Encounters of the Missionary Kind


You might have read this letter about overzealous missionaries in the papers yesterday. You may or not empathise with the writer but it is a fact that missionaries have been prowling the streets for a long time, preying on the innocent, the vulnerable, the gullible and the weak.

Personally, I have missionary-phobia because of my first encounter. Its a 3 decades gap but I still remember it with too much clarity.

I was a happy, guileless 5-year old out at the playground, in a poor but safe neighbourhood. The two ladies who beckoned to me were very friendly, but preachy. I got more frightened as the encounter progressed and they told me I was in danger and to save me I had to do as they said. They made me invite into my heart, someone who they say loves me but will punish me if I don’t love him back wholly. I was to reject the Taoist deities in my home – deities I had known all my life for this invisible entity who came out of nowhere to speak through them, and picked me and demanded all my being to be devoted to him.

Like a deer caught in the headlights, I was confused and I was panicking, I didn’t understand what the women were doing but I didn’t know what else to do. So I followed their “benign” lead. The headlights were rushing up at me really fast.

Salvation I needed, badly, but not from this unknown moody entity these two friendly women were telling me to invite into my heart. My saviour was real and nearby: my mum who was busy with housework but made sure to check from our one-room flat frequently. She put down everything as soon as she saw what happened and rushed to the scene to retrieve me. I had nightmares for days after that, wondering if I was going to die by terrible torture for not accepting the invisible entity, or die unwanted for the audacity of asking the deities to leave my heart. It’s a wonder I did not end up at Woodbridge.

It was only years later, during tertiary education (where it seems missionaries are sometimes more common than students) that I had my second encounter, but by then I had already learnt enough about missionaries to never accept the invite into the proverbial parlour again. Once is quite enough, thank you. I have my own views about the exploitation of the academic setting to gain converts… but I’ll keep them to myself.

Here’s some humourous suggestions on dealing with door-to-door missionaries, which would have been helpful to know when I was that 5-year-old kid. But if you’d like some insight on religion, or the points and counterpoints to an encounter of the missionary kind, try this e-book (reference filched from here): BEYOND BELIEF- A Buddhist Critique of Christianity.

Good read even if you’re not Buddhist. I found it fascinating in itself. This is the preface to the book:

“The purpose of this book is threefold. Firstly it aims to critically examine Christianity and thereby highlight the logical, philosophical and ethical problems in Christian dogma. In doing this I hope to be able to provide Buddhists with facts which they can use when Christians attempt to evangelize them. This book should make such encounters more fair, and hopefully also make it more likely that Buddhists will remain Buddhists. As it is, many Buddhists know little of their own religion and nothing about Christianity – which makes it difficult for them to answer the questions Christians ask or to rebut the claims they make.”

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Here’s the letter in question, in case the site link doesn’t work:

The Straits Times, Online STForum Nov 16, 2007

Worrying encounters with overzealous evangelists

AFTER the third time meeting evangelists at bus stops, buses and trains over a period of a few months, I decided to write this letter.The first time was at a bus stop in Pasir Panjang, another time was in a East-West train, and the third time in a crowded bus in Bukit Timah Road. I notice that they always work in pairs, neatly-dressed and wearing a name-tag.If I stood near one of them, or if I were sitting, one of them would sit beside me, and start a friendly chat (Where are you going? The weather is a bit hot, isn’t it?, etc). I also noticed how they would chat with other, usually English-educated, locals, and after a while would either give the obliging listeners their card or take down their addresses (obviously to visit them for further evangelising).Having experienced decades of such evangelising, and as a practising Buddhist, I immediately recognised them and told them I am not interested to chat. The reason is simply it will always be a dead-end ’sinful’ talk which would benefit neither side.

On two occasions, however, the evangelists were somewhat overzealous.

After I said ‘No’, he continued to prod: ‘You must be a Buddhist…’ Only after repeatedly telling him, to my great embarrassment, that I do not wish to carry on the conversation, did he stop. However, on another occasion, the evangelist started with a ‘Hello’, and when I said that I am not interested in chatting at all, he curtly remarked: ‘You must be deeply hurt inside!’

I simply remained silent, and when the train reached my destination, I alighted with a great sense of relief.

However, I do somewhat wonder about those others who are obliging to talk to such strangers, or submissive, not knowing what would transpire.

My advice: If you are approached by these evangelists (or any evangelist): simply say ‘No’ and just walk away.

Piya Tan Beng Sin

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6 responses to “Encounters of the Missionary Kind

  1. Prof Thio would be interested on the website you posted above “ex-christian” :)
    Yesterday I met a lady in her 70s. She said that she gave up her devotional practice to Soka Buddhism that had given her a lot of peace, despite falling asleep most of the time during the ritual chanting, because all her children were Christian. She said she didn’t want to put her children in a difficult spot when she imagined herself lying in a coffin and her Buddhist friends made her children uncomfortable. She laughed and said that she now fell asleep in church! She added that her daughter whom she lived with, would not mind if she kept to her own religion but she said her son-in-law was too devout to be tolerant.
    It is sad when religion polarizes a family.

  2. i still remember when i was 6-7 years old, I had an encounter with these door to door “salesmen”. I was playing at the porch and they came right to the front of my gate and tried to sell me a couple of booklets that i realised much later in life that it was supposed to be FREE PUBLICATION.

    Being the inquisitive kid, i dig out my little coinbox and counted uhm… 85 cents… make that sen… ringgit and sen. And they took my money! My parents came out much later and scolded me loads for being stupid and wanted to get back my 85cents.

    85 cents for dignity and pride. I’d gladly pay them again. ;)

  3. The problem with these evangelist types is that they believe that only those who worship the Christian God are entitled to ‘Salvation’, and that non believers will not be able to enter heaven. For this reason, they perceive themselves as having a moral obligation to ‘save’ as many souls as possible.

  4. vegancatsg,
    Would she? I rather cringe at the image of her making a speech, along the lines of her S337A one, about the topic.

    edwin, :D

    N,
    It’s rather ironic that even in the US, where freedom of speech is such a treasured notion, this is a common thing too. Else II’d want to move there…

    OT, speaking of freedom of speech. I just don’t understand why the hostile people who comment on our highly popular White Tiger post insist on their freedom of speech but tell me, the blog owner/post author, to shut up and not respond. What cheek! Talk about inequality.

  5. This is an extremely entertaining video on door to door missionaries:

    Paul

  6. Paul,
    That’s just too precious!

    Thanks! for sharing.