I was in flight to one of our countries hoping to get some sleep as the day had been long and I was on my second of three flights to get to one of our sessions.
The fellow sitting next to me leaned over and spent the entire flight talking to me. He began by networking wanting connections for a business deal but the more we talked, the more he explored what was happening in his country and revealing his own perspectives. I listened and eventually tried to plant some seeds for Jesus. Only Christ will know if the conversation turned fruitful.
He started sharing why he didn’t want to do business in his own country and how much easier, cheaper and more productive it was to conduct business in places I had significant contacts and experience. He thought he might have a gold mine in me and my networks. As he spoke, he mentioned the lifestyle he lived which was quite opposite to the values embedded in his own country and, in particular, to the values of the majority religion in his country.
Later he mentioned that he was a non-practicing (and non-believing) member of his religion but his father was a devout man who did his prayers every day. As he spoke of what was happening in his nation, a country that is radically pursuing nationalism and persecuted Christians, under the umbrella of their religion, he defended that religious nationalism. He stated,
“America can be a Christian nation so we should be free to be our religious nation.”
I shared how America was actually a place of religious freedom and how that gave rise to the good business opportunities that he was intentionally seeking outside of his country. That argument didn’t stick, at least for now. Someday, he might see the logic in this idea.
He suggested that Christians weren’t really persecuted in his country but they shouldn’t be allowed to share their faith and that the only reason people were converting to Christianity was because people were paying them to change their religion. He pointed to several missionary publications he’d read noting how if you served people, gave them food, etc. that they would convert. I presented an alternative reality to that, suggesting that these people served without strings attached and merely modeled their faith and shared when invited to. He didn’t buy that either.
He was convinced that his country had the right to pressure Christians to leave the country and curtail their activity so that they could pursue being a pure religious national state. It’s why I’ve spoken strongly about nationalism and its effect on our world today. The more we pursue nationalism in our own lands, the more others will do the same and, in turn, harm those who simply disagree with them.
Eventually, I moved the conversation away from the political to the personal. I probed why he didn’t practice his faith and more importantly, why he didn’t believe it. I found it interesting that he defended religious nationalism for his country but in essence, he didn’t even believe that religion at all. The more I probed about his lifestyle, he had grown bored with some of the sinful activities he kept chasing.
I suggested that there may be an alternative way and he was curious. I actually agreed with him that any form of institutional religion really was more about power and control than it was about true faith. I think this is something that the whole world needs to be reminded of. Then, I pointed to the rock star, Bono from U2, whom he vaguely knew. I said, his approach was that he chose Grace over Karma which made this fellow curious. I said Bono had sized up all religious systems and determined that they were all about achieving good karma. Then, he admitted if I rely on Karma, then I am doomed. But, with Jesus, all I need is grace. He chose Grace over Karma because he found it more hopeful.
I then pointed to an Oxford don (C.S. Lewis) who said this about Jesus: In essence, Jesus cannot be a good teacher. Because of his claims, he is either a liar, a lunatic or he is Lord.
Pray for this man as he contemplates where he’s at in life. And, please pray for the countries of the world that are pushing nationalism and a religious identity. By and large, these are the countries where we find great persecution today.
We, at Asian Access, believe in God’s grace and that Jesus is who he claimed to be: Lord of all. We’re convinced that hope is found exclusively in a Love Relationship with God and that as we grow in Christ, we become better people and better leaders. As we grow in him, we also share our love with others and reproduce what Jesus pours into us. And, ultimately mission thrives and the kingdom of God grows when this type of love is manifest in our lives.
What do you bank on? Karma or Grace?