Monday, April 14, 2014

Geoffrey Taylor Bull - The dauntless story of the British Missionary in Tibet


Geoffrey Taylor Bull (1921–1999) was a Scottish Christian missionary.

Bull was born into a family with conservative evangelical beliefs. At 15 years old, he was baptised and received into the fellowship of a group of Christians meeting in "New Testament simplicity".This group was of the Plymouth Brethren persuasion. His original ambition for a career was to enter banking, but by 1941 he became absorbed with missionary work in Central Asia.

It may be that Bull was inspired by the ministry of George W. Hunter, who died in 1946 after long years of isolated missionary labours in China.

After World War II, the elders in his Brethren assembly agreed to commend him to work full-time in Central Asia. In March 1947, Bull and George N. Patterson (1920-2012) went to China, travelling deep into the interior up to the border area shared with Tibet. Here, for three years, they studied Mandarin and Tibetan. Bull witnessed the last days of Tibetan independence and was imprisoned on the pretext of being a spy. At first, he was kept in solitary confinement, but later underwent a re-education and thought reform programme—his captors tried brain-washing, but he claimed that his "faith in Christ kept him from mental breakdown".This captivity lasted for three years and two months before he was released to the British authorities in Hong Kong.

On his return, he married, and subsequently served in Borneo in the late 1950s to early 1960s. Bull also had a worldwide Bible teaching ministry in Brethren assemblies and beyond. He died following the Breaking of Bread service in his local Brethren assembly in Brisbane Hall, Largs, and was buried in Scotland. He was survived by his widow, Nan, who died in May 2009. 

The Book that missionaries proclaim is the Book that sustains them in the work of proclamation. Geoffrey Bull, a British missionary to Tibet, was imprisoned by Chinese Communists who seized his Bible and made him suffer terribly at their hands for three years. Bull was subjected to such mental and psychological torture that he feared he would go insane.

But the missionary began to systematically go over the Scriptures in his mind. It took about six months to go all the way through the Bible mentally. He started at Genesis and recalled each Bible story as best he could, first concentrating on the content and then musing on certain points, seeking light in prayer. He reconstructed the books and chapters as best he could until he came to Revelation. Then he started over again. He later wrote, "The strength received through this meditation was, I believe, a vital factor in bringing me through, kept by the faith to the very end."

In all our labors and trials, the Book we proclaim is also the Book that restores our souls. It should be both our diet and our decree. (1)

In his interview with Christianity Today, the Dalai Lama said he deeply appreciates the help of Christians in addressing the Communist oppression of Tibet. "I urge Christian brothers and sisters as spiritual brothers and sisters to study more about the situation in Tibet, especially in regard to religious freedom." He also said it would help if Christians wrote the United States government on Tibetan matters. When asked about donations of money, he mentioned that many Christians have provided immense help to the Tibetan people. "We will always be grateful," he said.

Empathy for the Dalai Lama's role in leading the Tibetan Government in Exile does not demand an uncritical endorsement of his every political move, past or present. Melvyn Goldstein, one of the leading scholars of Sino-Tibetan relations, makes this point in The Snow Lion and the Dragon. Goldstein writes, "The Dalai Lama knows intellectually that he needs more friends and supporters in Beijing, not Washington or New York City, but he finds it emotionally difficult to take appropriate actions to achieve that end."

Given the brutalization of Tibet since the Communist invasion in 1950, both Christian and Buddhist belief systems are now under threat. Christian presence in Tibet has been minimal through the centuries. This was due largely to Tibet's geographical isolation but also to hostility to a missionary presence, especially when Tibetans became followers of Christ. There have been occasional acts of violence against the small Christian communities.

Of all the Buddhist traditions (and there are many), it is the Tibetans who have most actively reached out to Christians. The Dalai Lama told us that while he is in dialogue with all the great world religions, he cherishes a special relationship with Christians. In some important spiritual dimensions, we Christians have more in common with the Tibetans than with Zen or Vipasyana practitioners. Though Tibetan Buddhists do not believe in our God, they seem more friendly to the devotional sensibility of Christians, and in their Tibetan tantric practices more inclined to see the fundamental importance of the I-Thou encounter. Like us Christians, the Tibetans sense a deep relationality in their “emptiness”.

The message of Christianity isn't one of God wanting to better this life for humanity. It is one of warning of a terrible fate in store for those who continue on the road of sin. We are told by God's Word that there are two deaths on the highway to Hell. The first death is when we leave the storms of this life and pass into timeless eternity. The second death is the chasm of eternal damnation. It is the terrifying justice of a holy God.

God’s command is still relevant for us today. He has given us the work of telling all nations about redemption through Christ’s blood and resurrection. Compared to Paul, we have an abundance of communication capabilities—including radio, television, Internet, and cell phones—which provide easy access into countries all over the world. We could make more disciples by better utilizing these technologies. But how tragic if we get busy and fail to obey God’s command.

We stand at a critical moment in history for the church. The door of opportunity is wide open for us to share the gospel through a variety of methods. As believers, we are obligated to carry out Christ’s Great Commission. Be careful that neither busyness nor apathy keeps you from obedience.

Love of one's neighbour, kindness, and compassion--these are, I believe, the essential and universal elements preached by all religions. In spite of divergent philosophical views, we can establish harmony among all spiritual traditions on the basis of these common traits of love, kindness, and forgiveness. I always insist on this point and devote a great deal of energy to it. Most difficulties between religions come about because of people who, having failed to transform and bring peace to their own minds, not only apply their own beliefs yet are all while to impose them on others. This unfortunate behaviour can provoke serious conflicts, although I have noticed a considerable re-conciliation between the different religions, more particularly between Tibetan Buddhism and Christianity. We have actually set up a very constructive programme of exchanges between monks and believers of our two traditions.




Raj Kosaraju

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