Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Missionary's Message

Several weeks ago I wrote an article called “Cool?!”  If you have not read that article and the subsequent comments, you won’t fully understand this post.  This post is a continuation of the comments on the other post.  The reason I am posting this as a new article instead of in the comments section is that my reply is way too long to fit in the comment box.  Also it will save readers the time of having to scroll through all of the other comments to get to the newer comments.  By posting this as a new article I am in no way saying that my comments are more important than anyone else’s, but am simply trying to streamline the process for my readers.  If you would like to read the post and comments that are the precursor to this article click here.  Otherwise, just read on.

Dear Colin,

Before delving into the heart of the matter at hand, I would like to say a couple of things regarding the context and content of my article and your subsequent comments.

First, I would like to commend you for defending your friend, Tith Chandara.  Loyalty is an admirable trait, and I appreciate what you have tried to do to invest in the future of this young man and many others.  I have read through a couple more issues of LIFT since this article, most recently the expanded issue about the job market. I am grateful for the work you are doing to help give Cambodian young people a vision for their life. 

I do think that you read way too much into my blog post with regards to your reporter, Tith Chandara.  It was not in any way, shape, or form meant to demean or belittle him as a person.  My article was simply using some of his statements to make a point about an over-arching mindset towards religion.  It had nothing to do with him as a person.  From the way you describe him, he does indeed sound like a delightful young man.  I am sure if I met him that I would like him.  I am also sure that if I met him I would tell him about the Lord Jesus Christ.  If you will read the rest of this post, you will see why I must tell him about Jesus, and why it is not an arrogant thing to do but a kind thing.

 Second, I am very new to blogging.  I still don’t understand how everything works, so I may be wrong in what I am getting ready to say.  (And if I am, I will stand corrected).  I thought that blogs were for making known your opinion on a given subject.  There are probably millions of blogs on the internet, and perhaps the very best single word to describe a blog is the word “opinion”.  I have also been under the impression that discussions boards and forums were the proper place for discussing and arguing.  I am not a member of any discussion boards or forums.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I don’t like to discuss and argue (anybody who knows me knows that isn’t the case).  But I like to do my discussing face-to-face with real people, and I like to spend the bulk of my time in teaching the teachable, not in arguing with the argumentative.  That is why I am not a member of any of those types of forums.  I did not start my blog to argue or debate with anyone.  Honestly I was surprised when I got your first comment because my target readership was friends and family back in the US.  I didn’t start the blog to argue, but merely as a place where I could share various thoughts and views that I hold.  But obviously since it is a public blog, you found it, read it, and had an opinion of your own.J  Which, by the way, is fine.

Third, one of several reasons which I did not respond to your comments for several weeks was that several other people were doing such a good job already.  Several times I was thinking about posting a reply, then someone would step in and take the words right out of my mouth. J  I don’t want to spend time repeating what they have said.  On the other hand, since you have asked for my thoughts, I will give them.

All right.  Having said all of that, let’s get into this. 

You said that I was narrow-minded and intolerant of others.  I will confess to one of those accusations, but beg to differ with the other.  The one that I disagree with is your statement that I am intolerant.  To be intolerant means to be unwilling to accept another person who is different or who lives differently.  My family and I have lived in Cambodia for nearly 10 years.  We have an excellent relationship with our Buddhist neighbors.  We have an excellent relationship with the Buddhist shopkeepers where we purchase groceries and other needed items.  We have an excellent relationship with the Buddhist taxi and tuk-tuk drivers and Buddhist moto-dops which take us from here to there.  We have an excellent relationship with the Buddhist doctor who treats our children when they are sick.  We eat at Buddhist owned restaurants, take our car to be repaired by Buddhist mechanics, and get our haircuts by Buddhist barbers.  You would be hard pressed to find a person in this country with whom we have had interaction who would say that we are intolerant of them as people.  We do not hate them or belittle them.  We love them, care about them, treat them kindly, and pray for them.  Since the word we are talking about is “tolerance”, I’ll go ahead and say this:  We don’t just tolerate them.  We love them with all our hearts.  And by the way, if I was intolerant of other people or afraid of hearing their views, I could have removed your comment from my blog.  The fact that I left it there pretty much lays to rest the argument that I am intolerant.

Now, you also accused me of being narrow-minded, and I will admit to that.  Actually, you too are narrow-minded.  Isn’t that the whole reason you challenged my views, because they were outside the realm of what you believe?  Most people ARE narrow-minded, and being narrow-minded is not a bad thing when one is in pursuit of truth.  For example, today my wife and I had to take our 10 month old son to the doctor because he was running a very high fever.  After the doctor examined him, there were literally hundreds of different medications which he could have prescribed.  But we were very narrow-minded.  We were not broad-minded towards all the different ways to approach his high fever.  We wanted the RIGHT diagnosis, prognosis, and prescription.  I am also being narrow-minded right now as I type these words.  I am not operating under the assumption that each key is as good as another and randomly smashing down keys.  I know that for every character I wish to type there is ONE RIGHT key to press.  I press that key to the exclusion of all other keys.  When we eat we are narrow-minded too.  We don’t just indiscriminately stick things in our mouth.  In fact, we know that MOST of the things that are within our immediate reach at any given time are NOT good for us to eat; therefore, in an incredible display of narrow-mindedness, we carefully select what we put into our mouth.  When we go home from work at the end of the day, we can’t just walk into any house in town.  If we did it would surely cause problems.  No, we are narrow-minded about it.  There is only one house out of hundreds of thousands that we can enter.  So if we are narrow-minded about which house we return to at night, what we put into our mouths, what words we speak, and which medicine we choose to give our kids, doesn’t it make sense that we would also be narrow-minded about truth which will effect eternity?  I want to get it right.

Now, you may be thinking, “But just because it is true to YOU doesn’t mean it is true to EVERYBODY ELSE.”  I strongly disagree with that statement, but suppose I did agree with you.  Suppose I was willing to accept your premise that what is true for one person is not necessarily true for another.  Would you expect me to live my life by someone else’s beliefs, or by my own?  My belief is that Jesus Christ is the only answer for the world and the only hope for the salvation of sin-sick man.  My belief is that there is no other way to get to Heaven than through the Lord Jesus Christ.  Now, you have said repeatedly in your various comments that people have the right to their own beliefs.  I agree with you on that by the way.  One of the tenants of my faith is that I have been commissioned by Christ to share the Gospel with every person possible.  So if I am to live my life according to my beliefs (which you say is fine and good), then I must tell others about the Lord Jesus Christ.

This brings us to the next point.  You perhaps would say that you don’t have a problem with me telling someone about Christ, as long as I do not trick, force, or pressure them into accepting my views.  If that is indeed how you look at it, then I can say that I agree with you 100%.  God’s Word never commands us to force belief in Christ.  That is impossible anyway.  Each person has their own choice and their own will.  God’s Word also forbids us (Christians) to be deceitful or trick people into believing on Christ or “buy” conversions with gifts.  There are people who use that method, and frankly, it embarrasses me that people would do that.  I am ashamed of that kind of behavior from Christians.  They should know better.  A conversion that is brought about through insincere means is by definition an insincere conversion.  When we tell others about Jesus, we do not carry a weapon to force them to believe.  We don’t carry a supply of medicines and English language books to trick them to believe.  We don’t carry bags of rice to pay them to believe.  We carry but one thing:  the Word of God.  The tactic is discussion and persuasion.  If we present the claims of Christ and they choose to believe, what have we done wrong?  If they choose not to believe, do you know what we do?  We move on to the next person.

You said in one of your comments that you didn’t have a problem with them hearing about Christianity as long as we also teach them about other religions.  Do you really expect us (Christian missionaries) to teach Cambodians about other religions?  That’s an entirely new concept to me.  The reason we are Christians is because we believe in Christ and the Bible.  Why would we spend our lives teaching people we claim to love to follow religions that we believe to be false?  I don’t get it.  As I said before, they can believe or not believe.  That’s up to them.  If your concern is that they will choose a religion without ever having heard of the other religions, that’s already happening!  Most Cambodians have not chosen Buddhism, but rather it has been chosen for them.  You say that we shouldn’t teach Christianity without giving equal time to other religions.  But from the time they were born, Buddhism is all most of them have ever heard.  In other words, Christianity IS the equal time that finally gives them a choice.  Trust me, plenty of them still choose to stay with their national religion.  Cambodia is in no danger of becoming a Christian nation any time soon.  But Cambodia’s constitution does provide the people the freedom to choose their own religion, and missionaries (Christian and otherwise) provide Cambodians with the first chance that most of them have ever had to actually make a choice.

It is interesting to me that non-Christian foreigners living in Cambodia get way more offended at Christians on behalf of Cambodians than the Cambodians do themselves.  I have experienced that here in Phnom Penh many times, and friends in other provinces have said that it is the same in their areas too.  The Cambodians I know (which are thousands) are not offended at us or our message.  Don’t get me wrong.  I know that many of them do not believe in Jesus, but they are not offended that we have come here to tell them about Him.  Chad mentioned this in a previous comment, but if a Christian truly believes that Jesus is the way to Heaven, then it is not meanness or arrogance that drives him to tell other people.  To the contrary, it is love for his fellow man that motivates him.

You said you didn’t think that missionaries know what is best for Cambodia.  This may surprise you, but I actually agree with you.  I know I don’t know what is best for Cambodia, and I don’t think any other Christian missionary does either.  But I also don’t think any political party, NGO, company, or institution of higher learning does either, be they foreigner or Khmer.  I believe that the one who knows best is God, who created Cambodians.  When I came to Cambodia, it was not to present my own wisdom, but rather to share with Cambodians a “user’s manual for life” written by their Maker.  That manual:  God’s Word.

I am fully aware that you don’t have as much confidence in the Bible as I do.  That is clear in the exchanges you had with mymuster.  You have said that you cannot accept the Bible as being 100% factual and that since we are speaking two different languages that further debate is pointless.  MRC, mymuster, and Chad have all agreed with your point on that.  I will join all of you in agreement.  You have said that we cannot prove to you that the Bible is true, and you cannot prove to us that the Bible is not true.  Again, I agree.  I have been asked many times, “Pastor, how can I prove to my friend that the Bible is true?”  And I always give the same answer.  You can’t. There is no proof to the person who does not want to believe.  The proof fills the entire universe (literally), but it is rejected by many because of the sin nature of man and their bias against God.  If you are looking for a telegram from God, a video clip of God caught on tape, or a God-denying scientist to suddenly see the light and announce that he has found the proof, you will never find it, and this is why:  God proved His existence by the very act of Creation.  He laid it all out there, and quite beautifully I might add.  “But, I’ve never seen Him,” complains the skeptic.  And that is where the crucial element of faith comes on the scene. The Bible tells us plainly that “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is…”  (Hebrews 11:6)    After His resurrection, Jesus showed Himself to His disciples.  Listen to what He said to one of them.  “Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”  (John 20:29)

Now, the skeptic may (and probably does) dismiss this line of reasoning with a laugh.  “Oh how convenient!  God says we can’t see him but we’re just supposed to trust Him.  What a scam!”  But wait a second.  As I said before, the proof is there to the one who is honestly seeking it.  First, we see absolute evidence of a Creator, an intelligent designer, in all of nature.  Then we seek to know that God by reading His Word.  And finally, faith comes in to play. An element of faith is required, but it is not a baseless, groundless faith.  Faith is not, as the average atheist would suggest, just some silly, fanciful notion drawn out of thin air.  Faith must have a foundation in order for it to be legitimate, and the foundation of our faith is the Word of God.  There are many scientific, archeological, and historical pieces of evidence which back up the claims of the Bible.  Chad recommended a good book for you to read.  If you would like something different, there are lots of others.  I will loan you one (or more) if you like.

But if you don’t want to read the books, just step outside of your house and look up into the sky.  The beautiful, puffy, cumulus clouds…the sun, moon, and stars…the perfectly designed sparrows…even the air you breath which consists of exactly what a human needs for life…from whence did this all come?  I do not claim to know your views on the origins of man, but considering your other views, I would assume that you are an evolutionist.  Please correct me if I am wrong.  Now, I am not a scientist, and you probably are not either.  So let’s just keep things really simple.  How can a person struggle so mightily against believing that there is a God and He has given us a book called the Bible to show us the right way to Heaven, and yet believe that all of the complex organisms that we see in nature just happened by chance?  I mean, we all know that even the simplest little mechanism or item has to have a maker.  Take the ink pen in your shirt pocket.  We could wait for millions of years and the atoms and molecules would never come together in just such a way as to make even something as simple as that.  Why then do you have no problem believing that thousands of living things which are infinitely more complex than an ink pen could all come into being by complete chance and with no Creator? 

Let me give another illustration.  Suppose an atheist was shipwrecked and stranded on a (seemingly) deserted island.  Day after day he searched for signs of other humans on the island.  But every single day that he searched, all he saw was nature.  When he saw the consistency of the waves and tides, he said, “There’s no God!”  When he saw the nutritious pineapples and coconuts which seemed to be custom made for human consumption, he said, “There’s no God!”  When he saw the monkeys using their hands, feet, and tails to scamper up and down the trees, he said, “There’s no God!”  But one day as he walked along the beach, he saw a fully-charged cell phone lying on the beach.  Suddenly he jumped up in the air and let out a happy yell, “There MUST be somebody here!”  Can you not see the irony of this?  The man sees things that are far more amazing, complex, and unbelievable than a cell phone, but discounts it as nothing.  That is essentially what man does when they live on this earth, breath the air, drink the water, eat the fruit, raise the crops, and interact with the people, but never stop to consider where it all came from.  Along these lines, I would like to recommend a movie called “Expelled:  No Intelligence Allowed”.  Please don’t take offense at the title.  I know it’s a little bit harsh sounding, but if you will watch the movie, you will understand why they titled it thus.

Now, if you are a rock-solid non-believer that has no intention of ever believing in God or the Bible regardless of what anybody says, then there is nothing I can say to you.  But I don’t get that impression from you.  You have been willing to talk with others about it and have made both positive statements and negative statements towards both God and the Bible.  That leads me to believe that you are open minded to at least give it a chance.  There is much evidence which points a man to God if he really wants to find Him.  I would really like to encourage you to read a book or two like what Chad has recommended.  I would also recommend that you read some in the Bible.  Would you be willing to read the entire book of John (21 chapters, 1 chapter a day will take 3 weeks), not critically, but in a spirit of seeking truth?  I will give you a Bible if you need one.  And would you be willing to pray a brief prayer before you read each chapter, and ask God to please show His truth to you?  If you are not sure that there even IS a God, just say that when you pray.  Surely the wonders of nature would compel you to admit that just maybe there really is a God and just maybe the Bible really is true.

And if the Bible is true, then the central theme of the Bible (to which mymuster alluded in his comments) is also true.  Colin, the Bible is not primarily a book to teach man how to be good and help each other.  The Bible is primarily a book to show us God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  You said that there are many other religions which teach essentially the same tenants as Christianity.  You are right in a way, but there is one fatal flaw in that line of reasoning.  While it is true that all religions (or should I say most) strive to teach their adherents to do good, the problem is that when man fails (and he ALWAYS does), no religion offers a solution other than Christianity. 

Jesus Christ is that answer.  By the way, you said that Jesus was an amazing man.  I agree.  But to admit that He was an amazing man creates a huge problem for the non-believer.  You see, it was Jesus Himself that made the claims that you so adamantly reject.  For example, in John 14:6, “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life:  No man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”  I didn’t say that.  Jesus said that.  So if Jesus is an amazing man, would He lie to us?  As W. Snyder said in his comment, Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or legitimate.  That’s a good point.  You can’t really have it both ways.

Back to all religions teaching people to do good.  There is an element of truth to that statement, but it is rendered a moot point by the fact that regardless of the teaching of religion, people are sinners.  You yourself, after calling great humans the saviors of the world, went on to say in a later comment that mankind is not perfect.  You are certainly right about that, so where does that leave us?  It leaves us in need of a TRUE savior.

Jesus came to this earth to die, not because mankind was so great, but because mankind was so rotten.  I know that’s not a real popular position to take these days.  People want to be considered good, but God’s Word says plainly that all men are sinners in the eyes of a holy God.  Sin is nothing less than a disease which has infected every last person on the planet.  And for all of man’s valiant efforts to stem the tide and salvage mankind, people are getting worse all the time.  For the last three weeks there has been at least 1 rape story in the newspaper every single day.  Today’s paper told of a 13 year-old boy who raped a 7 year-old girl out in the countryside.  Not surprisingly, he had been watching pornography earlier in the day.  This country is a mess.  With God as my witness, I do not say that with pride, arrogance, or condescension, but with a broken heart.  By the way, my country (the US) is even worse in many ways.  You were right in one of your earlier comments when you said that people in so-called “Christian nations” commit crimes and sins just as frequently as those in non-Christian countries.  “Christian nations” are filled with people who are not true Christians, but claim the title.  It makes God sick.  And being a just God, He does judge and punish sin.  All sin.  We like to compare ourselves with other people, because it makes us look better.  But compared to God who is perfect and holy, all of us are sinners deserving eternal punishment in a real place called Hell.  But God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die IN OUR PLACE!  When Jesus died on the cross He paid the debt that we each owed for our own sin.  He paid it, so that we might go free!  That is the central message of the Bible.  Of course, this one paragraph cannot really properly sum up the entire Bible, but I just want you to know that God loves you.  He cares about you.  He wants to forgive your sin.  He wants to be your God, your Father, your Savior.

I fully understand that you do not believe much of what I have said.  I know you skipped over the comment by W. Snyder because he opened with a shocking statement, but honestly he brought up a great point later on in his comment.  He said that nearly all of Jesus’ disciples met with extremely violent deaths following His resurrection all because they wouldn’t just “let it go”.  The early Christians in the first century were thrown to the lions, burned at the stake, and met other horrendous ends, and they could have saved their lives by just recanting their faith in Christ.  Why wouldn’t they do it?  Could it possibly be because it wasn’t a hoax?  Could it be because they had accepted the evidence that He really did rise from the dead?  I urge you to give it a fair hearing in your heart and mind.  I assume you live in Phnom Penh.  I would be more than happy to have lunch with you sometime, loan you any books you may want to read, and try to answer any questions that you may have.  I say “try to answer” because I don’t have all the answers eitherJ

I would urge you, Colin, to be open to the fact that maybe the Bible IS true.  I hope that you will believe me when I say that winning an argument is absolutely the furthest thing from my mind right now.  There is something that is extremely valuable at stake here.  We’re talking about your eternal soul.


Stephen Benefield


  1. That was awesome Stephen! I always enjoy a good debate especially when it is defending my Savior! God is working and we will be praying!

  2. I am truly humbled by the kindness, humility, and sincerity with which you responded to Colin. It is evident that you allowed the Lord to lead you in your letter to him. I will be praying for him and the many others that Christ is allowing you witness to each day. I read your email update, and it was truly an encourage-ment to see God using you and your family.

  3. Thank you Stephen,

    I appreciate your response and I will respond in kind as soon as I have some time to put together an equally thoughtful commentary.