Tough experience this morning: We arrived at the airport to fly to North America, bags all packed, everything in order, we thought. Even though we have been quite focused on work and getting things in order, we have really been looking forward to 30 days with family. It's been two and a half years since we were "home", and as much as I love my work, I need this time with family.
As an airline official checked our paperwork, I turned to Brenda and remarked, "Next year, several of our passports are due to be renewed." The words were barely out of my mouth when the official said to us, "This passport has expired." We were totally stunned - one of the boys' passports, used in re-entry into Thailand (so required for departure) had lapsed two months ago. Nothing could get us on that airplane now, no matter how much we wanted to go.
It felt like hell. No, literally. No amount of pleading would get us on that plane: and rightly so, since the legal requirements were not satisfied. It didn't matter if we were "good" people. It didn't matter that we had tickets. It didn't matter that we had our bags all packed and who was waiting for us on the other side of the ocean or how much we knew or how often we'd been to church or... I wanted to cry out, "But I didn't know it had expired! No one told me!" but that would be no excuse, and it really was my own responsibility.
I'm no fan of hell. Yes, our family's experience is 'just' a delay of 3 days, not an eternal destiny, but the sad truth is that some people who have been banking on going to heaven will discover all too late that they have no "passport" when they 'arrive at the gate'. Thinking it's all about being good enough, or smart enough, or having made merit or done the right things (such as going to church or another religion's equivalent), there will be a lot of shocked people to hear, "I'm sorry. I never knew you." And whatever else hell might be, it will be the pain of that door being locked forever when you thought you had all your papers in order, but also knew you had ignored a critical but just requirement. If you want to enter the home, you must know the owner, and the owner must know you.
But so many people in Thailand do not know, either through ignoring or rejecting what they've heard or by not really having much of a chance to hear the gospel. I personally prefer to focus on the positive side: The gracious Lord of the universe has issued an invitation that is too good to refuse! Just as our destination (to be with family) is something really, really good, heaven is a great hope, better news than our dull imaginations usually come up with. But there is a serious side to our message: ignoring or rejecting the invitation means being left out. I got just a small taste of that this morning, a reminder of the importance of our message to the people of Thailand. And we need help to spread the news of God's kingdom to the people of Ayutthaya.