The first time we met him, he seemed to me an amiable man with a round, jolly face. When he smiled, a few scattered teeth became visible. He introduced us to relatives of his in a nearby village. Although he was not a talker at all, he really had the desire to make the Gospel known to these relatives. He and his wife tried to make a living out of selling noodles in front of their house. Once, when there was a conflict going on with fellow Christians (none of his fault) who assured him they would from now on skip his shop, he said confidently: ‘No matter, God takes care of us.’ And on a good day he destroyed the idol altars outside his house.
But alas, the pressure of relatives and village people was great and Lek could not stand it anymore. His children who lived in Bangkok and sent money each month, put pressure on him to say farewell to his Christian faith. Lek and his wife Nok started to skip church, occasionally at first then with increasing frequency. On a bad day Lek informed the elder of the church that he had decided to quit. He said he still believed but just could not cope with the pressure from his kids and the villagers. When the elder asked his wife whether or not she still wanted to be a Christian, she fortunately answered positively. Within a short period of time new idol altars were erected in the garden next to the house.
Meanwhile, Lek’s health kept on deteriorating. He suffered from diabetes and kidney deficiency. Money for proper treatment was not available. Nok came to church less often, until she sent word that she was not going to attend at all anymore.
We kept visiting the family and read the Bible with them, or to them. The last time I went to visit, Lek was the first one to come and sit with me when I pulled my Bible out of my hand bag, and called out to his wife to come and join us. It was plain to me that he enjoyed being read to from the Bible. When I asked him (a mite straightforward perhaps) why he did not believe anymore, he answered that he still believed.
It was the last time that I would see him alive. We went on vacation and for a while I did not visit them. Then we got word that Lek had passed away. The buddhist monks came over to their house to perform the buddhist rituals. We were there to express our condolences. When the rituals were over, Nok walked over to where we were sitting and said with a hopeful look: ‘Lek is with God now, isn’t he?’ To our amazement,she spoke of her desire to see her children all believe in God.
The next day Lek was cremated at the temple. Prior to the actual cremation, a monk gave a message: ‘We do not know the day of our death. But let us be eager to do good and do a lot of merit making.’ Later on I saw the monks sitting in a row, holding up signs with statements about death: ‘There is no resurrection’; ‘Escape is not possible’; ‘One goes, but will not return’; ‘One falls asleep but does not wake up’. Half the village attended the two-hour ceremony.
Needless to say that the way Lek’s life ended made us very sad. We would have loved to see a very different ending. But the ceremonies and all the villagers attending made me realize once more how much these rituals and beliefs are part of Thai society and how hard it is to go a different road, to worship the one true God. And yet, in spite of realizing that, it amazes me nevertheless that it is so hard: the message of forgiveness of sins, of resurrection and eternal life, of unlimited grace – there is nothing that can beat it! A prayer is in my heart for the Isaan Christians, to stand firm amidst pressure and persist till the end. They will never regret that.