On Friday, our missionary host took us to a Buddhist temple near Songkhla, Thailand. In my mind, I visualized this as simply a building dedicated to Buddha. What I saw was extremely eye-opening. The “temple” was more of a very large park with various areas with different idols. It seemed more like an amusement park than a place of worship, although unfortunately there were forms of worship happening there.
There were lots of markets selling lots of different products – mostly children’s toys and food. Everywhere you looked were different idols or symbols with signs inviting persons to give an offering of money to receive a particular type of luck. For example, there was a pen of live rabbits that said if you “make merit” (give money) to them, you would get quick luck or luck that comes quickly. There were also live turtles and if you made merit there you would have luck that lasted longer. There was even a Spider-man figure that promised “sticky luck” in exchange for money. (I was particularly heartbroken to see Spider-man being used in this way…)
The biggest surprise to me, however, was how this was not simply a temple to Buddha but we saw large Hindu idols and Chinese idols and everything else you might imagine. Although the people that go to this temple would consider themselves staunch Buddhists, their religion really bore no resemblance to any kind of textbook Buddhist teachings at all. Instead, these people seem to be practicing “animism,” worshipping all kinds of spirits and idols in an attempt to appease the “evil ones” and in the false hope that the “good ones” might bless them. We had seen evidence of this in Bangkok as well – there are shrines in front of many homes and businesses not dedicated to Buddha but to the spirits thought to be in control in that particular place. People will bring little objects – flowers, figurines, money, incense and other things – to leave at the shrine to try and receive a blessing from the spirit at that location.
This was a different kind of “lostness” than I saw in Nana the day before but just as heartbreaking. While I was there, I saw many people bow down to several of these idols. I saw some statues with large ears where persons would block one of the ears and whisper their “prayers” in the other ear so that they would be granted. The very same idol worship that I have read about in the Old Testament and which God said that He hates so much was literally happening right in front of me in 2019!
The need in Thailand for the gospel is so great – the people here are suffering in bondage to all of these false idols. We have often been reminded of Paul in Acts 17, where he sees all of the idols in Athens and Scripture says his “spirit was provoked” or that he was greatly distressed. Then he sees an idol to the “unknown god” which they had erected just in case they had inadvertently left someone out. Paul seized on that idea to tell them about the God they didn’t know, who didn’t need to be served by human hands (or have money given to) because he was the creator of all things. I pray that the people of Thailand will come to know this God.