Originally published in Southern Seminary’s Towers – http://equip.sbts.edu/publications/towers/towers-issue/2017/may-2017/monks-meditation-matthew/
Growing up in Vietnam, Giang Tran had never heard the word “Christian” in his life. As far as he can recall, he’d never even met a Christian. His entire family was Buddhist, and he grew up in a culture steeped in ancestor worship.
In second grade, after the death of his grandfather, he began to ponder the meaning of life. Buddhism taught reincarnation and karma, and Tran realized, “I have a problem: I love fried chicken. But I don’t want to be fried!”
Tran started to take his religion seriously. His days were spent at the temple, meditating, and having meals with Buddhist monks. “I started to do all the good works I could — thinking maybe my next life would be something better,” he said.
But at 17 years old, Tran and his parents decided he should attend high school in America. In order to study overseas for more than one year, policy dictated he must attend a private school. The only private school near Tran’s great aunt, with whom he was to live with during his time in America, was Montrose Christian School, a ministry of Montrose Baptist Church in Rockville, Maryland.
“Never become a Christian,” his father instructed him before Tran left for America. “You go to the school, you learn what they say, but just never, never become a Christian.” His father would constantly remind him how devoted he was to Buddhism.
Tran was accustomed to learning what he was supposed to learn and doing something else instead. In his culture, Tran experienced a “distinction between what you learn in the book and what is real life.” He was taught that the application of what he learned was wisdom, but not in the conventional Christian way. His textbooks would teach him not to lie. However, “in real life, you have to lie, so you should know when to lie and how to lie,” he explained.
Although he was annoyed he had to attend Bible class and chapel and that each subject — be it math, chemistry, or P.E. — was related to God, he noticed something different about his teachers’ lives.
“At one point, it just dawned on me, these people really believe what they taught,” he recalled. “They really believe what they stand for. All of the sudden, I came to realize maybe there is not that distinction between the book and real life. Maybe you can live out what you believe.”
Tran continued his education at Montrose Baptist School still skeptical of Christianity. However, the seed had been planted. Before he graduated, he thought, “Maybe I can become a secret Christian so my parents don’t have to know. No one has to know. And I will be happy.”
But as he was reading in Matthew, he came across Matthew 10:32-33, where Jesus said, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
“It hit me all at once,” Tran said. “Maybe I cannot be a secret Christian.”
It took Tran a year after deciding he wanted to follow Christ to tell his parents of his decision. When he finally did, their hearts were broken. “At first they cried, then they were very mad. They really thought that I was out of my mind. They were furious.”
They could not speak for half a year, and each time they did, the conversation was filled with tension and tears. “In Vietnam, Buddhism was a tradition, a family heritage. So for me to say ‘I’m no longer a Buddhist, I’m a Christian,’ it sounds to them like ‘I’m no longer a part of this family.’ They thought I had betrayed them,” Tran said.
Tran spent the next couple of years working on his associate’s degree at a local college and serving in his church.
“I remember from the very beginning of his conversion experience, he really loved to read,” said Ken Fentress, pastor of Montrose Baptist Church and former dean of intercultural programs and associate professor of Hebrew and Old Testament interpretation at Southern Seminary. “It became very clear to me and others in our church, that not only did he love to read, but he was taking what he would read very seriously and growing from it. He just continued to grow in his walk with the Lord, and it was very evident to us.”
After graduating from the local college, Tran, under the encouragement of his church, decided to follow his calling into ministry and study at Boyce College. His parents, despite not understanding his decision to study for Christian ministry, decided that they wanted to help him through college. But due to unforeseen circumstances at home, they no longer were able to. Support came from his church,however, and now Tran is in his third semester at Boyce.
“It’s been wonderful to see him go from being a non-believing international student here to the Lord saving him and him becoming one of our most faithful and beloved church members,” Fentress said. “It’s been great to see his call to ministry and now the call to Boyce to study and get himself prepared for ministry.”
Tran said he hopes to eventually pastor a church in the States and take mission trips back to Vietnam. “There’s nothing that happened coincidentally or accidentally,” he said. “Every page in my biography was written by God.”