Twenty years ago this May, I sat on an old concrete viewing platform on the banks of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu, Nepal. The viewing area was directly across the river from Pashupatinath Temple, which is where Hindus have their version of a funeral service. These services are very different from any customs we have in the United States. Hindus cremate their dead, and typically do it in an outside ceremony involving a large pile of wood perched on a concrete platform at the river’s edge. They prefer a river that flows into the Ganges River, which they consider holy. When the body is completely burned, the ashes are swept into the river, returning to the earth, in hopes of being reincarnated into a better life stage, according to the false and twisted Hindu cycle of life.
As you might imagine, this was very startling and surreal to my cultural sensitivities. It was certainly a macabre scene that, frankly, I was not prepared to witness. But witness it I did, and that was by the design of our host missionaries, who wanted to provide my group of pastors with a new cultural experience, but far greater, hopefully a spiritually defining moment.
Death is common to all humans and dust-to-dust is the ultimate end for our bodies. But for me, the imagery of a human body being burned was a visible picture of the torment of hell that scripture tells us is the final destination for anyone who has not placed his or her life under the Lordship of Christ. The formative part of the story was probability that the dead person had never heard the Gospel, much less the sweet name of Jesus. While I had been born into a family of believers, and heard the Gospel every week at church, that was not the case for every person I saw being cremated.
So, how was my life redefined? First, my gratitude for being born “Gospel privileged” grew enormously. Beyond that, a deep conviction of my God-given calling to the unreached nations was forever engraved on my heart and mind. How could I possibly not share that same privilege to the people of the world who had never heard the name of Jesus? My prayer for all of us is that this Kingdom Missions Conference will be a “Defining Moment.”