Thursday, June 04, 2009

Michael

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

This post is an excerpt from an article I wrote about World Relief. To see the entire article, visit www.touchedbyservice.blogspot.com

Often when reading the Bible, especially the stories of the Old Testament, I’m struck by how much persecution, even murder, there was over disparate belief systems. People of one faith in battle with people of a different faith, people of one faith being driven from their homelands by people of still another faith; these stories abound.

If ever I wonder if such violent religious persecution exists today, I need only to switch to the news to hear of the latest gunfight in the streets or bombing of a café somewhere in the Middle East to know that, yes, it still exists.

Even still, I sometimes catch myself thinking “that was back then,” or “that is over there,” and here in Duluth, safe in my home, I need not worry too much about religious persecution.

My eyes were opened recently one afternoon while I dined on a home cooked meal in the small living room of Michael’s apartment. Now a Christian pastor, he was born a Buddhist in Bhutan. He fled his country in order to save his life and those of his family. As a Christian evangelist, he was no longer welcome in his homeland.

I learned that Christians and people believed not to be of Bhutanese descent were forced to leave the country during the early 1980’s. In the next ten years over 100,000 people became refugees, fleeing to camps in Nepal and India.

In the video I saw where Michael’s family had once lived. Members of three generations crowded into a hut made of bamboo and held together with mud and rope. It had a thatch roof and a dirt floor. There was no running water, a hole in the ground served as a toilet, and meals were cooked over a small fire or on the single gas burner of a camp stove. Meals consisted largely of rice. Nearby the school house and church shared the same hut. It, too, was made in the same way as the living quarters. There were no desks or pews, only mats on the dirt floor.

These are the conditions Michael and his family lived in for sixteen years. They were forced to leave Bhutan because they had converted to Christianity.

Born a Hindu, Michael had never heard of Christianity until he was in his twenties, and only then after he caught a glimpse of a picture hanging in a tucked away place on a friend’s wall. It was a graphic image depicting Hell, he learned after asking his friend what the picture meant. His friend then offered to tell him about Heaven, promising Michael that if he came to believe in God, he would never see Hell.

For the next two years Michael and his friend met in remote places, hidden in tall grass or thickets of brush in the forest to evade being caught by the Elders of the community. There they talked about God and Jesus Christ. The Lord’s message spoke profoundly to Michael, and although he feared for his life, he eventually accepted Jesus Christ as his savior and was baptized by his friend. Thereafter, he went to work converting his family, then later a few close friends, and became so in love with the Lord that he overcame his fear and began to evangelize in his community.

Openly living as a Christian and passionately preaching the Word to Hindus and Buddhists, Michael came to the attention of the government officials who had begun the ethnic cleansing of Bhutan. He was given only a few days to leave the country or face imprisonment. He knew prison would mean his death, so he and his extended family left Bhutan for a refugee camp in Nepal.

Sixteen years later, they were relocated to Atlanta through the joint efforts of the United Nations, the State Department, and World Relief. Michael has since become a pastor and leads a small church attended mostly by other refugees from Bhutan.

Fortunately, Michael’s story ended well. It’s hard to think about how often others’ stories do not.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

No comments: