Leaving a Legacy Despite Rejection

Photo by Guy Gerrard

Once upon a time, the Maori tribesmen paddled toward the island of New Zealand. They saw a long white cloud over the island, and named it so -- Aotearoa, or "land of the long white cloud."

Many years passed. Then a little girl named Lanny traveled to this land. Like the tribesmen 1,000 years before her, home was far away. But Lanny's older sister and brother already lived in the land, and she began to learn the strange English language.

She was an obedient child, longing to please her Buddhist parents living back in Indonesia. Become a doctor or a lawyer, they told her.

"Wherever you go," Lanny's father said, "leave a legacy." This meant having a good job and being respected in her community. To them the world should remember the name Lanny Purnomo.

"The world in one country," New Zealand has been called. In Auckland alone, 181 different ethnic groups live together. The people dwell among mountains, beaches, fjords, deserts and bubbling mud, walled into a group of islands equaling the total size of Colorado, yet stretching the distance from New York to Miami.

As Lanny grew into a young woman, she began to ponder some deep questions. What had happened to her grandfather after he had died suddenly? What happens when we die? At first, Lanny tried to ignore these thoughts, knowing her parents wouldn't approve of her questioning their family religion. But then there were other questions. Why had her uncle's conversion from Buddhism to Christianity caused tension in her family? What was it about Christianity that made them so upset?

The questions continued to haunt her as she started classes at the University of Auckland. Lanny loved all music, from classical piano to hip-hop, and she took a class about conducting, where she became friends with Yohan Ahn.

Yohan was a Christian.

Lanny was curious but scared of this strange religion, and she would try to provoke Yohan with questions. But he answered them all, and told her about having a personal relationship with Christ.

One day Yohan gave her a booklet called Would You Like to Know God Personally? She shoved it in her wallet; but later, on the bus ride home, she pulled it out and read through it five times. As she read the words of the greatest story ever told, Lanny found hope. She knew her family would be upset, but she prayed and accepted Christ into her life. Lanny had made a decision that would change her life.

To her parents, it seemed like Lanny was abandoning her legacy. "My family said things that really hurt me," she says, not wanting to recall. "My dad doesn't yell, but he punishes me by hanging up the phone or not talking to me at all."

Then Lanny met Amal.

"I was very curious about her," Lanny remembers, "because Amal used to be a Muslim." Lanny and Amal began to meet together, and Lanny grew bold enough to tell others about her faith. She even went on a mission trip to Thailand during college.

When Lanny returned, her father forced her to make a choice: Stop telling others about Christ or move out of the house she shared with her siblings. Lanny would not stay quiet, so she spent the following 6 months moving from one bad living situation to another.

One day, Amal surprised Lanny with a piece of wisdom. "Wherever you go," she said, "leave a legacy." Amal had used the same words Lanny's father had spoken, but with a different meaning. Amal wasn't talking about the legacy of being a doctor or a lawyer, but about a spiritual legacy. Soon after graduation, Lanny joined the Campus Crusade staff team in Auckland.

But instead of her tale fading off with a "happily ever after," Lanny's story began to repeat. Her faith journey began to echo in the lives of the women she mentored.

There was Grace Zhang, born in Beijing, China, whose family thought religion was for the weak. But Grace, like Lanny, became curious about Christianity and found answers in many conversations with her new friend.

"I saw that the Christians weren't crazy," said Grace, "and they seemed to know more about life than I did. They knew what was right and what was wrong."

Grace was also scared about how her parents might react, but she prayed with Lanny anyway, asking Christ into her life. Lanny continued to mentor Grace through the trial of her parents' disapproval. Lanny was able to offer encouragement to Grace -- the relationship with her own parents had gradually improved.

Together, Lanny and Grace often visited a park across the street from campus to talk about Christ with others. The Auckland Sky Tower pierced the scattered clouds above while students sprawled lazily across the grass or sat on benches.

Using surveys to start up conversations, Lanny and Grace met a Chinese girl one afternoon who told them she didn't care about religion. Grace and Lanny gave her the Knowing God Personally booklet anyway as they moved on to talk with someone else. From a distance, Lanny noticed the girl casually take out the booklet. "Don't look now," Lanny exclaimed to Grace, "but she's reading it." The two girls laughed, especially Lanny, as she remembered her own story of reading the booklet for the first time.

Lanny loved talking with students, but sometimes it consumed too much of her life. "You're not the savior of the world, Lanny," her current mentor, Christy Staveley, reminded her as they talked about ways to keep her life balanced. Last year, she was known as "busy Lanny."

"I was stressed, tense, all the time," she recalls. She wouldn't go to sleep until 1 a.m. and then she'd wake up at 6 the next morning. She got sick almost every month.

So she learned to let some things go, and asked for accountability from 2 close friends. "If I can't take care of myself," she says, "then how do I expect to take care of God's sheep?"

One rainy day, she met Merissa Lam for coffee on campus. "How are you doing?" Lanny asked, knowing the fourth-year architecture major had felt stressed. "Are you handling all your assignments?"

They talked for a while about the action group, a Bible study with an outward focus on telling others about Christ. Merissa listened to Lanny's advice, motivated by her concern and aware that Lanny spoke of what she knew.

Then there's Annna Teoh. Although only a first-year student, Annna has grown steadily in her faith. Annna's family moved from Malaysia to New Zealand when she was 4, and Lanny challenged her to think about traveling again, this time with a spiritual purpose. Lanny gave Annna 20 baht -- Thailand's currency. The bill, a memento from Lanny's mission trip, was folded like origami to form two joined hearts. "I'm still trying to figure out how they did it this way," Lanny said. She then told Annna about some of her own experience in Thailand. Lanny hopes Annna, too, will leave a legacy of believers wherever she goes.

With 11 other Campus Crusade staff members, around 150 students come to the weekly meetings, with 53 of them leading Bible studies. There are retreats, conferences, Bible studies and accountability groups. And constant evangelism.

Lanny knows God has given her a story, with all of its complications and struggles, to share with others. And her legacy has extended throughout campus, as the girls she mentors tell others about Christ and build their own spiritual legacy. In the land of the long white cloud, Lanny believes this is not the end.