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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31.0 Baptism, Christian Wedding and the Pursuit of God

by Elizabeth Stephens

We were having a hard time adjusting. The Church was so different from what we were used to as Buddhists. The small Nazarene Church that we attended included congregants who were literally born in the nursery and were now retired.  In many ways, it was a perfect spiritual nursery of sorts for us.

Each Sunday morning, we would sit by a saintly couple in their eighties named Paul and Elizabeth who became our spiritual grandparents. Paul had taught at Pilgrim Bible College in Pasadena (founded in 1921) and both were precious examples to us of kindness and tender loving care. In the  months after our conversion, we must have been invited to believer’s homes at least ten times.

On Sunday evenings, the sanctuary resounded with beautiful hymns echoing through the halls from the upstairs meeting rooms. I later found out that the Vineyard was meeting there. Sundays were full for us. Bible study, followed by the service. On more than one Sunday afternoon, we were invited over to Paul and Elizabeth’s for lunch.  Elizabeth and Paul were so Christ-like in their care for us and our children as well, pulling out a couple of phone books for them to sit on at the table since they did not have high chairs.

Paul gave us a book by A.W. Tozer entitled, Pursuit of God which fueled our desire to prayerfully pursue God. And then another book by John MacArthur on Worship, The Ultimate Priority.  One afternoon James was a bit depressed and I overheard Paul share a meaningful Scripture which gave us both great solace in our anxiety, “Be still and know that I am God.”  We found much encouragement in fellowship with the saints, young and old. We were now family.

 

Pastor Clarence recommended that we get Baptized and redo our marriage vows. Consequently,  we decided to have a Christian wedding, a  re-commitment ceremony and among those we invited were those Buddhists who had originally attended our Buddhist wedding 7 years before.  However,  it wasn’t too much of a surprise when only two Buddhist members showed up because we knew that those who went taiten or quit the faith as we had now done were often shunned. As Buddhists, on Sunday morning we would recite the “Precepts for Youth” at Young Women’s Division meetings and one well known statement resounded in my mind, “we will march over the bodies of our taiten members.”  Radical religious commitment makes for a difficult transition in any faith community.

This was the cover of the invitation drawn by James. As you can tell, we are kneeling at the foot of the cross. Sunday, October 21, 1984. After Church, James and I drove down to the beach with our family where we were to be baptized.

Baptism and Wedding Invitation.

Baptism and Wedding Invitation.

File2498 It was a beautiful October afternoon when Pastor Clarence baptized James and I in the Pacific Ocean.  If you’re in Santa Monica it’s where Pico Boulevard intersects with the Pacific not far from the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium where we used to attend many Buddhist monthly General Meetings. Our group was waiting with towels and encouragement on the sand.

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First we were baptised in the Pacific Ocean that afternoon, and then in the evening we all met at the Church for the renewal of our wedding vows and a celebration dinner.   It was quite a different mix for our second wedding as we had only been Christians for a short while. Of course, the entire church attended, along with a few of our neighbors,  a few Amway distributors who had become our good friends and mentors, two Buddhists who had maintained their friendship with us and two former Buddhists who had become Christians.

Early that evening we all met back at the Church and after prayer,  James gave a short testimony about our recent conversion, which was followed by encouraging words from Tim, who was our sponsor in the Amway business, and Craig who was a Diamond and had not only helped us with our business, but spent time with James sharing the Good News about Jesus.

Tim our Amway sponsor giving a brief message.

Tim our Amway sponsor giving a brief message.

 

Craig an Amway Diamond sharing his testimony and an encouraging message at our wedding.

Craig an Amway Diamond sharing his testimony and an encouraging message at our wedding.

Wendy, who had spent time at L’Abri the Christian retreat center with Francis Schaeffer had happened to walk into the Church  when we were sharing our testimony and decided to attend.   We asked her if she would sing at our second wedding. She beautifully sang, “The Lord’s Prayer.”

File2501Our father Which art in heaven Hallowed be thy name Thy kingdom come Thy will be done on earth As it is in heaven Give us this day our daily bread And forgive us our trespasses As we forgive those who trespass against us And lead us not into temptation But deliver us from evil For thine is the kingdom And the power And the glory, forever, amen

Our re-commitment Ceremony also known as our second wedding was officiated by Pastor Clarence, the pastor who shared the plan of salvation with  James and I. We are eternally grateful to God for the tender counsel and care Clarence and Judy provided as we came into the community of faith.

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James and I taking our first communion after redoing our marriage vows. It was a moving moment for the both of us.

 Reaffirming Our Marriage Vows.

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Our “First Kiss”

After the ceremony, we gathered together in the fellowship hall for potluck dinner. One of our old Buddhist friends was a baker and she graciously made a cake for the celebration. It was an emotion filled day with a lot of new friends and new memories.

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 One of our Buddhist friends who is a baker made the cake for us.

James and I cutting the cake. Eric awaiting a delicious dessert.

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As we continued in our new faith we felt like we wanted to study and do more. Someone suggested two churches in the San Fernando Valley, Church on the Way and Grace Community Church. Since James was reading the book on Worship by MacArthur, he decided to attend a service one Sunday night at Grace Community Church. The Pastor, John MacArthur was preaching through Matthew, line by line. Although we loved the little Nazarene Church in Santa Monica, we were moved by the Holy Spirit and felt a strong sense of calling that compelled us to consider attending Grace. We were hungry to learn the Scriptures and it seemed that God was calling us to a new chapter in our lives.

 

…. A historical note. On this day in history October 21, 1512.

  • Martin Luther joined the theological faculty of the University of Wittenberg.