In the months leading up to my trip one word seemed to keep surfacing in conversations with friends and family. As I sit down and began to process the events of this past week, I began to see how that same word seemed to lace itself through the week. That word was hope.
Hope: a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
What does it mean for us to have hope, what do we hope in? We have hopes, or expectations for our futures, we find ourselves constantly hoping for or expecting something better than what we have. As Christians we have hope in, or expectations that God will fulfill his promises. This isn't a new thought right? Having hope in Christ is something we have all heard as Christians, it's not a new concept. But for this first time, I began to really think about the depth of what it's like to find hope in something, anything, but Christ.
At the end of the week we were taken into a Buddhist temple to learn more about the religion. I have passed temples like this one before, however, this was the first time I had been inside. As we approached the bright red doors, of what had once been a church, we could hear a faint humming sound that tuned into the chanting of almost 50 people as the doors opened. We stepped inside a foyer that opened into a main room, with a shrine of colorful flags, flowers and candles surrounding a picture of a man dressed in orange on the front wall. Lining the three remaining walls of the room were two to three rows of men, women and children. Most of them were holding combinations of prayer books, prayer chains and prayer wheels, as they followed the lead of a man praying into a microphone.
In the middle of the floor I watched as two older women preformed repetitive worship-type bowing motions, as they faced the front of the room. It wasn't until one of these women slowly lay down on the floor face down, with only her palms and fingers, ever so slightly rising up and down off the floor, that I became sick to my stomach. I sat helplessly and watched, as this woman laid herself out in a stance of complete surrender and poured 100% of herself into chanting a prayer to a picture on the wall, hoping that this action would be enough to cancel out her 'bad karma' for the day. Hoping in an uncertain eternity, hoping for better luck tomorrow, hoping to be reincarnated as something or someone better than herself in her next life.
As we stood outside the temple, listening to our leader explain the foundations of Buddhism, I watched as people filtered out onto the street, tossing us a sweet smile and a nod as they went on with their day with a hope that they would be able to keep a good balance of 'good karma' for the rest of the day.
Empty: containing nothing; not filled or occupied.
The next day, as we were heading to ring in the New Year with a Chinese congregation in Brooklyn, I was chatting with the man sitting next to me on the subway. He informed me that while he was not currently "in church" he had been raised Jehovah Witness and even attended school to be a priest. Having no knowledge of what a JW believed I asked him if he would mind answering some of my questions about his religion and try to help me understand the differences in our beliefs. He very willingly agreed and began the process of explaining to me several key differences in my faith and his. It was in this explanation that he informed me that he did not believe in heaven or hell. "There is no such thing," he proclaimed as he waved his hand in the air as one might do to scare off a dog. He explained that according to his beliefs, when one died they were buried in the ground and their spirit stayed there to rest until Jesus came back, at that point in time they would come back and continue life here on earth. Earth was his heaven.
As he talked I began to realize that he seemed to be hanging on to the idea that if everything was okay now, it would be okay later. He had no hope in or expectation for the future, other than death and laying in a cold grave till the end of time, only to come back and keep doing what he had been doing. I can state that confidently because when I asked him where he found his hope he scrambled for an answer only to eventually evade it and pushed the conversation on to my next question. This man defined to me what seemed to be a distant non-personal relationship with God and a contentment to just keep on keeping on.
As we arrived at the New Years Eve worship service that night we were asked to pair off and give thanks to the Lord for whatever was on our hearts. We sat down and I found myself speechless as I flashed back over the last 48-hours and gained a new realization for how empty hope is when it is not found in Christ, and how blessed I was to have a hope full of Christ's promises.
That night I gave thanks for hope. I prayed thanksgiving to God for sending His Son to die, for me, so that I may have a personal relationship with Him. I gave thanks that I did not have to count my prayers to balance out my bad karma and that I have salvation and the promise of a eternity spent with Him and not just going back to what I do now.
I go on mission trips and it never fails that I come home with a refreshed gratefulness for the Gospel. This, however, comes with a fresh heartbreak for the lost and the greatly appreciated reminder of why I am told to take the Gospel to my peers, the nations, my neighbors, my family, my friends. God had mercy on me when He shouldn't have, and He offered me hope in something so much more than myself. I am reminded that this hope is not something that I am meant to keep to myself, but instead to offer to those around me.
Morgan Little is a student at Tarleton State University and served as a Go Now Missionary in New York over Christmas break.