Lillian’s determined voice belied the silent tears that coursed down her cheeks as she clutched the bony hand of her husband. The weak glow from the bedside lamp accentuated the dark rings under his closed eyes. Only a year married, and already he was slipping away from her.
Senlin had always been concerned about life. Strange that life now should be taken from him so prematurely.
Born into a devout Buddhist family and raised a monk, Senlin had most definitely never eaten meat, and to the best of his knowledge, had never even crushed an ant. Before her marriage, Lillian had enjoyed mutton and yak, figuring that the bigger the animal slaughtered, the more food would be available at the cost of only one life. Yet the thought of meat revolted Senlin. A kind, gentle man, he held that all life was sacred. But was his sincere faith enough to save his own life?
Many years earlier, Senlin’s family had made a great pilgrimage for the purpose of earning merit for the next life. Along the way, they had circled holy stupas and significant mounds of stones, and crossed countless bridges decorated with fluttering white prayer flags. The family, with red chapped cheeks, strings of beads and colourful clothes, had finally reached their destination. The eldest son, Senlin, was handed over to the kindly old monk at the monastery. His head was shaved, he was helped through the initiation rites, and was then dressed in the dark red robes of a Tibetan Buddhist monk. There he had served for fifteen years, receiving an education along with the other boys with whom he grew up.
Like many young monks, after reaching adulthood, he had made the decision to disrobe. His responsibility to earn merit for his family had been fulfilled. The head monk recommended him to the local school as a teacher of traditional sciences, and Lillian’s father, the principal of the school, had been quick to recognize the superior qualities of this gentle man.
Shortly after Lillian’s graduation from university and subsequent return to her dusty hometown high on the Tibetan plateau, her father had introduced his daughter to the new teacher. They were delighted with one another. Very soon, the celebrations were underway with a delicious vegetarian feast and bright fireworks, along with many blessings by the monks who remained firm friends of Senlin.
That was before the stomach problems began. Senlin had grown weak and frail. They’d traveled to Lhasa to see the best doctors in the province. Their verdicts were the same. Go home. Put your affairs in order.
Three months. Was it only three months since they had returned from the city? Was it only three months since Lillian had sobbed on the shoulder of her former foreign English teacher? The kind westerner had given her a Tibetan version of her Holy Book, recommending that they read it together and pray. She’d promised her prayers too.
Senlin stirred. Lillian abruptly harnessed her thoughts. Intuitively, she knew that their parting was imminent.
“Choose life, dear husband. Only through Jesus can you have eternal life.”
The sick man’s dry lips formed the words with difficulty. Even in his agony, his only concern was to comfort his wife. “Nirvana … if good enough … or … reincarnation. Both okay.” He squeezed her hand weakly.
“But the book says that there is only one life and then judgment. Please … accept Jesus … for me and for the baby.” Lillian still held his hand, but moved it to rest against the curve of her belly.
A shudder rocked the pale man’s body. “Baby … earn merit … next life……”
His breathing slowed and Lillian could almost see the energy drain from his wasted body.
Lillian turned her face to the cracked ceiling, the peeling paint casting long shadows in the weak light.
“Creator God, have mercy. We know so little. I’m begging you.”
A feeble pressure on her hand brought Lillian’s attention plummeting back to the skeletal frame on the bed. Senlin’s face was relaxed, his mouth curved almost in a smile.
It was barely a whisper. “Light.” Another breath. “Life.”
The pressure on her hand was released. One more breath. Then nothing.
Lillian began to wail.
Believers know that “… what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” (2 Corinthians 5:4b NIV)
BUT “… how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:14b NIV)
There are many real-life people just like Senlin and Lillian who have not yet heard……
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