Dear Family and Friends,
Glory to God!! By the mercy and grace of God, I have recently returned from a wonderful time of carrying the cross in Tibet, Bhutan, and Nepal. God did what many considered impossible! In countries where public preaching and evangelism are prohibited and can be punishable by prison, we were able to carry the cross, hand out gospel material, and speak of Jesus openly in these remote areas which are often referred to as the “rooftop of the world”!
My good friend, Todd Peterson, traveled with me and we received a wonderful welcome from the lovely people there. Many came out of their homes and gathered along the roadsides to greet and speak with us. At times they even fed us! This is a place of beautiful people. Truly, the world is open for Jesus–there are no “closed doors”! Praise the Lord! Tibet, Bhutan, and Nepal are situated high in the Himalayan Mountains of Asia. They represent some of the world’s most remote and spiritually darkened lands. Yet there was a simplicity and purity of the people that was absolutely beautiful. Nepal is the world’s only Hindu kingdom. Bhutan is the world’s only self-proclaimed Buddhist kingdom.
Tibet lost its independence as a Buddhist state in 1950 when China invaded the land. It has been reported that over one million people may have lost their lives and an additional 100,000 may have been forced into exile, including the spiritual and political leader, the Dalai Lama. Because of the political sensitivity and tensions in Tibet, entry and travel have traditionally been difficult. One of my prayers in trying to enter certain countries is, “Please give me favor with the customs officials.” In Tibet, the customs officials simply welcomed us and allowed us to pass through. Once inside Tibet, I felt that we weren’t to walk in the capital, Lhasa. I felt that God said if I walked there it would be seen as a political protest and the message of the cross would be lost or, at best, confused. In order to get into the country, we were initially assigned to a “tour group.” With God’s help, we were able to make arrangements to travel on our own with a Tibetan driver. We had been told that there are very few followers of Jesus in this land of more than two-and-half million.
We had no knowledge of who they were and no way of contacting them, either. As God promises, though, He goes ahead of us. As we began assembling the cross our driver, who spoke very little English, broke into a huge smile, tears ran down his face, and he said, “I Christmas!”. He kept pointing to heaven, then his heart. He would stretch out his arms like Jesus on the cross. He became so excited and started pointing to the cross and to heaven as if he were telling the people about the cross and Jesus (we had learned a few words and phrases). Then he wanted his picture taken with the cross. He was one of only a handful of believers in the whole country. Only Jesus could have done this! God wants to get His work done in His way!
Because of its desire to stay religiously pure, Bhutan only allows a limited number of tourists to visit their country each year. Due to the attention given to tourists, we had a much more difficult time clearing customs. After being questioned for nearly thirty minutes about the cross, the customs officials suddenly stopped and said, in unison, “Oh, we’re sorry. You are welcome to our country.” After passing through customs, we saw a bright smiling face and “knew” it had to be our guide! It was! There we met this precious man who was to become our dear brother. He, Todd, and I had a heart-to-heart talk as we explained Gods call for me to carry the cross.
Once inside the country, we had no difficulty carrying the cross.There was complete openness and welcome. In the airport as we left we had the glorious privilege of kneeling and praying with our precious guide. Very few times in these thirteen years of traveling overseas with the cross have I ever been so shaken! While many of the war zones of our world and other trips have gripped me emotionally, this trip broke my heart like few others with the lostness and brokenness of humanity! There were great cultural differences, but the greatest differences were spiritual and religious. Smoke ascended from temples near the river each day as people burned the dead instead of burying them. People walked for days on religious pilgrimages, rising early, climbing stairs, chanting, kneeling–chanting the same prayer over and over. Sometimes taking only one step, then bowing down in the dirt before taking the next step. Daily, in the streets and along the roadsides, there was such hopelessness, poverty, despair, deformity, and even physical mutilation.
Without a doubt, though, the greatest impact was that so many had never ever heard the name of Jesus! Around the world there is such commitment to religious systems. I am convinced that, though religion was made by men trying to reach God, it has done more to keep us from God. Yet because of the longing and hope in the hearts of men to one day know God, there is an incredible commitment to perform these rituals.
Though these precious people knew so little about Jesus, they knew so much about commitment and relationships. We in the west, however, know so much about Jesus … but for my part, anyway, I know so little about commitment and relationships. Oh, how my heart broke as I saw so many who had no knowledge of Jesus! I would like to say that we were a great and powerful witness, but, for the most part, the people we met had no understanding of what I was carrying! Not only had the people never seen a cross, they thought I was an American sportsman! They had never heard of the cross. The people knew nothing of who Jesus is, or that He loves them so much that He died on the cross. They had no idea that He is alive and that they could know Him personally. It was heartbreaking to know that these precious people had never heard the name of Jesus!!
In Tibet, we were told that there is no word for God, heaven, or forgiveness! These precious people not only had never read a Bible, they had never seen or heard of a Bible! In Tibet, there weren’t even any churches. We were told that less than 0.02% of its population is following Jesus. I once read from a nineteenth century missionary, “We argue about Christ’s Second Coming, yet much of the world has never heard of His first coming!” Unfortunately, it is still true today! On trips like this, I have the beautiful privilege of going back to the basics of what it really means to follow Jesus. It is amazing how far we have come. Culture, tradition, religion, and even Hollywood have blurred our vision of the sinless Carpenter who walked this world nearly two thousand years ago. My prayer for myself and those of us who live around “Christian things” is that Jesus will no longer be just a story or good philosophy.
I pray that He won’t be a picture on a wall, an idea, or even a theory. I desire that our picture of Jesus becomes the touchable face of a best Friend. I pray that we will lay our faces at His pierced feet and join Thomas in proclaiming, “My Lord and My God!” I believe then that our world will look at us and say, “We’ve seen a glimpse of His majesty!” Let’s also pray for Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan. Pray for the precious Hindu and Buddhist people of our world. Let’s pray that they can understand and know the real meaning of Christmas! May God bless and reveal His glory to the people in these distant and remote nations. This year, as we celebrate Christmas, let’s give Jesus a Christmas present! Let’s be a part of giving Him the peoples of this world.
As we think about this past year, our hearts are full of thanks to God and those of you who go with us with your prayers and gifts! What a glorious privilege and honor it is to work together with you and to carry the cross and preach to the individuals or to masses of people along the roadsides of this world! We have been amazed at God’s grace in sending us, the cross, and the message of Jesus into the world. Truly, Jesus has done it all!! As I’ve said before, it’s not my ministry … it’s Jesus’ ministry, reaching out through our lives to touch others. It’s not just me … it’s those of you who pray and give so sacrificially–it’s all of us together, seeking to hear God’s heart and wanting to put a smile on His face!
Thank you!! Thank you for loving Jesus so much and thank you for your desire to follow Him! Thank you for the love, friendship and graciousness you have shown us. It is your prayers and gifts that send us out. It is your love and encouragement that keep us going. We are blessed by your friendship. We really hope you know we love you! God has shown us His nature and character through you, as you have cared for us and the people of the world.
God Bless You!!