Monthly Archives: June 2018

The Problem with Karma

I remember when we first got to Myanmar in 2003. It was a different country back then – karma had made it a country that time had forgotten.

The government was not open to outside influences and exercised punishing control of its people. Myanmar at that time had one of the largest standing armies in the world – mainly employed to keep their own citizens in submission. The government had a “black list” of those it would not permit to return to Myanmar if they were deemed dangerous to national unity. We were never sure if we would be let back in after our visa runs.

The result of closing their doors to the world were everywhere. Old cars, broken down buildings, an economy on the brink of collapse, government cronies raiding precious resources, and Christians openly persecuted and jailed. A land of contrasts – it was common to see a mansion as you walked down the street and a shanty village next door with an open sewer.The problem Buddhists faced in this situation was karma. Karma teaches you are being rewarded now for what you have done in the past. The end result of this belief is that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The powerful get more powerful and the oppressed become more oppressed. Government officials receive lavish funerals, while common people are buried in shallow graves in the jungle.

In a country closed off to the national community, human rights abuses abounded. The dictator’s daughter received a 75 million dollar necklace as a wedding present — while the average laborer made 30 dollars a month. A twenty-year-old beat up Toyota van cost $30,000 while a two-year-old Lexus cost $4,000 – because you couldn’t get parts or repairs for a Lexus.

So, those who ran the country found themselves in a difficult place. Power and money were the signs of good karma, so to relinquish them was to lose status economically and spiritually. All the while, the population endured the situation, hoping they were earning a better life for themselves in their next go around.

While Myanmar believers doing their best to live for Jesus in such a difficult situation, Holli and I were packing up the family to go into Myanmar, teach English, and share the love of God with the most beautiful, kind people we had ever known.

Which Path is Right?

Everyone has some type of belief about how they can live a better life now, in the future, and for eternity. In Myanmar, the majority culture holds that the teachings of Buddha are the key to a fulfilling and satisfying life. One saying our family heard over and over again when we lived in Myanmar was “to be Burmese is to be Buddhist.” Needless to say, this made sharing Jesus feel like an uphill battle.

The Buddha, however, taught that people should study and learn from other religions. It was healthy to entertain alternatives and make sure one’s beliefs were firm and correct. We invited Buddhists friends into our home and bible studies to find out more about Jesus. Some were interested in hearing more about Jesus – the head of a religion very much different from their own.

What happened next is interesting. Seekers would learn about Jesus and His teachings. Many of them would start to worship Jesus and pray to Him during a crisis. It seemed that they had decided to become Christ-followers. But then the question of baptism would surface.

Parents, friends, and local leaders didn’t mind Buddhist people attending house churches, bible studies, or worship events. They didn’t mind them studying the Bible or praying to Jesus. Families might even discuss the new beliefs of one of their members and find them interesting. If that person wanted to be baptized, however, they faced open hostility and persecution.

Baptism, for those in a Buddhist culture, represented denouncing Buddhism and embracing Christianity. You were choosing one Master and leaving another. Baptism was a point of no return.

What we saw, as a result, were scores of seekers who began to slip back into Buddhism and slowly turn their back on Jesus. The peer pressure and persecution were too intense. The initial excitement over following Jesus waned and they decided to go back to Buddhism.

Baptism, of course, does not save a person. But even non-believers know it represents a spiritual marker in one’s life. Please join us in praying for new believers in Myanmar who face this difficult decision. Pray that God will give them the strength to withstand so many forces trying to pull them back into darkness.