Jeerakan (Jeab) Duksukgaew is Thai. Although she was raised a Buddhist, she became a Christian when she was fourteen years old. Now twenty-eight, she works as a translator and secretary at the Greater Grace Church of Bangkok, Thailand, and is in her third year of Bible College. I recently sat down with her at the church office.
Q: What was it like growing up in a Buddhist family?
A: My family members are not strong Buddhists, so they do not go to the temple every day—just on holidays. I worshipped Buddha before I became a Christian; we had an idol of Buddha in our home. We did Buddhist activities like making merit (doing good works to win points in the afterlife). My parents taught me how to be a good person and not to harm people, and to be a good student at school. They were very good examples.
Q: Obviously, the idea of worship in the Christian context is very different from what you understood as a Buddhist. What did your worship entail? What were you thinking when you were worshipping Buddha?
A: Buddhists believe if you do good things, you get good things added to your life. Buddha’s teaching is good. We did not worship Buddha as God; however, Buddhists believe he was a real person who died. When we worship, we just do what he taught us to do. He taught us to believe in reality, the things that have been proven and are scientific. For example, he taught that if you fast, your body lacks food and you die. If you eat good food, you will be healthy. The heart of Buddhism is to escape suffering.
Q: So how did you actually worship Buddha?
A: The idol of Buddha is there to remind you to be a good person. Some people wear a miniature idol around their necks as a reminder to be good. That is their worship.
Q: Wherever you go in Thailand, you see spirit houses. Could you tell me how they tie in with Buddhism and if you ever personally worshipped spirits?
A: Most people think that spirits can protect them. If you respect or worship them, they won’t harm you. There are good and bad spirits. Good Buddhists worship good spirits—the spirits of monks or kings who have died. There is a lot of fear with people here. They live in fear of the bad spirits.
Q: Were you also taught Buddhism in school?
A: Yes. Our teachers taught us to meditate to help our minds relax and to forget our problems. I did not like meditating. I always fell asleep during that time. The teachers taught us that if we were in a very deep meditation, we would see a glass ball in our mind.
Q: Did you ever pray? If so, were you praying in the sense that you thought Buddha would somehow help you?
A: Every morning, in school, we would sing the national anthem and pray to Buddha. We prayed so we would feel good and relaxed. Buddhists believe that if you do what Buddha says, your life will be like Buddha’s and you will enter into Nirvana.
Q: How did God break through and touch your heart?
A: Before I became a Christian, I saw people come to God because they had problems and needed someone to help them. So I knew God could help people. I was introduced to Jesus by a friend when I was fourteen. Although I didn’t know a lot about Jesus, I prayed to accept him into my life. I went to church to find out more, but my parents found out and my dad was very angry. He went to the church and took me away. My parents thought I was being deceived by some strange religion. Jesus is nobody for us Buddhists. My dad did everything he could to stop me from being a Christian, but, thank God, I never forgot about Jesus. I knew there was something in my heart after I believed in Jesus. I never worshipped Buddha after that. In the temple, I would wai (the traditional Thai greeting, but also a sign of respect and reverence) to Buddha, but in my heart, it felt wrong. I did not know Jesus or the Bible at all. I just believed Jesus was real. I prayed to God that he would take me back to the church so I could learn more. It was six years before I was able to go back to church. I think God was always with me, though, and I think because he loved me so much, he brought me back to church.
Q: What is the most effective way to reach Buddhists with the gospel of Jesus Christ?
A: First, they just need to hear the gospel. Most do not believe the first time they hear it—for some, it can take years. Christians need to prove God’s love to them and let them see God through our lives. Although I had a loving upbringing, the love I saw among Christians was different. It was real. Some people love and then expect something from you, but Christians never expect anything in return. Second, Buddhists need to have a deep realization that they are in need.