No matter where you go in East Asia, you are bound to find instant noodles. The appeal of instant noodles is the they are quick. You are hungry. You don’t have time to get a real meal and you want to eat something NOW that will satisfy your hunger. Instant noodles really aren’t that tasty of a meal but in a bid to get people to buy their brand of instant noodles, the companies who produce them make the pictures on the package look as appealing as possible. Steaming golden noodles held between wooden chopsticks over a bowl of more steaming golden noodles, together with a multitude of lush green vegetables and savory prawns or slices of succulent pork (or some variation on that theme). If you go by the picture on the package, this bowl of noodles is going to be a really tasty and satisfying meal. In reality, instant noodles are somewhat rubbery and those nice looking vegetables and meat are not included. Your stomach gets filled for a little while but that promise of a tasty satisfying meal remains unfulfilled. But if you are desperate enough for something good to eat, it is possible convince yourself that these noodles will be like that fancy picture on the label.
So what do instant noodle have to do with evangelism ? In the same way that instant noodles promise a short cut to a tasty meal but come up short, there is much evangelism in Thailand that promises a spiritual shortcut to salvation and blessing but comes up short. It is a simplistic evangelism that promises people healing, solutions to their life problems, and a ticket to heaven if one will simply pray a short prayer to invite Jesus into their life. The problem is that most Thai folk Buddhists have no foundation in Biblical truth and can not actually make an instant decision to receive Christ like some evangelists invite them to do. In the providence of God, it is possible that someone could hear the Gospel for the first time and understand enough to repent and believe in Christ, but that would be the rare exception and not the norm.
In his article “Karma and Christ”, Sri Lankan pastor Tissa Weerasingha provides some good observations about the conversion process among Theravada Buddhists. Sri Lanka, like Thailand, is a majority Theravada Buddhist nation, with a fair amount of animism mixed in, so Dr. Tissa’s comments here are very applicable for the Thai context.
“We have observed that conversion takes place in stages among most Buddhists. An analysis of these stages may help us in our personal ministry to them. I present these stages merely as a guide which may or may not fit into other contexts.
A. Turning From Idols: The initial step in the conversion of Buddhists is a cessation of idol worship and spirit veneration. Interestingly, in Paul's letters to the churches in Corinth and Thessalonica, he mentions idol worship as the primary issue in their turning to God (See I Thes. 2:9, I Cor. 10:21 RSV). The cessation of idol worship is a sign that there is a realization of the powerlessness of “gods” against the supremacy of Christ. But, this is only the initial stage of conversion.
B. Moral Regeneration: In Buddhism, there is no concept of forgiveness. This recognition and the receiving of the forgiving grace of Christ is the next stage in the conversion process. Fate and fear have pushed into the background any feeling of guilt and moral responsibility. But when the Buddhist sits under the teaching of the Word of God and realizes that God is a Personal Being to whom all are morally accountable, there comes a realization of the need for forgiveness. Under ongoing exposure to the Christian scriptures and the wooing of the Holy Spirit, the Buddhist becomes apprehended by the love of God, and seeks the forgiveness of sins. In ministry to Buddhists, we have observed that it is not possible to get them to make instant “decisions.” Such “decisions” often mean nothing to them because at the initial stages they have no comprehension of the real implications of the gospel.”
The PDF of Tissa Weerasingha’s full article, “Karma and Christ: Opening our Eyes to the Buddhist World” can by downloaded from the website of the International Journal of Frontier Missions.