They say your first year in a new culture is a steep learning curve. For me, it has been more of a cliff than a curve. Every day seems to be full of new challenges, new cultural insights, and opportunities for growth. The biggest learning curve has been trying to discern the spiritual climate here. In Mongolia it was quite straightforward: most people professed Buddhism, or a mix of Buddhism and Shamanism, and there was a tangible spiritual hunger. Here it is like a giant melting pot of culture and beliefs. There are Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and Tribal animists all living next to each other in relative harmony. In an attempt to be inclusive, most schools here (including Christian ones) take time off for Buddha’s birthday, all the Hindu festivals, as well as Christmas and Easter. When you add up all of the Hindu, Buddhist and Christian holidays you find that the kids are only in school here for 100 days out of the year!
The most interesting thing about the spiritual climate here is that everyone is born into a particular caste or tribe and with that, a particular religion. Ask any Christian here about when they became a believer and they will give you the same answer, “I was born a Christian.” The few that converted to Christianity later in life usually have pretty interesting stories to tell. To convert to Christianity here means more than just getting baptized and starting to go to church. It means significant persecution from your family, and even sometimes having to change your name, since names here signify what tribe, caste and religion you belong to. Converts, especially from Buddhism, are few and far between.
Since January, I have been going to visit some women every week at a leprosy colony behind my house. There are just six women there, all having suffered for years from leprosy, leaving them with missing feet and fingers, sores on their bodies, and even blindness. I asked them one day, “When did you become a believer in Jesus?” and for the first time I heard a different response than I was used to hearing. They said that one day they were sitting in their house and below them there was a group of people that came to show the Jesus film. Because of the poor condition of their feet they couldn’t go down to watch the film, but they heard every word. They said that as soon as they heard about Jesus healing the sick and asking people to follow him they put their faith in him! Shortly after, they had a pastor visit them to baptize them, share songs and stories with them, but they had no consistent Christian fellowship afterwards. They can’t read or write, so I have been sharing Bible stories with them every week and have been amazed at their spiritual hunger and their childlike faith. They all come from Hindu backgrounds and were outcast from their families and all of society when they were diagnosed with leprosy. Five of the six now say that they are Christians, even though they have no church, can’t read the Bible, and no fellowship with other believers outside of the colony. They told me that they have found true joy and acceptance in Christ despite their constant suffering.
As I have met people like the Leper women here and heard their stories, I have been reminded that the Gospel has the power to transcend culture, to reach beyond caste and religious constructs, and to transform lives. Jesus came for everyone—to set us free from religiosity and the boxes we have built around ourselves. My prayer for this place is that believers would begin to truly grasp the power of the Gospel—the power to transcend culture and even transform culture. That is my prayer as I head into the new year and try to be faithful to disciple the women in the village I am working, the Lepers down the street, and even the Christians I work side-by-side with. Thanks for standing with me! It hasn’t been what I would call an easy year by any means, but I am at peace that this is exactly where God wants me and grateful that he is helping me to climb the many learning cliffs in front of me.