I said this to Mike after he told me he had been raised a Buddhist but had abandoned his faith even before he left his native country of South Vietnam. He looked at me for a moment and then he understood I was speaking about his lack of religious affiliation, then smiled broadly. “Yes, I am a ‘free agent.’”
His accent was still thick but his comprehension of English was sharp. He came to America more than 40 years ago, shortly after the fall of South Vietnam to the Communist north. “Mike” was not his native name but he had wanted to adapt to his new country, so he picked the name.
It was late afternoon when Adrian and I came across him. He was sitting in a beach chair low to the ground and the only way I could sit even lower than this small-statured man was to sit directly down on the gray Galveston sand. We conversed a few minutes about his journey to America, his successful career and now his retirement and his family he was vacationing with.
“What do you think about heaven?” I asked, trying some way to get into a conversation about Christ and ultimately ask him about whether he thought he would go to heaven.
“People have told me it would not be good for me to go there,” he said, “because I would be very lonely. All my friends would be in hell,” he said, pointing down to the unseen place below the sand underneath us.
Mike came as a refugee with only his wife. Now 75, he has children and grandchildren whom he proudly pointed out as a boy played out in the water with a woman. Jet black hair and olive complexion, the young boy was undoubtedly of an all-Asian descent but clearly raised in America.
Mike had lost everything when he came to the United States. Even though he fondly thought of Christians as he had been sponsored by a Methodist church when he came to Texas, he had never adopted the Christian faith.
“Mike, none of us know how long we will be here. I could die tomorrow,” I said. “But at 75, you do have a head start on me. Do you know what will happen to you after you die?”
He shook his head no, but still politely smiled.
“I know you are here with your family, do you have time to let us tell you what the Bible says it takes to get to heaven,” I asked, pointing to my friend Adrian, who was standing and silently praying as Mike and I talked.
“Yes, yes, I am not busy,” he said. We quickly shared with the older man what we had been sharing all week long on our mission trip to the island. He listened but I soon began to doubt whether our conversation would last much longer. His gaze wandered back to his grandson, and after my brief explanation, he said, “The church was very nice to me and my wife when we came but we never joined.”
“Going to heaven is much more important than going to church,” I explained. As I followed his gaze out to his family, something hit me.
“You know when you came here, you did not know anyone here in America, did you?” He shook his head. “At first it might have been lonely, but now look at all of them,” I said pointing at his family. “They are living here in freedom because you paved the way, you took a risk in coming here.
“What if,” I continued, “what if you again paved the way and made a decision to go to heaven when this life is over? You would not be lonely. You could make the way and tell your family, your children and grandchildren that you are a Christian and you will be going to heaven. What if you left a legacy like that for them to join you, just like you did in coming to this country?”
I can’t explain it, but as Mike looked out at the Galveston waves, it was almost like I could see 40 years of history in this new country flash across his face. He had made a successful career here, learned a new language, raised a family, now living in retirement. It was as though he was reliving it and now ready to make a new decision for a new eternal life, all over again.
“Yes, I want to receive Christ,” said the man who had been raised Buddhist, left his faith and then his war-torn country to come to a new country. I looked up to Adrian and asked him to help me up from the sand. Mike also stood up from his chair and all three of us joined hands and he prayed to receive Christ as His Lord and Savior. He received heaven as his next adventure to which to lead his family.
After we prayed, his grandson came running up, wet from the Gulf coast water and full of life and joy. “My name is Collin,” he said in perfect English. I asked Mike if Adrian could give him a bracelet and if we could tell the boy the story of how we can go to heaven. “Yes, yes, of course.” Adrian and I explained the dark, red, clean, blue, green and gold beads on the bracelet. After listening, Collin ran back out to ocean again and showed the woman there his bracelet. She waved and smiled at us. Collin came back and showed us a big shell they had found. He showed us the hole he dug in the sand.
I gave Mike a card with my address, phone and email and asked him to write me. (Please pray that he will.) I assured Mike that he would not be lonely in heaven if he leads his family to follow Christ. But before I left, Mike took my hand and looked up at me very seriously with his sincere almond eyes.
“You are wrong, you will not get to heaven before me,” he said.
“What makes you say that?” I asked my new brother in Christ.
“Because God will let you live a long time to tell more people about this. What you are doing is a very good thing.”