Pavan* grew up feeling unsettled in his destiny. As the firstborn son in his family, he thought he would have to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a Buddhist monk. This cultural tradition should have dictated his future, but music intervened. A worship song revealed a new path that he hadn’t known existed.
A Destiny of Suffering
Pavan, a Christian pastor I met on a recent trip to Nepal, shared with me about his past and the fear that once plagued him. He admitted that he had been afraid of dying. Persistent fear robbed him of peace. “There was no peace. There was no meaning in life,” Pavan confessed. “It compelled me to ask the question, ‘What am I here for? And how long? And what happens after I leave this earth?’”
He couldn’t answer these questions, so he turned to local religious leaders for guidance. When he voiced his concerns, Buddhist monks tried to assuage his fears by telling him that it was natural to go through storms. “You may have to go through lonely places,” they counseled. “You may have to go a very dangerous way. But do not be afraid. Just keep continuing. Carry on your journey.”
“I was handcuffed. I was threatened. They did many things. But nothing could separate me from Jesus.”
But Pavan wasn’t buying into the “keep calm and carry on” mantra. Buddhist teaching says that some people are born into suffering, live in suffering, and die in suffering. This way of understanding existence seemed hopeless to Parvan. What if his destiny was defined by continual suffering?
Peace through a Song
The turning point in Pavan’s story happened deep in the jungle when he went for a walk with a friend. As they walked, his friend starting singing and asked him to close his eyes and listen to the words. Pavan thought it a bit strange, but he obliged.
As he listened, a sense of peace overcame him. He wondered if the songs themselves brought peace, so he began spending more time with his friend and listening to him sing. Along the way, his friend shared the gospel while explaining the meaning behind the songs. His friend told him if he received Jesus as his Savior, he’d have freedom—spiritual peace and eternal security.
“Thinking nothing about my family or any other thing, I just decided to follow Jesus,” Pavan told me. “This is what I’m looking for. This is what I need. So, I accepted the Lord as my personal Savior.”
A smile spread across Pavan’s face as he recalled his transformation. “My heart filled with joy I never experienced before,” he said. “I was so delighted. I forgot all of my questions and all my fears, everything. My whole life was completely changed then.”
Pavan had a premonition that trouble was ahead, but that didn’t keep him from sharing the message behind the Christian worship songs with others.
Music for a Persecuted Church
Believing in Jesus may have given Pavan spiritual peace with God, but it didn’t shield him from persecution. Quite the opposite. Almost immediately, his family began persecuting him for turning his back on Buddhism.
His entire village turned against him. Several of Pavan’s uncles were witch doctors and they tried casting spells on him. He had to flee and was forced to wander. Eventually, when he returned home, he was arrested and held for five days. His father convinced the local authorities he could make a monk out of him.
Forcefully, they carried out the rituals to make him a monk in front of the community. He was handcuffed. He was threatened. He faced humiliation and danger, but he trusted that nothing could separate him from Jesus.
Pavan remained faithful despite those days of painful trials. He went on to plant churches, and he now pastors a church where music is an integral part of worship services. In Pavan’s church, worship songs continue to bring people to a closer understanding of Jesus, just like it did for him.
Music has a way of weaving itself into the fabric of our memories, into our present-day realities, and into our hopes for the future. While we may struggle to remember a Bible verse we memorized, song lyrics seem to cement themselves into our long-term memory.
We can often remember the songs we began singing as children in church, the songs that encouraged us during dark days in our lives, and the songs that were symbolic of God’s faithfulness through difficult seasons. The songs Pavan plays give persecuted believers the courage to remain strong in their faith.
Caroline Anderson is a writer with the IMB. She currently lives in Southeast Asia. Her childhood in Asia consisted of two important ingredients: braving hot chili peppers and telling people about Jesus.