Tibetan Mist

Amos’ oracle includes this description of coming judgment: ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it’ (Amos 8:11–12).

However, with his last words, Amos speaks of the restoration that will come: ‘In that day I will restore David’s fallen tent. I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name,’ declares the LORD, who will do these things. ‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when the reaper will be overtaken by the ploughman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills. I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,’ says the LORD your God (Amos 9:11-15).

I once visited a region that is largely populated by Tibetans. This region is home to a large Tibetan lamasery. I visited the lamasery one afternoon and spoke with a number of the lamas who lived there. Four young lamas invited me into their spartan living quarters, where we drank tea and chatted. I spoke with them at length, but two aspects of our conversation were especially striking.

First, these young men, now in their late twenties, had all come to the lamasery as young boys (10–12 years old).  They knew very little about the outside world or other religions. Their studies focused on the Tibetan language and scriptures and they were aware of little else. When I asked them if they had heard of Jesus, one clearly had never even heard the name and the others simply looked puzzled.

Second, when I asked them about the creator and his creation, I was frequently told that my questions could only be answered in Tibetan (not in Chinese), even though they were all quite conversant in Chinese. I believe this puzzling response reflected their training, which consists almost entirely of memorization of set texts. To the lamas, the Tibetan scriptures are sacred and so they are memorized. Any deviation from the text, including translation, is difficult to contemplate. This highlighted to me the necessity of providing the Bible and other Christian literature in the Tibetan language; nothing else would be taken seriously by these men. 

As I peered through the charcoal mist that filled the lama’s room, I had one thought: the barriers are indeed great, but God’s love and power is greater.  

This experience took place back in 1998. As I write this meditation I am reminded that back in 2004, just two days after I first wrote this account, I had the joy of speaking and praying with a Tibetan man in his early thirties who had recently come to faith in Christ. He spent ten years in India studying as a Buddhist monk. He then travelled to the lamasery noted above and continued his studies. But there, through the witness of a Chinese brother, he encountered Jesus and was changed. As one who speaks and writes Tibetan, he is now sharing the gospel with his people.

Lord, I know that many regions of the world are experiencing famine; not a famine of food or drink, but a famine of your word. As I think of the young monks in this Tibetan lamasery, I am reminded of this fact. But I praise your name because you are at work restoring and redeeming. You are dispelling the clouds and the mist and transforming lives. The days are coming for the Tibetans, when the reaper will be overtaken by the ploughman. New wine will flow from these high mountains.  And I rejoice because even now, as I reflect on my recent meeting with this new Tibetan brother, I can see a foretaste of your great work among this people. I pray that you would enable this young man to powerfully impact his people in your name. Lord, bring a harvest where there was once only desolation.