April 2004 By Tom Tan
VERY SOON after arriving in Vancouver, at the end of May, 1974, I discovered that B.C. was ripe for Eastern religious philosophies -- and especially, Buddhism.
People in North America were, and still are, open to anything that is ancient and from the Orient -- except Christianity.
Being a trained Buddhist missionary, my ambition was to make British Columbia into 'Buddhist Columbia' -- by teaching Buddhism and forming study groups, which would eventually plant Buddhist temples or Dharma centres.
I was born in Malaysia, brought up in a Buddhist family and educated in a Christian school. However, I rejected Christianity and embraced Buddhism after becoming an orphan. When I was 11 my father died of a stroke; and my mother died of a similar stroke six months later. That was the turning point in my youth.
When I was in the Christian school, I was taught that God was loving and caring. I could not reconcile myself to that concept. I asked: "If God is love, how could he take away my parents? What did I do wrong, as a young boy, to deserve that loss?"
I began a search for the answer in other world religions and philosophies. Later on, I thought I had found the real answer, and truthful notions about the afterlife, in the teachings of Buddha -- in concepts such as the law of karma (cause and effect), reincarnation, and the idea that 'enlightenment' can be found in meditation and good works.
My interest and zeal for Buddhism led me to further training as a Buddhist missionary in my high school days.
Some people underestimate Buddhism. However, I know from experience that it is syncretistic, it has a missionary zeal and was the first great world religion to become international.
My first mentors were two white American Buddhist monks from Alabama. They came to my hometown, Penang, to make Buddhism appealing to the youth and young adults.
The services of the Buddhist temple were similar to a Christian church. We had worship services and Sunday schools on Sunday mornings. On Wednesday nights, we had prayer meetings and group studies of the Dharma (teachings of Buddha). On Friday evenings, we had youth ministries.
After high school, I was sent by a British international bank for training in London, England and Hamburg, Germany. There, I observed the decline of Christianity and the first wave of the New Age and eastern religious philosophies taking root in Great Britain and Europe.
A few years later, by choice, I came to Canada under the sponsorship and employment of a Canadian Bank. In Vancouver, I became active as a Buddhist 'tentmaker.' I taught Buddhism and meditation exercises in many places, including some mainline churches and the Vancouver School of Theology.
I was active in the Interfaith Council of B.C. and in ecumenical circles. My agenda was to turn B.C. toward Buddhism.
However, I was leading a double life. I did not practice what I preached. I was dishonest when serving as a treasurer of a nonprofit society.
In November, 1978, I was convicted of fraud and incarcerated for nine months. When I first landed in a minimum security camp in Stave Lake, near Mission, I was filled with guilt. I knew I could not find forgiveness or grace in Buddhism.
I thought I could find the answer in another religion. Being an avid reader, I started to read a Gideon's Bible and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, which had a great influence on me.
I had a hunger for the truth, and was prepared to explore Christianity. The minimum security camp authorities were able to arrange for me to attend church services at the Maple Ridge Baptist Church every Sunday.
I began to realize that my hope was not in karma or reincarnation. I was convicted by Romans 12:1-2, which told me that I needed a spiritual transformation of my life. I needed Christ's forgiveness and a new beginning under his lordship.
Finally, during the Christmas Eve service at the Maple Ridge Baptist Church in 1978, I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour.
I was baptised and accepted into church membership on April 14, 1979; and after my after release from jail, I went for theological training at Northwest Baptist College and Seminary.
Being a new creation in Christ, I began to view things with new perspectives. I saw that the mission field was coming into our backyard. God used me to plant a church among Laotian refugees, who were mainly Buddhists and animists, in 1981.
Later on, I started a small group Bible study for about 14 refugees from Iran who were Muslims.
That encounter led me to plant a church for Iranians almost 16 years later. In the mid-1980s, I was involved in planting and pastoring an inter-cultural church in Vancouver.
The opportunity came again many years later to launch an inter-cultural congregation within a Chinese Church.
In June of last year, the Lord called me to plant a new congregation in New Westminster. Good News Place, which is an intentionally inter-cultural church, had its inaugural service last September.
I see the need for an ongoing renewal. Churches and ministries which were once led by the Holy Spirit are now being operated in the flesh -- with human controls, systems, procedures, traditions and values which stifle and grieve the Holy Spirit. Starting new congregations is one of God's ways of correcting this.
Accordingly, I teach at Pacific Life Bible College, on cross-cultural church planting, inter-cultural studies and world religions; and I serve as the chair of the design team for the Intentionally Inter-cultural Churches Conference to be held in October.
I am also a consultant to Caucasian and ethnic churches that are transitioning to inter-cultural churches to reflect the make-ups of their neighbourhoods.
God has also graciously given me a supportive and godly wife, Monica, who was born in Winnipeg and is from a German background. We have four lovely children: Francesca (12), Andreas (10), Daniel (8) and Christiane (6). As for me and my family, we will make B.C. into the 'Bride of Christ.'
I began to realize that my hope was not in karma or reincarnation. I was convicted by Romans 12:1-2, which told me that I needed a spiritual transformation of my life.