have emptiness which can only be satiated by the love of Jesus Christ, who endured the cross to redeem all peoples and nations.

I went to East Asia a sinner and I return one. I am still, and will always be, a sinner redeemed solely by Jesus Christ’s unmerited grace. And yet, His truth has become more real and alive in my life and heart. While I do not fully know yet what God desires and wills for my future, I know one thing is for sure: I want to live the abundant life of experiencing and sharing His love.

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