I have been learning about Thailand for the past six months, mostly due to observing the culture at a Thai Christian church that I started attending to fulfill a service learning project one of my classes required last semester. Besides learning about the language, nonverbals, rituals and other aspects of the culture, I have been exposed to the reality of Buddhism.
One day my group partner and I visited a Buddhist temple and were able to question three Thai monks for an hour-and-half. It was the most surreal experiences I've had, and I was still in America. What would it be like when I was actually in Thailand?
I was starting to get answers to that question at the missionary training weekend. As the youngest person at the training, a 21-year-old college student who had never ventured outside of North America, my worldview was the least tapered with. The eight other individuals had been to Thailand for at least three months. I began soaking in all of their knowledge -- specifically that to do with Buddhism. The following are little nuggets of wisdom I gained.
If you want to know the power Buddhism has over Thailand, ask any Thai person and they will tell you this: "To be Thai is to be Buddhist; to be Buddhist is to be Thai." Right now, almost 94% of Thailand is Buddhist, according to the CIA World Factbook. Only 1% of the country is Christian.
Because of the power Buddhism has over the nation, there are strong spiritual forces of evil that roam the land. One of the ladies training me was sharing a story of her experience growing up in Thailand as a missionary kid. Every night her dad would anoint the doors of their home with oil and pray over them, but there were still nights where her and her siblings experienced nightmares. The woman who had previously owned the home would come back and speak enchantments into the bushes at night, unleashing dark spiritual forces that would frighten the children.
She also shared the story of a Buddhist woman her dad and two other missionaries were trying to drive a demon out of. The demon had such a strong possession of the woman, that it could physical move the missionaries away from the woman's body by force.
I'm not sharing these stories to scare you; I'm telling you these stories to expose you to the reality of the spiritual realm. We live in a world of both good and evil powers, from God and satan accordingly.
In America we tend to purposely ignore the spiritual realm. We water down spirituality to the point that the spiritual world and the physical world are completely separate in our culture. It's even to the point where spirituality has become almost invisible to society. This is uncommon in many other cultures, like the Thai culture I described above. Most cultures integrate religion into their work, family, relationships and other hobbies. In America we have freedom of religion, yet children are not allowed to pray in schools and church is viewed as a building instead of a lifestyle.
What if we were to live as the body of Christ as the early church did? Acts 2:42-47 provides a beautiful model for meshing the spiritual realm with the physical realm.
"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."What I love about this is that the early Christians met every day together to worship the Lord, and they shared their belongings with one another. They lived life in true COMMUNITY.
So what does this have to do with facing the evil powers of the spiritual realm? Because the early Christians were daily soaking in the Word, praying, and affirming each other in their identity in Christ, they were able to go out and make disciples of every nation. Abiding translates into fruit. As John 15:5 puts it, “I (Christ) am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."
I'm learning how to abide. In fact, I have been for almost an entire year now. One year ago now, the Lord taught me what community is. He brought in five people who would become my second family. Through sharing our testimonies and weaknesses with other, we were able to pray for each other and build each other up in Christ. Each of us overcame something great during this season, and I know we each wouldn't have been able to overcome it if it weren't for the community that was in place.
But now is a different season. I still have my second family, but we aren't as tight-knit as we once were. School, jobs and other commitments have inched us slowly away from each other.
Honestly, it's been a difficult thing for me to grasp. I love each one of my second family members dearly, and spending time with them all together is my favorite thing in the world. The Lord taught me so much through them, and He still is.
But this time He's teaching me to let go. He's teaching me that I can't always depend on others to build my faith. Yes, community is vital, but there are seasons that come when we walk through deserts and we will need to know how to stand alone. Just like Jesus' 40-day stay in the desert where he encountered temptation from satan.
That's what Thailand is for me this summer. A desert. I will be jumping on a plane and flying over the ocean to a place I've never been before. Alone. Yes, I will have social media and email to communicate with others, but I won't have my second family, my church family, my other friends or my biological family there with me. I will be working with people I've never met before in a spiritual dark country. That is why the importance of ABIDING is so crucial to establish in my life now.
I think Ephesians 6:10-18 is the backbone for our faith as Christians, and includes the discipline of abiding. The famous passage lists the armor of God, including: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, and prayer in the Spirit. It is through these weapons that the evil spiritual forces are destroyed.
This summer I will be on the front lines of a battle. The enemy will be ready to attack whenever He gets the chance. If I am not rooted in the Word and prayer, and if I don't put on my spiritual armor every morning when I wake up, then I will stumble and fall.
Because the truth is that the enemy knows our weak points. He knows exactly where to hit us, which is why it's so important to put on EVERY piece of spiritual armor (not just a select few). If we aren't prepared, then the enemy will have his way.
Let us learn how to abide now, in the place of abundance. Because when the desert comes, then we will know how to stand.
"Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me." (Psalm 23:4)