I was twenty-one when God put it on my heart to attend a Buddhist studies program in northern India. I would live in a monastery and study Buddhist culture, philosophy, and meditation practices. I had no good reason for going. I wasn’t much of an evangelist. I had no grand scheme to convert the monks to Christianity, no resources to improve their lives. I simply desired to be there, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should be there. So I went.
Are you becoming a Buddhist, Liz? Are you sure this is God’s voice leading you?
As I lay under my purple mosquito net the first night, unable to sleep in the choking heat, my friends’ voices drifted through my mind. Are you becoming a Buddhist, Liz? Are you sure this is God’s voice leading you? They had every right to be worried about me, isolated in the birthplace of Buddhism, a territory swarming with lies about God. But a still voice inside me insisted that I was in the right place.
I lived in a bright blue building with thirty American students, most of whom were either Buddhists or interested in becoming one. I was the only one who had packed a Bible, and though discrete about this fact, it was a matter of weeks before people were telling me I was the most religious person they’d ever met. All of my Christian upbringing had taught me that this was my opening, my chance to be missional, but the still voice said, Wait. Just listen.
With no agenda, my main occupation at the monastery became stillness. The other students and I woke up at five every morning to meditate in the temple, sitting in front of a large golden Buddha statue until our legs fell asleep. We sat together over chai and biscuits, lentils and rice. In the evenings, for lack of entertainment, we spent hours telling each other our life stories, diving into details that would normally take years to reveal.
It surprised me how much our time together reminded me of Jesus, even as we sat at the foot of the Buddha. I thought of the passage in Matthew 20 when Jesus comes across two blind men and asks them, “What do you want me to do for you?” It’s obvious what they need, but Jesus doesn’t heal them until they’ve asked for their sight. As I sat with my new friends, unencumbered with ideas about saving them, I got to ask them a lot of questions about what they really wanted. I got to hear their desires in their own words.
For a Buddhist monastery—where wanting is the antithesis of enlightenment—my fellow disciples sure did want a lot. They wanted love. They wanted peace of mind. They wanted self-improvement. They wanted something to believe in.
Once I understood the desires of their hearts, it became effortless to talk about Jesus, who fit their wants more perfectly than they knew. The subject often came up naturally, since they had come to know my heart and beliefs as deeply as I knew theirs.
I could understand why Psalm 37 tells us to “be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him,” because—thanks to Buddhism and the unrelenting Indian sun—I actually sat still for once.
My initial quietness about my faith ultimately helped them feel more comfortable probing me about it, since they didn’t expect to be proselytized. We continued to do what we had always done: we sat together, meditating on our innermost dilemmas. I offered my ideas and they offered theirs.
Never in my life had I been able to give such a full witness of Jesus’ abiding love and dedication to us. I’d never devoted such a huge stretch of time to sitting with others and truly listening to them. By the end of my time in India, I didn’t just feel that my friends had been exposed to Jesus, I felt that I had seen a new facet of Jesus. I could understand why Psalm 37 tells us to “be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him,” because—thanks to Buddhism and the unrelenting Indian sun—I actually sat still for once. And in my stillness, I could feel the Lord waiting patiently with me. Waiting for my friends’ hearts to turn to him for healing. Waiting for my own heart to transform. Waiting for His Kingdom to come, in its own perfect timing.
Photo graciously provided by Elizabeth Steere