Photocopies and the De-Personification of God
The barriers to communicating the Gospel in Thailand are tremendous even though Thai people are some of the nicest you’ll ever meet. The guy who owns the photocopy shop where I regularly go is a great example of this. When I was starting up an evangelistic kids club, I took some cartoon pictures of the sun, moon, stars, animals, numbers, and so forth down to the copy shop to be laminated. As the photocopy guy was putting them in the plastic sleeves to stick in the laminating machine, he asked, “What are these for?” So I explained that I was teaching children about God creating the world. That got us off on discussion about spiritual matters and comparative religion. I regularly had pictures to laminate for the kids club so the photocopy guy and I had several conversations along these lines on many occasions. I’ve never detected any hostility from him but it has become clear that what I am trying to explain is simply not “clicking” in his mind.
In Buddhism there is no forgiveness of sins and there is no power to transform one’s life, but merely commands to be good - an unfunded moral mandate, if you will. As I tried to explain about forgiveness of sin and the fact that God enters into a person’s life to actually enable obedience and transformation, not just commanding it, the photocopy guy nodded knowingly, “Yes, yes, just like the Dharma”. In his mind, when I said, “God changes your life” or “God is there to help and can be depended on”, photocopy guy just replaced “God” with “Dharma” or “Buddhist teaching”. A personal God who can help is such an unfamiliar concept for Thai Buddhists that many assume that the Christian “God” must be simply a personification of “moral teaching”. When I say “God helps me”, my photocopy guy hears “Good moral teaching helps me.”
To communicate the Gospel effectively in Thailand, it is necessary to have perseverance, insight into Thai thinking, language skills, committed coworkers in the Gospel and nothing less than a miracle.