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Friday, August 8, 2008

What's the difference? - YMInsights Series

I've been home from Malaysia now for almost 3 weeks, finally the jet-lag is wearing off, (although to be honest I've been milking that one for a good 2 weeks.) I've had some time to rest up, reflect and try to process what I saw and experienced during my nearly 2 week adventure to Southeast Asia.

While I was there I saw a lot of things that were different than what I'm used to, and had so much fun seeing how they do life on the other side of the world. Things like driving on the opposite side of the road, the steering wheel on the right side of the car and clocks that countdown the time remaining on a red light were some of the things I noticed very quickly that were different.

A couple more things that caught my eye were; the high octane energy drink of choice instead of Mountain Dew or Red Bull is a drink called "Kickapoo Joy Juice", the way to eat an ice cream is in a hoagie roll, and if you do happen to ask for it scooped up in a cone you have to watch out for Monkeys as they are known to be little thieves.

I had such a good time with my students as we compared and contrasted cultures that we saw all around us. I mean everywhere we went there were Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christians and Free Masons. All of the different religions and belief systems made for some very lively discussion and challenged us all to not only know what we believe, but why we believe it. I also encouraged the students that we need to know the basics of what the other religions teach so we can have healthy dialog with others regarding truth.
During one of these discussions we visited a very famous Buddhist Temple called Ke Lok Si which is an incredibly beautiful setting carved out of the side of a very high mountain overlooking Penang and the ocean off in the distance. We didn't have much time, so rather than trek up the very steep mountain trail we decided to drive up the winding road instead (I was very pleased with that decision!)

As we got to the top and looked out it was the most beautifully ornate temple you could imagine. Every detail was intricately designed and every artistic depiction was made with the purpose of honoring Buddha and in this particular location the goddess of Mercy.

We went into one of the many Pagodas where we saw some Buddhist monks doing there duty as they offered daily prayers complete with a banging bongo like instrument and burning incense. Then we walked up some more stairs to another Pagoda area where people were gathered kneeling and offering prayers and paying money for various things. We kept going up and up and up until finally we came to a very fancy lift that was kind of like a gondola that took us up the rest of mountain to where the statue to Kuan Yin the goddess of Mercy resided.

When we got to the top it was so beautiful and peaceful, every blade of grass was intricately designed and manicured to help create a serene and restful atmosphere so that people could take it all in.

The first thing I saw was this statue on top of a building so I asked what that was, why it was on top of the building and why it was kind of smudged up and dirty. One of the students who really knew his stuff, and was an awesome help to me kind of chuckled when he said "um that is the original Kuan Yin, see that bronze statue over there surrounded by all the supports? Well, that's the new one." Of course I then asked, "why are they building a new one and what happened to the old one?" He went on to say "the old one was swept away during a mud slide and was pretty much destroyed except for the top section."

Hmm, the whole time I was trying to be respectful, and not make any verbal observations that might offend someone, so I pretty much just bit my lip and kept my mouth shut, but inside I was fuming as I saw idol after idol and issue after issue that really made my heart break for the people who are trapped in a culture that is built upon man made beliefs. The very fact that a god they worship couldn't stand up to a mud slide was a vivid picture in my mind of how weak and fragile our best efforts to reach God really are.

As we got in the van and headed back down the mountain the discussion we had was so rich, and the passion I heard in the voices of the leaders was so moving as they had kind of a "see what we have to deal with in order to reach young people with the truth" attitude...that was absolutely soul shaking for me.

I mean these youth leaders not only need to learn about youth culture they need to navigate through family structures that are steeped in centuries of traditions that are inter-woven through the fabric of generations. Talk about tough!

As we were leaving though, we had a great time of discussion about the fact that Jesus can break through and break free any and all obstacles, and the very fact that all the tombs we saw at the temples were full and if we could take a "road trip" to the Holy Land we would find nothing where they laid Jesus...it's EMPTY, because our God is alive and well and still in the business of changing lives!

I came away from that mountain and all those temples with a new found appreciation for my brothers and sisters in other countries who desperately want their friends and family members to know Jesus. I also came away with a re-kindled zeal to learn all I can about other religions so I can dialog intelligently about the God who is alive and well, and lives in the hearts of His people. They need to know that He is the one that can be known, will change their lives, give them purpose, and a place with Him for all eternity, and unlike the reclining Buddha in the picture below...He won't zone out on them...He's locked in!
Please join me in prayer for the youth leaders of Southeast Asia as they seek to proclaim God's love, and help their young people understand a key question they face when presented with the truths of Jesus..."What's the difference?"

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