“How goes the work?”
“It struggles. More than half the surviving families have fled this autumn before the Mana pass was closed for the winter. The king is dead, he was betrayed by his own brother. Now the lamas rule as puppets of the Ladakhis.”
“They certainly have no love for us.”
“Their jealousy has only increased since you have left. You could not believe the suspicion and hatred the Christians face from their Buddhist neighbors.”
“Perhaps I can. With each new family who embraces Christ, the Hindus here hate us all the more. Manuel, my friend, I doubt either one of us will live to become old men.”
“Father, please don’t talk like that.”
“It’s true and you know it. Our calling is to go and to tell. That calling does not pair well with a comfortable life.”
“But Father Andrade, surely you are secure here. Goa is a well-established mission and the church here has been growing just as the work was in Guge.”
Father Antonio de Andrade and Brother Manuel Marques continued their discussion long into the night. Father Andrade considered it a blessing that his friend was able to return and celebrate the Christmas season with him. He also mourned the circumstances that allowed this reunion to take place.
Six years before, the two had been the first Europeans to cross into Tibet. There they met and befriended the king of Guge, a small kingdom on the western end of the plateau. That king gave them permission to set about sharing the love of God with his subjects. The work was incredibly successful but about a year back Father Andrade was called back by the Jesuit order to help set the faltering mission in Goa back to rights.
Brother Marques continued on in Tibet, but it was not long after Father Andrade’s leaving that trouble came to the young Tibetian Church. Their success fostered jealousy among the Lamas, including the king’s brother. They invited the neighboring Buddhist Ladakhi kingdom to invade. The king was killed. His brother who betrayed him was considered too powerful to remain and was also killed. Some other Lamas were installed as puppet rulers and they instituted a policy of oppression and most of those who were not killed outright fled late this summer south into India. Brother Marques had appointed an elder to lead those who chose to stay and returned to continue as the spiritual leader of the majority that had fled.
Father Andrade was grateful to see his friend but his heart did not feel right with the decision Brother Marques had made to flee.
“Stay with me for now, but when the pass reopens you must go back. Christ did not come to this earth to call us to a life of retreat. We must always press forward. From the moment he was born in that manger, our Savior’s life was set on a course that led to His cross. In the same way, He has called us to deny ourselves, take up that cross, and follow Him. To know Christ is to share in the fellowship of his sufferings and to become like Him through martyrdom.
“The people of Guge have a right, a need to hear the gospel and we have been trained, equipped, and called to meet that need. I wish I could return with you but I have those in authority over me commanding me to stay just as I am commanding you to return.”
“Your heart and mine are one in this,” Brother Marques replied. “I will go as I am able, but I do not know how that will be possible. The Ladakhi’s control the pass and it will be next to impossible to slip past them.”
“If God wills it, He will provide the way,” the Father said. “The love of Christ compels us.”
“The love of Christ compels us.”
– – – – – – – – – –
The historical record of Father Antonio de Andrade and Brother Manuel Marques is sketchy and somewhat contradictory. What we know for certain is that they were the first two Europeans to cross into Tibet in 1624. There they befriended the king and established an incredibly successful church. In 1629 Father Andrade returned to Goa and became Father-Superior of the mission there. In 1630 the Tibetian Lamas rebelled against the Christian-friendly king of Goge and invited the Ladakhi kingdom to attack. The growing church suffered grave persecution and by some accounts was completely wiped out at this time. In March of 1634 Father Andrade was poisoned and died two weeks later. In 1640 Brother Marques attempted to re-enter the kingdom of Goge in western Tibet. He was caught and captured by a Ladakhi patrol and was never heard from again.
Similar stories can be told down through time in one location after another. Many missionaries, when departing their homes to bring the gospel to foreign lands would pack their belongings into coffins. This was a very real reminder of what awaited all too many of them as they departed for Asia, Africa, or the New World.
The experience is much different now than it was centuries past. Even still, it is impossible to measure the amount of sacrifice those who are sent out by God experience to follow him to “Go tell it over the hills and everywhere”. That sacrifice is very often most strongly felt during the loneliness of the holiday season. I remember listening to a cassette tape made of a Thanksgiving phone call. My aunt had gone to serve God in Japan and she was calling back to New York during the Thanksgiving family reunion. My dad was just a young boy at the time and you could hear him, as well as many other cousins and aunts and uncles as the phone is passed around person to person. The emotions shared as they convey their love and prayers is too poignant for words.
More than five decades later, it is my turn to be on the far end of those calls. These days there is almost no noticeable delay in the conversation. What is more, we can actually see each other face to face even if it is only through the tiny screens of handheld smartphones. God bless the technology that is able to so beautifully connect us. But it is not the same. In some ways, it only makes the absence, the lack of physical connection, all the more real.
Do you know someone who is separated this season by oceans and obedience to God’s call? Have you any friends and loved ones who have followed God’s call to go? If it is possible this holiday season, give them a call and let them know they are in your heart, even if they are not going to be under your roof anytime soon. Even if it is not, please do support them… support us through prayer and giving. We need both, most especially the former. And who knows, God willing perhaps you might the next one He calls to go tell it on the mountain, over the hills, or across the oceans.