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.”
Here’s the letter in question, in case the site link doesn’t work:
The Straits Times, Online STForum Nov 16, 2007
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