Chari is gentle and patient with me and has a deep strength that comes from years of pain and life on the sidelines. He was born with a stiff back and legs. For our first few sessions of language tutoring, I didn’t know about his disability, because I only saw him sitting in a chair.
When I asked him if we could go upstairs to study in one of the open-air classrooms on the roof of the school, he told me he has a type of spinal-pelvic arthritis, and alas, stairs would be impossible. For a few moments before we started our lesson, I told him about heaven. “God doesn’t need your body to make a new one,” I said. “1 Corinthians 15 says, ‘We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.’ Revelation 21 says that God will wipe away our tears with His own hand and make a total end of pain. I have already started to experience His cleansing and forgiveness in my life.”
Two days later when I came for the next session, I had forgotten about our previous conversation. The room was still dim and tiny, and the tired fans were barely stirring the stagnant air. But Chari was alive. He seemed a totally different person. “How are you?” I asked. “You seem lighthearted!”
“Ever since our talk last week, I have felt like a new person!” Chari replied, “The verses about heaven and wholeness gave me indescribable joy. I used to curse at bad drivers in traffic. Now I forgive. My friend borrowed $20 from me and keeps promising to give it back but never does. My heart would burn with frustration, and I could never get a good night’s sleep. I’ve been walking around miserable. But now it’s all totally gone! I feel at peace. I’ve been telling all of my other students about you and how much encouragement you have been to me!”
I was so happy for him and could only keep nodding my head and saying, “Thank God. Thank God!”
Our lesson for that day was Christian terminology. I glanced down and saw words like discipleship, baptism and offerings. Chari brought my attention to the first word. “Preh-ateyka,” He said. “Creator God. My family are Buddhists. There is not even one Christian. Before I started working at this school, I never heard this word before. Can you tell me, who is Creator God?”
“The Creator God made everything there is,” I replied. “He can create oceans and planets and stars by His voice, and He formed man by His own hands.”
“Yes!” Chari interjected. “That was Adam! He was made to be like God with eyes, a nose, hands and feet, right?”
“The physical was only part of it,” I replied. “God also gave us His love.”
Chari changed gears. “I always hear this question: If God is good, why so much war and misery?”
We talked about how Lucifer convinced a third of God’s angels to side with him, and how the rest of the angels and the universe were still unconvinced until Jesus died on the cross. I asked him whether, if he had children, he would want them to obey out of love or fear of being punished. “God is the same way,” I said. He jotted references in his notebook, and questions kept pouring from his hungry, searching heart.
“Are Catholics Christians, too?” he asked.
“Well, God looks at the heart. There are very big differences, but I don’t want to give you too much all at once.”
“Please! At least tell me one or two of the biggest differences.”
I smiled at his enthusiasm. “In the Dark Ages, there was lots of confusion about doctrine. The Catholic Church wanted unity, so they made the church the highest authority. Though they may have done this with good intentions, it resulted in a thousand years of the church lifting up their traditions and suppressing the scriptures. They kept scripture in languages the common people didn’t understand. They taught that one could buy salvation or live an ascetic life to receive it. Martin Luther was a very strict monk. He made pilgrimages on his knees, fasted and repeated prayers many times. He even beat himself. Then he read the Bible and found out that salvation comes through faith. He was persecuted for translating the Bible into the common language and joined with others in protesting unbiblical practices.”
“You mean a protest like we see for political causes?”
“Exactly. He even wrote down his reasoning and nailed it to the door of a big church. God used him to help begin leading people from error into truth.”
“What church do you attend?”
“I go to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”
“What? I thought all Christians worship on Sunday!”
I drew a line on my notebook and wrote “Catholic Church” on one end and “Seventh-day Adventist Church” on the other. Between them I wrote the names of several other denominations. “Of all the Christian denominations, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the farthest away from the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church changed the Sabbath to Sunday, but there is no Biblical basis for this. So if you ask at a Sunday church, they will say such Biblical laws as the Sabbath are no longer valid after the cross. Some laws no longer had meaning after the cross because they pointed to Jesus, but laws relating to worship, human relationships and health never change. That is another characteristic of Creator God—He never changes. Following His laws about health gives me an advantage working with Muslims, as I don’t eat pork or drink alcohol.”
“Why don’t you drink alcohol when the Bible says it is okay to do so?”
“The Bible needs to be understood as a whole,” I replied. “If you stack the texts seeming to allow alcohol beside the warnings against it, there is no comparison. I hate alcohol for the way it causes misery and wrecks families.
“There are churches all along the continuum between my church and the Catholic Church. My church is very strong on proper interpretation of the Bible, looking at the whole thing and comparing verse to verse. Sometimes we can be too cerebral. We are not perfect. Other Christians focus mainly on loving people.”
“Yes!” Chari interjected. “I can tell you about amazing compassion I have seen.”
“Yes,” I said, “and I hope you learn from those Christians and enjoy their fellowship, too, even if it is on Sunday. There are only a few Seventh-day Adventist churches in this country. Right now, it is most important for you to come to know Jesus enough to trust Him as master of your life. He has promised brand-new healthy bodies in heaven, but heaven is only for people who want to be there.”
“Who wouldn’t want to go to heaven?”
“Status and wealth are the biggest values in this country. People want to be seen in fancy cars and admired for their fine houses. Living a life for self is operating under the same desires that led Lucifer away from God. The Bible says there was no place found for him in Heaven. Unless our hearts become like Jesus’ heart, we wouldn’t be happy with him either. Jesus was a servant. He demonstrated this by washing His disciples’ feet when they were arguing about status. Satan wanted to rise higher, but Jesus was willing to come down to this earth and die. It shows us that Satan’s accusations are lies.
“Have you ever heard of the five kinds of love, Chari?” I asked as I remembered something we had been taught last summer in AFM training. “The first kind of love is loving someone who loves you back. The second is loving someone who doesn’t love you in return.” I sketched a graph of the kinds of love as I spoke. “The third level of love is loving someone who speaks evil about you. The fourth is loving someone who wants to kill you. And the ultimate is to love someone who has taken the life of someone you love.”
As I explained each level, Chari’s eyes got wider and wider. When I finished, he spoke softly. “In my life I see that I only have the first two kinds of love. I can relate to loving someone who doesn’t feel the same way. How many kinds of love have you been able to show, older brother?”
I shared with him some terrible things that have happened to someone I love, and how I am learning to love even the perpetrator because of the level-five love that God has shown me. As we talked, I remembered the to-do list in my pocket that included writing a letter of encouragement to the perpetrator in prison.
Our two-hour class period was over, and it had felt like 10 minutes. “I could see Preh-ateyka was giving you new life when I saw your face today,” I said to Chari as we parted. “If He didn’t give me new life every day, I wouldn’t have this forgiveness and joy. He isn’t like any other God. He is living and giving life today and every day.”