Lost and Wandering

People in the West have a very romantic view of Tibetan Buddhism. And why not? Brightly colored prayer flags on a hillside, crimson-robed monks chanting, and shining monasteries nestled in the mountains give off the impression of a vibrant, spiritual culture.

Before being properly exposed to Tibetan culture, this was my feeling as well. Mere days after landing in my new city, this perspective shifted. The monks that I saw walking around town had obviously never missed a meal. On their feet were shiny new Air Jordans. And in their hands was the newest model iPhone, released only weeks before. New to the culture, I thought that these might be isolated incidents.

But soon, I began to see and learn other troubling things about living in the monasteries. I heard about monasteries giving the “blessing” of a monetary loan to locals, charging exorbitant interest rates. I saw monks driving expensive, imported trucks, paid for by the alms of poor families. I stayed with a Tibetan family over Losar, their lunar new year. This family’s six-year-old son, now a monk at the local monastery, was home visiting, and he showed thinly veiled disdain for his family’s “dirty” home and meager meals. The more I learned about monastic life, the more my heart grew cold towards anyone wearing red robes.

My perspective began to change once more, however, as I experienced the daily life of the Tibetan people. Devotion in Tibetan Buddhism is shown by spinning prayer wheels, placing prayer flags, thumbing beads, offering sacrifices, and walking circuits around holy sites. In one town that I visited, thousands of locals and pilgrims would begin their day by walking koras around the Mani Stone Piles. These piles have been formed by hundreds of years of pilgrims placing stones inscribed with the mantra “om mani padme hum”. It was then that I saw these people as they were — lost. All of these solemn faces working so hard every day to balance out their karma, not knowing which way the scales might tip when they die. I remembered how Jesus felt in Matthew:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:36–38)



Religious Growth Projections – Islam

The Pew Research Center recently released projections on population growth from 2010-2015.

While the world’s population is projected to grow 35% in the coming decades, the number of Muslims is expected to increase by 73% – from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.8 billion in 2050. In 2010, Muslims made up 23.2% of the global population. Four decades later, they are expected to make up about three-in-ten of the world’s people (29.7%).

By 2050, Muslims will be nearly as numerous as Christians, who are projected to remain the world’s largest religious group at 31.4% of the global population.

This growth comes from several factors:

  1. Fertility – Muslim peoples typically have more children than any other religious group and being born into Islam make
    s one a Muslim.
  2. Large Youth Demographic – Muslims currently have the youngest median age of any religious group. As these young people start having children the growth rate accelerates.
  3. Location – Most Muslim groups are located in Africa and the Middle East. These areas are projected to have the largest growth in the coming years.

These growth factors are also highlighted by many religious groups, particularly Christians, losing numbers due to religious switching, a problem that is not so relevant to Islam.

Applying the Data

What does this mean for individual believers and churches in the 21st century?

  1. Get to know your neighbors. If you do not have Muslim neighbors or an Islamic center in your area, do not be surprised when you do. Reach out to your neighbors in kindess and gain some understanding. Be hospitable towards your neighbors. If you open up your life and home to them, then they will open up to you.
  2. Educate yourself and others. Try to understand Islamic culture and avoid conversations that are ignorant of truth. Understand the culture that Muslims come from so that you can speak truth into regular conversations. Better yet, learn from your Islamic neighbors about what they believe nd how it shapes their culture. Educate yourself on what is taboo to them, so that you can be respectful towards them. This may mean making sure you don’t serve them anything with pork or dressing more modestly than you normally would.
  3. Create bridges for the gospel. As you understand the Muslim worldview and the Muslim people around you, find ways to speak the gospel into their lives. Churches, realize who is in your local demographic and find ways welcome them.
  4. Be relational. Most Muslims come from a very welcoming and relational culture. You will need to make yourself available if they want to come over for an unannounced visit, or they expect you to stay at their house long after a meal is finished.

While the face of the world continues to change, the message of the gospel, and the commands of Jesus do not. Embrace all those aorund you with sacrificial love.

View the full report here.

Detailed observations on the growth of Islam can be found at pewresearch.org.