29.0 Goal to be First Buddhist Amway Diamonds

by Elizabeth Stephens

James was a driven man trying to find the truth. Through his accident in Japan, we had met a friend of a tour member who had become the attorney who was handling our case against Japan National Railway. Tim asked if he and his wife could stop by one evening. Someone wanted to visit us? What a surprise! Fantastic. We loved company.

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Tim our sponsor, Dave and Jackie our downline, and James and I excited to be building our own business.

We were searching to expand our community and  for people who wanted to have deeper working relationships. Although the visit was fairly brief, we knew after a few minutes that it was strictly business and although cordial, we felt a bit uncomfortable and disappointed that it was not social. It was only to show the plan and we felt used, but we decided to join in the business as we felt it was an excellent opportunity. If you know anything about the process, sponsors look for people who are well networked and socially involved, in business terms you are a “bird dog” that may lead them to others who might also be interested in building a business. We were naturals because we were already highly trained as Buddhists and had no fear of talking to others. So, we had simply moved from being “evangelists” for Buddhism to “evangelists” for Amway.

However, there was a part of this business strategy that we were never very comfortable with. It was the part where you share the business plan; we thought it would be better to share our Buddhist faith. After all what was the most important to us was our faith not the money issue.  I remember sitting outside a Mercedes dealership, we were supposed to be dream building and yet we were talking about our faith.

During the meantime, our first daughter Sheila was born and we became a family of four. She was such a delight. I remember the extended family was so happy to have the first girl in thirty years. There was a joke that we had a baseball team of boys and now we have the first girl.

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Here we are dedicating our daughter to the Buddhist faith. Although we were surrounded by those who believed in God, we were still devoted to our Buddhist faith and consistently visualized being on stage as the First Buddhist Amway Diamonds.

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James, Eric, Sheila and I at Myohoji Temple in Etiwanda with the local Nichiren Shoshu Priest following a consecretion ceremony.

Early in 1984, our upline Diamond challenged his distribution network leaders to get serious about their businesses and show the Amway plan 90 times in 90 days. We believed that we were destined to be successful distributors and and would not have to worry about money again. That was a definite plus although we had never been driven by money and yet the thought of having enough without scrapping by month after month was appealing.

That summer, James and I had consistently shown the plan morning, noon, and night, including follow-ups where we picked up decision packs and hoped to sign others up as distributors. Los Angeles was in the midst of the Summer Olympics and some Olympic events were being held in Santa Monica.

James began to have terrifying dreams about blood running in sinks, spirits coming out of closets and was asking more and more questions at the Joint Headquarters for which he received no answers. Meetings were scheduled with visiting leaders from Japan which I also attended, but the high level leader dismissed me as a woman and acted in a very condescending manner to our honest questions, although we had been involved in building the movement in the US for nearly fourteen years, he had only been a member in Japan for about ten years. Cancelled meetings, threats, and then a general disinterest from those in the organization. We began to doubt the sincerity of the leaders. Were we merely pawns to them? What happened to humanistic Buddhism, world peace and human revolution?

At one time, James even sent a letter to all the Young Men’s Division who had signed a pledge that we’d help each other if any one of us ever though about going taiten (leaving the faith). Only one finally answered the letter, Dave M. It was as if the doors were closing left and right, but there was a big door about to open for us both.

After James’s accident in Japan, he’d left the design build firm he was working for in Pacific Palisades and got a job doing architectural blueprints in Santa Monica. Although he liked the owner, it was a humbling step down for him working in an ammonia laden room delivering blueprints to his peers. One day, a young female architect named Laurie came in to his shop and asked him, “Do you know of any Christian churches in the area?”

James responded, “No. I’m a Buddhist, but some of my Christian friends may know of one.”

About a week passed and Laurie returned to pick up another set of blueprints. She said to him, “I’ve got a something I want to give you. I’ll drop it off tomorrow.” As she was leaving she kindly said, “I’ve been praying for you.”

James was sincerely moved by her concern. The next morning when he opened up the shop, there was a package with a card on the back step. The card read, “Seek and Ye Shall Find, Knock and It Shall Be Opened to You.”  The two books were, Beyond Buddhism by J. Isamu Yamamoto and More Than A Carpenter by Josh MacDowell. He devoured them. He was challenged by the prophecies that had come true in Jesus’ lifetime. It was difficult to deny that He had been an historical figure.

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Another evening, he met Craig about 10 pm after one of his house meetings and asked him more about this Jesus. Craig invited him over to his house and shared with him for awhile and loaned a Bible to him and said, “Why don’t you go home tonight, get down on your knees at the foot of your bed and ask God to reveal Himself to you.”

Fair enough,” he responded. So that night when James came home he pulled out a Bible and started reading it. The passage that caught his attention was Second Peter 3:10 which says, “The Day of the LORD will come like a thief in which the heavens and earth will pass away in a roar and all the elements will be consumed in intense heat. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?” He became increasingly troubled and asked himself, “What if I’m wrong? Although we as Buddhists believe in reincarnation, what if there is only one life and there is no exit from hell? What if the Christian hell is real? I’ll be lost forever.”

It was about day 76 when James made a decision to visit Clarence, a Nazarene pastor in his  Santa Monica Church office. His father Carlton had introduced him to him earlier and James had shared the Amway sales and marketing plan with him.

But that day was different. James was extremely exhausted and spent, but he was doing what he had to hoping that our fortune and karma would change. It was our worldview at that time.  However, during that meeting with the pastor James, who had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the lack of answers from fellow Buddhist leaders, asked Clarence a number of questions about this man, Jesus. After an hour with the Pastor, Clarence asked him if he would like to ask Jesus to be his Savior and to ask the Holy Spirit into his heart. James wrestled in his spirit.

He said, “I don’t want to invite a spirit into my heart, but then again, the Holy Spirit is God. God created me. Who better to give control of my life to, but God?” So, he’d come to the realization that Jesus was God and accepted the Lord, Jesus Christ as his Master and God. When he came home that afternoon he walked in the door and he said to me, “I’m no longer a Buddhist. I gave my heart to Jesus.”

I pondered what the ramifications of that statement were to be. We had a floor to ceiling altar, a three door model, with exotic carved wood scenes of cherry trees and dragons(Butsudan), which is a house for the scroll we prayed to. We’d paid over $7500 for it as we were going to pass it down through generations. We were serious about our commitment. We had led many people into Buddhism. James had converted over 54 people himself. We were senior leaders. In addition we both had special smaller scrolls (amamori gohonzons) that we carried on our persons that were only given to members with exceptional devotion and years of service. We’d even taken vows when we received them never to quit the practice of Buddhism.

James then said, “Pastor Crites and his wife would like to come over this evening. Do you mind?”

“Not at all.”  I liked company and did not mind.

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30.0 Christian Enlightenment

by Elizabeth Stephens

Pastor Clarence and his wife Judy who pastored the local Nazarene Church in Santa Monica stopped by later that day in the evening to speak to me about knowing Jesus. I had never heard the Gospel before. Yes, I had seen the Robe and the Ten Commandments and I at the time I wished I had a faith that I could believe in like that.

I had no idea that Jesus was behind that faith. When I would share my Buddhist faith sometimes I ran into Christians that would tell me that Jesus loves me and I would tell them, and Buddha loves you too. I did not know any better. Although I studied the sutras and letters from the Buddhist founder, I had never been faced with the truth and when I heard it that night, I gave my life to the Lord. I cried and knew this was right. We, James and myself came to know Jesus Christ on the same day, which unbeknownst to us at the time, is a very unusual occurrence.

The pastor left and there we were new creatures in Christ. There would be a reordering of our lives.  We were going to have to rethink many situations, thoughts, family, even our daily routines. Together we had over 30 years of Buddhist practice, associations, acquaintances and friends. What made things much more challenging is that we lived across the street from the North American Headquarters. The next day we gathered together all our items of faith and returned them across the street.

(Sometime within a few years of being hired at the phone company, that same building was purchased by the Buddhist organization that I belonged to. I went to so many meetings at this location.)

James dropped them off at the front desk, to a mutual friend named Ann at the front desk. James told her he was returning these items and she said they have to go back to the temple, she thought they were from some of our members. James said no, he was not playing by their rules anymore and with that he dropped off his cargo (the Gohonzons, and the small scrolls), turned and left the building. He then took our handcart, loaded our large butsudon (our tall three door Buddhist altar) onto it, and walked it across Wilshire Boulevard to Morning Sun, a Buddhist altar store owned by Archie, whose family had been in the Buddhist altar business for over 300 years in Japan. (Much later, it was purchased by a Buddhist named Tina).

James, our son Eric at the time and I in 1981. Photo by Chris Casler.

James, our son Eric at the time and I in 1981. Photo by Chris Casler.

Tina Turner in Life Magazine Article (she purchased our old butsudon).

Tina Turner in Life Magazine Article (she purchased our old butsudon).

Not one person knocked on our door and when most of our members found out, there was shock in the camp. In the Buddhist scripture there is a term about stepping over the bodies of the fallen ones that have left the faith. Thank you Lord Jesus for you will not leave us nor forsake us, ever.

What does a new creature in Christ feel like? I had to learn to stop rout chanting, for a parking place or while I was waiting. It was so strange to run into former friends as they were afraid of us and would be so nervous and uncomfortable. It was as if the truth might rub off on them so they had to get away as soon as possible.

Once I ran into an old friend, Valerie and she was happy to see me. She drove up with her kids in the car. She said her husband is not a member and does not like her to talk to members. I told her great as I was not a member anymore; she was mortified and quickly left.

As for the Jewish contingent of my family, they accepted us with open arms when we were Buddhists and now we got the cold shoulder when we became Christians. I had heard rumors that there were actual funerals held for Jews that became Christians, but up until this time I had not believed it. Now I was rethinking the situation. Since that time the communication has fallen off and no matter what we did or did not do, everything was looked down upon.