AFTER A TRAGIC TRAFFIC DEATH / My Mended Heart
“Young people, it is hard to know what we can say to each other in such a terrible moment,” he admitted. “None of us knew when we woke up that today death would come to Bangkok Christian School. We can never know how a day will end. But one thing we can always be sure of is that God is still here and that his love is surrounding us. Our friend Nopodon is gone. But he is still in God’s care. And I am thankful that our friend Pastor Ethan can speak to us and bring comfort to each heart.”
I accepted the mike from him and cradled it in my hand, trying to radiate a sense of calm. The young people seated before me were nearly adults now, and yet I could see childlike grief written on their faces.
“There is one thing we must do just now,” I told them. “We must be real. We must think about and accept the things that are real. Death came here today. Death is real. A beautiful boy left this world and will not return. I didn’t know this fine boy–Nopodon. But my grandson Ethan knew him. He was a good boy, a good friend. And now he is gone. We can’t pretend he isn’t gone; he is gone.”
I was composing as I went, praying furiously as my mouth formed words birthed out of years of pastoral study and prayer and seeking God on my knees. But I was standing 9,500 miles away from my former pulpit, where Christian ideas and the sixty-six books of Scripture were the accepted frameworks of comfort. This place, even with “Bangkok Christian School” on the sign forty meters from here, was still a bastion of Buddhism. How could I bring everyone together?
I decided the only way forward was to be open about that. “Young people, you know I am a Christian man. As a young person your age, I made a decision one day: to choose to believe all the Christian promises. Many of you are Buddhist; in your own families you have deep, sacred ideas also. About life and death and what is to come. Today isn’t the day to speak of the different ideas, to compare philosophies. Instead, let me just suggest to you one thing. We all have the same Father. You and I. Today I am your big brother because the Father who loves me is the same Father who loves you. If that were not a true hope, then this school would not be. You would not come here. Your teachers would go do different work. So this feels to me like a hope we can all reach out by faith and hold. We have a Father in heaven who now has come very close to bring us comfort. This boy who died: Father knows. We have tears; Father also has tears. We wish our friend was still alive; God, I believe, has a wonderful plan where Nopodon can be alive again and we can be reunited with him and with others who have died as well.”
It took me a moment to find Little Ethan in the crowd, the one white face in a sea of Asian solemnity. I supposed he was thinking of his grandma as I spoke, and my own heart almost seized up as I remembered our own goodbye a year ago.
“I know that in every grade here, from Prathom One right up to our very grownup young people ready to graduate, you have come here to explore more than simply science and mathematics and history and the correct English words to use. I believe God had his own way of bringing you here; in his love, he guided your parents to choose this opportunity. And so today, in God’s love, you can now hear the promise that will carry us through until the sun begins to shine again. And here it is. Jesus came to this world; we all know the story. And so many people saw his power: he made blind people see, deaf people hear, lame children throw away crutches and walk and even run. And then, as people began to say, ‘This power is amazing,’ they even saw death melt away and surrender to him. The good news Jesus shares is not just his own message or a message Christianity claims as its own private gift. No, God says to every person in Thailand right now, every Christian person, every Buddhist person: ‘Death is an enemy; yes. It is a sad and evil enemy. But I will defeat death; I will overcome the enemy. And I will bring us comfort; I will wipe away our tears.’”
As I spoke, I was acutely aware–it was so tangible I felt it in my chest–the Holy Spirit was giving me words. My mind and heart were engaged, but I marveled at how ideas poured in and then out. Even in my own grief, I wanted to cry out: “Thank you, precious Lord!” I was in this foreign mission land, where such good news was truly a revolutionary headline. And even as I shared, it seemed many of those beautiful kids before me were experiencing the awe of a resurrecting Christ for the first time. They’d listened to lectures and seen PowerPoint slides portraying Jesus and his miracles. They’d learned assigned memory verses and dutifully wrote them down in their impeccable, font-like Asian penmanship. But here and now on this bleak Monday morning, a kind of dawn was breaking. Oh God, is this idea really possible? A kid gets killed . . . and maybe will live again?
I saw some of the high school girls dabbing at their eyes and I paused, taking a step closer to them. “It’s all right to cry,” I said gently, looking directly at them. “Ladies, your tears are a beautiful, sweet revealing of your kind hearts. But young people at Bangkok Christian School do not need to cry like other people who have no hope. The Bible says that in exact words! At the same moment we cry we also raise our hands to the sky, lifting them to our Father and saying, ‘We believe you, Father. Thank you for the truth that your love never ends.’”
I didn’t intend it as an altar call, but all at once as I swallowed hard, praying inwardly, hands began to go up. First among the seniors: tall, lanky boys with sideburns and their requisite neckties. Then some of the younger children. In a few moments, every hand was up and I felt my own reserves melting.