"The Gates Shall Not Prevail"

      The distance between Taipei and Southern California is only a quarter of the way around the globe, but on one particular day, I felt like I'd fallen off the edge of it. I think it goes down as the loneliest, strangest moment I've ever experienced.  

I was sitting in an office with a Buddhist monk in one of Taiwan's largest and most famous temples—Kuan Du—and I was asking permission to preach the Gospel in their courtyard some Saturday afternoon. 

I know, it sounds awfully brazen; in fact, it is. But in almost every village, town, or district in Taiwan, the Buddhist temple serves as the community center, where important affairs of any nature are presented and discussed. People will gather to listen in that courtyard who would never enter a church. So, I thought it was worth a try. Besides the Lord, I felt, was compelling me to do this.  

The monk was a gracious gentleman. He smiled right away at the very idea: "Oh, Yesu jyau! Ni dai-huer!" ("Oh, the Jesus teaching, Hold on!") and off he went to discuss the idea with someone more important than he.  

And that left me alone in the inner—well, I'm not going to call it 'sanctum'—let's just say 'recesses' of this enormous Buddhist enclave. 

What on earth was I doing here? I looked around through the gloom of the office. There was the gigantic palm of a hand, suspended on the wall behind the man's desk, with all the secret diagrams and formulae of palmistry. Hanging next to it: an enormous human face, similarly diagramed for physiognomy.  Symbols from the Yi-Ching: plastered across the wall.  Sayings from the Book of Tao. And, hanging almost floor-to-ceiling, an enormous painted scroll of the Ten Levels of Hell (枷등閻羅) in all of their gruesome detail. Idols and incense and Buddhist relics on the shelves; copies of sutras and mantras on the desk; charms hanging from the ceiling and over the doorposts. 

I have never felt further from home in my life; from my family, from America; from normal existence! 

But the nice gentleman came back with a big smile and very proudly announced: "No problem. Permission granted. We do not oppose. All paths lead to the Truth you know." Careful not to concur with that last point, I thanked him for his generosity and headed back to make my plans.  

A few weeks later, on a Saturday morning, there we were in the courtyard of one of the most pagan temples in Asia. 

We set up a little PA system; a team of Christ's College students were singing their hearts out and giving their testimonies. A nice crowd had gathered to listen to it all and I was just getting ready to give a brief message: Jesus the Way (the "Tao" actually: that's the Chinese word for 'Way'). Everything was going smoothly. Until, that is....

...until a noisy busload of Buddhist pilgrims pulled up in the Temple yard. They had come from a faraway rural community. They had come a long way to worship their images. And they were very unhappy to find Christians in their courtyard and they weren't about to let it continue! 

Before too long, the Buddhist pilgrims had pulled out their own PA system, aimed it right at us, and cranked it up to a deafening pitch, blaring Buddhist sutras our way. Not only that, but the group itself was growing so restless, we actually began to worry about a riot on the temple steps. 

Not wanting anything like that, of course, out of respect for the nice people who had let us come, we gave up our plans, turned off our system, packed up our stuff and yielded to them with a smile and a nod, all the while listening to more angry, belligerent murmuring about us and our 'Foreign Teaching'. 

You know? Every time I read those words that our Savior spoke to Peter that day: that "the gates of Hell shall not prevail..."  Mt 16:18 I think of that moment in Kuan Du. It's not like the "forces of Hell" don't try! That's for sure! And sometimes they score a few wins! It certainly seemed to be happening that day. 

But one of our students had brought a huge stack of Christian booklets with her that day, and so we divided them up and went two-by-two into the temple halls and down into the cave of the gods and handed those out to every person we met. Surprisingly, almost everyone cheerfully took one. So that was something at least. 

But—oh!—that wasn't all! Oh, no dear ones, it never is! 

Something else happened after that mob of angry, belligerent worshippers had shut down our sound system and canceled our plans. At one particular moment, while we were quietly packing things up and putting it all away, I looked up and saw, there on the temple porch, sort of standing in the shadows, behind one of the red pillars: that monk! The gentleman I had met in the office that day; who had given us the permission. He had been watching it all! He was taking it in! And he had seen quite a contrast between the one group and the other!  And when I looked up at him, he was staring right at me. He had the most apologetic look on his face. I walked over to him, shook hands, and thanked him for letting us come.

In response to that, he looked up at me and said: "Jidutu shr hao ren, shr bu shr?" "Christians are good people, aren't they?" 

"No," I told him. "Our Savior is good."

 And I know for a fact that the Gates of Hell did not prevail that day!  Neither will they today dear ones! Straight the path!

See you Sunday!                                 RAS 

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Da Vinci's 'Roadblock'