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Panit’s Story: Challenges of Faith in Southeast Asia

A Buddhist starts reading the Bible, but how will he respond when what it says collides with what his culture says?

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July 11, 2022

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It was a rainy Sunday morning. Panit steered his motorbike through the winding, narrow roads, increasingly uncomfortable with the conditions. An open gate caught his eye, and he turned in to rest. He could hear sounds coming from the top of the stairs, so he parked his bike and dashed up the steps to take shelter from the rain. He opened the door to a large room full of people. Walking past the pews of strangers, he took a seat on the front bench and began to hear, for the first time, about Jesus.

Several months later, our family came to worship at this church, and we met Panit. Whether it was a prophetic word or wishful thinking, our first thought upon meeting was that this young man could be a future Thai pastor. He was eager to study the Bible and asked me to teach him. And so we began weekly discipleship, studying the Word together for 2-3 hours each week after church.

A grandmother’s request

Soon, the first challenge of faith arose as Panit’s grandmother pressured him to become a Buddhist monk. In Thai beliefs, this act would earn merit that could be applied in her favor, ensuring she will enter heaven when she dies. Essentially, then, to refuse her request is to deny her the opportunity of enjoying heaven in the afterlife.

Panit wrestled for many weeks, toying with the idea of serving as a monk for just a little bit to please Grandma and then coming back and giving himself entirely to Jesus. Along with the pastor and his wife, I encouraged him with Scripture and truth during that time. If the God Panit was meeting in the Word and through the church was true, then earning merit on Grandma’s behalf would only give her a dangerous false hope in a false religion.

They shared with him Jesus’s words, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). And they prayed and prayed.

In the end, he decided to choose Jesus and not pursue monkhood.

Rejoicing over this victory was short-lived...

A conflict with the church

A few weeks later, Panit began to raise an issue with the church’s stance on a social problem. Again, the pastor and his wife and I counseled him in the Word and taught him that Scripture alone has the authority to declare what is right and wrong in our lives.

It was an endless circle of debate for several weeks: The Word of God vs. worldly wisdom. One night, in anger and anguish, Panit drank himself into a stupor and decided that he would walk away from Jesus and His church forever. He called the pastor to say he was never coming back.

Back to Buddhism?

The next day, Panit went to the temple and sought out one of the monks, eager to replace his Christian discipleship with a Buddhist mentor. But he found that all the respectable monks treated him with contempt and wanted nothing to do with him. They sent him away, telling him he would only be worth mentoring if he were rich or influential.

Over a few days, in a prodigal son sort of fashion, he started to think back on his experience with the church... the relationships... the love... the hope. He found himself longing for these things to be restored, but he thought that the pastor must be so angry with him for leaving that he might even kill him.

Eventually, he got up the courage to ride his motorbike back to the church (also the pastor’s home), where the pastor ran to meet him with open arms, love, and grace. “I’m glad you’re back. You’re loved. You’re welcome here.”

A bold declaration

Panit shared this testimony in church just a few days later. Panit boldly and publicly declared that he was wrong to walk away and would never throw away his church family again. He said he’s here to stay.

But then…

Today, Panit is not walking with the Lord or participating in the local church. He still likes to talk on the phone regularly and is interested in spiritual matters.

He is a young man whose story is still being told. We believe God’s hand is on Panit. And we long for Panit to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). May the love he sees through the church point him to the One who loves him most of all. Please continue to pray with us for God’s redeeming love to so captivate Panit that he will never fall away again.

Conclusion

We like to tell stories about people turning to Jesus, but stories like Panit’s are not unique. And even in Western cultures, many who “pray a prayer” at some point later turn away or waver back and forth. Following Jesus is costly. As missionaries serve in unreached places where the enemy’s grip is firm, spiritual battles wage. Pray for others like Panit and the missionaries who share Jesus with them.

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<p class="rich-text-callout"><strong>See Also: </strong><a href="#"><em>Discerning Your Calling: How Do You Know If God Is Leading You to Serve Cross Culturally?</em></a></p>

Take the next step

Read about the cost of conversion as it plays out in another African culture.

Pray for Panit and others like him as they encounter significant obstacles. Pray also for missionaries and Christian leaders as they continue to make disciples but see many of them fall away.

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