Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Identify, Use, Reach

My trip to Malaysia was an incredible experience! I have never been to that part of the world before, and it was everything I expected and so much more.

The people were very friendly and accommodating, and the food was out of this world! Everywhere you looked there were food vendors offering choices such as Thai, Indian, Cantonese, Chinese, Malay, Japanese and even Mexican (served with a smile and a sarcastic comment from a guy from Toledo, Ohio...we laughed and laughed at that.)

The food, the atmosphere, the climate, the view everything I could see and feel was telling me this place was an awesome place to visit and and spend some time.

Then when I met the students I would be teaching, all my intuitions were confirmed. These guys were amazing! In one setting I had passionate youth leaders from countries I had heard of and only dreamed of visiting some day. Countries where it is illegal to talk about Jesus, and countries where to this day religious persecution abounds.

Think about that, in China the word "underground" and church are used in the same sentence. In Myanmar there is constant persecution, in Brunei it's not easy to stand out and stand up for your faith as a Christian. In Sri Lanka and other Tsunami hit areas the ministry of helps is your ticket in to reach the people.

As I got to know the students and hear their stories, I was blown away with the issues they have to overcome in their culture just to have an opportunity to even talk about Jesus, let alone start a full blown ministry to young people. We strategized, and dialoged and got excited about all kinds of ideas that "just might work" back home in their world and with their young people.

One of the stats we threw around in the class is one that really puts things in perspective and sharpens our focus on the fact that the time is short and the work is plentiful. 51% of the world's population is under the age of 25! Process that one for second...over half the world is YOUNG...Very YOUNG, and that population isn't just in the US it's global.

When I shared that stat I wish you could have seen the faces of the students as they realized that there will never be a shortage of young people to reach, that's not the issue. The issue is how do we reach them in our various settings where government, persecution, culture, traditions and religious views are so varied and diverse.

We spent alot of time talking about how Paul reached his culture, and especially in Acts when he was before the Areopagus, he gave us a great idea of how to reach our audience.

Before he went in to speak to them, he was walking around and noticed tons of idols, and then he noticed one that was dedicated to an "unknown god." They were covering themselves just in case they missed one.

Paul notices this and addresses the body with something like this "as I was walking around I noticed that you have an idol to an unknown god...I am here today to introduce to you that which you don't know...Jesus Christ is God!"

That's brilliant, in essence what Paul was doing was Identifying the culture, using the culture to reach the culture.

We had just gotten finished processing this passage when the students and I headed out to see some Temples in Penang, which is known for it's wide variety of religions and religious temples in close proximity to each other. Even though Malaysia is a Muslim country, there are centuries of traditions represented there ranging from Buddhist to Hindu and everything in between, so we had lots to look at!

On one of our stops we visited the Hindu Temple, just in time to witness the waking of the peacock god. The picture above is the Hindu monk ringing the bell to wake up the peacock god (my mind immediately went to Elijah and his encounter on Mt. Carmel, as the prophets of Baal tried to wake up their god). The picture below is an idol of the peacock god.

As we watched and walked and observed all that was going on I kept thinking about Paul and how he boldly stood up and spoke the truth to the people using what they knew as a starting point, and was praying about how the students who work in Hindu areas like India and Nepal could apply this method as well. Then as I rounded the corner in the temple an example dawned on me.

In this particular hall there were pictures of idols lining every square inch of the walls, everywhere you looked there were idols, that obviously held major importance to the Hindu religion, and therefore to the Hindu people. As we know, an idol really is anything that is more important to us than God. Relationships, Money, Career, anything that takes the top spot in our lives is an idol to us.

With that concept in mind what I saw next was like an incredible crescendo to our previous discussion in class, and I wonder if Paul had the same feeling when he saw the idol to the unknown god and realized his "in" with the people.

The picture on the top of this post shows the pictures of the idols along the top of the walls and in the same shot you see a mirror, a TV, a stereo speaker and a chandelier.

Hmm, beauty, celebrity and wealth perfectly pictured in the Hindu temple for other reasons I'm sure, but as we stood there and observed, I noticed some students starting to "get it" and realize that they could use symbols like that to connect with young people in their culture to share the real truth that the things we strive after don't fulfill, but we know what does, and who does.

It was a great time of active learning with the students, but it was also a sad time as we looked around and observed so many people needing to be "enlightened" with the truths of God's Word...Truth's like, Jesus is God, Jesus died for you, Jesus offers salvation, and you can be with Him forever and have life to full here on earth.

Identify the culture, Use the Culture to Reach the really works, and I can't wait to hear the stories of how God uses our students in Southeast Asia and around the globe, as they introduce young people to the God who can be known, and known personally!

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