Saturday, February 23, 2008

India - Persecution of Christians

We met a most remarkable Indian couple for dinner one of the last evenings we were in Delhi. We ate at the nicest restaurant I have yet seen in Delhi, although it was not expensive by Western standards.

India is like a keg, a powder keg, Vandar (as usual, a pseudonymn for protection) said in response to my question at the dinner table. I had asked what would the spiritual climate of India look like in five years. Vandar and his wife Omiya have labored for over 30 years in a church movement they started. Today, the growing movement has thousands of churches and workers spread over much of northern India. Its name would be familiar to many Indian Christians, but I will not write it here.

He elaborated. This keg could blow up at almost any time and try to consume Christianity. 15 years ago, Vandar said, the Hindus did not like us, but they did not hate us. Today, he said, they hate us. In the intervening years, the Hindus have become very jealous of the growth of Christianity. Never has the nation been so open to the spread of the Gospel. Many are being baptized.

That jealousy has increasingly taken a radical and violent turn. Vandar named two recent incidents in Orissa, an Indian state along the Bay of Bengal. In the first, about 1,200 homes in several villages were destroyed by radical Hindus. The point of the hatred: most of the villagers are Christians. Even the homes of the few Hindus there were not spared, because they sided with their Christian friends and neighbors in the villages.

“But didn’t the government do anything?” we asked.

The government did do something. It SAID it would do something and then didn’t. A Western government that says it will seek justice and take care of the victims will usually do what it says, even if imperfectly. To the Indian government, it seems, promises can be empty if most convenient. Not only has nothing been done to rebuild the homes of these hundreds now in bare tents in which they have lived for months, the churches of India are forbidden to help them.

“But surely the news media reported on this?” we asked.

The international media reported the initial story, but no more. The major publications in India blinked and hastily turned away when threatened by the radical Hindus. Politicians claimed inability to make the police seek justice.

Vandar also spoke of an anti-conversion law. It sounds nice: no one may attempt to convert another by inducement or threat. It sounds…so tolerant. The problem is that if you give your shirt to a beggar because of the love of Christ in your heart and tell him that Jesus loves him, then you have just induced him. If you warn him of Hell, you have just threatened him. If you tell him of Heaven to gladden his heart, you have just induced him. Six Indian states now have this statute on the books. People are in jail under these evil laws.

But still, the work goes on. New believers are constantly being baptized. I find myself humbled by the faith and persistence of these who labor in such incredibly hard and dangerous soil.

The question and ensuing discussion sobered our dinner conversation considerably. “What can we in the west do?” I asked.

“Tell the news media.”

There is more that we can do, of course, but India deserves condemnation in the court of world opinion for how it is treating its Christian minority.

India - 15 February 2008 - Lessons Learned

1. The Orient is a very different world than the Occident. People live differently, eat differently, express religion differently, and interact differently, to name just a few. There are many commonalities, of course, but I was struck with the differences in human behavior. The good: people are warm, friendly and giving. Family and other relationships are important. I would happily befriend many of the Indians we met. The bad: Indian government and institutions are corrupt and there appears little concern for the environment that supports a population of over one billion. Rubbish is everywhere, and air pollution is omni present, even in the rural areas.

2. Religious persecution against Christians is rising. One church leader told us that 15 years ago “they didn’t like us, but they didn’t hate us. Now, they hate us.” In recent weeks, church buildings have been destroyed, and entire villages comprised mainly of Christians have been destroyed. The government promises religious freedom and justice, but does not provide it. It is tempting to think that it is just a matter of Hindus believing that Christianity is just wrong, and oppose it on that basis. There is probably some of that. But perhaps the biggest reason for the persecution is simply jealousy, according to one church movement leader we talked with. Most Christians are coming from low castes in society. Hinduism has given these people nothing. Christianity gives them everything. As people come to faith, there is a tendency for economic and social circumstances to rise. THIS is what the radical Hindus hate.

3. I am humbled by the faith and persistence of Indian Christians. We met a number of leaders of church movements; some with tens of thousands of adherents. All spoke of the persecution that the Church is experiencing today in India, but there was no hand wringing or whining. They seemed to take it as part of what it means to be a Christian – after all Jesus says it will be so. These leaders were forging strongly ahead; baptizing new believers and training people to be disciples.

4. “No problem” doesn’t necessarily mean there are no problems. I found on a number of occasions that there WAS in fact a problem. It wasn’t that they were lying, rather, to many of the Indians I talked with, it seemed to be an attitude that everything would work out, and that they would do what they could to make it work out.

India - 14 February 2008 - Leaving the Airport

How hard can it be to get on an airplane? At Indira Gandhi Airport outside of New Delhi, it turned out to be much harder than expected on the night we left.

We headed for the airport in plenty of time -- a good thing, as it turned out. When we arrived, there was an impressive traffic jam at the departure area, and an impressive people jam outside the two entry doors. Hundreds of passengers were jostling and pushing trying to get to the two doors. Entry was blocked by soldiers checking passports and travel documents. No one without travel documents was allowed a bad thing considering the number of people outside the doors trying to earn some baksheesh or steal some money.

Once inside we had to make our way through an insane line of people trying to get their bags scanned BEFORE checking them in at the ticket counters.

Going through customs was not difficult, and neither was going through the long security line. It was just time consuming.

Allow lots of time before your flight from this airport.

India - 13 February 2008 - Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is certainly worth seeing. In our case, it took an eight hour car trip both ways to get there, but that was a nice way to get there, as we had transportation on arrival. The train is faster, but one still requires transportation on either end. The taxi we took was about the same price and gave us that transportation.

I have two abiding impressions from our visit:

1. An amazing place: actually standing on the raised platform and touching the cool marble put down nearly 400 years ago is different than seeing the pictures. Did you know, for example, that there are two identical mosques on either side of the Taj? There is a three dimensional model of the Taj on Google Earth that will give a good perspective on this. The impressive inlay of semi-precious stones in intricate designs in the marble is stunningly good.
2. Ground zero for people trying to separate your money from you: It was impressive to me (obviously: I'm writing about it) how many men were actively working to "help" us. They wanted to guide us, drive us, or help us find valuable souvenirs. It was a bit like stepping out doors and finding the mosquitos everywhere. The actual Taj grounds were a little less irritating because of the admission fee and thorough pat-down on entry, but even there we observed some impressive stunts designed to obtain baksheesh, or a tip.

Even with these petty annoyances, it's worth seeing.  That is me in the lower right corner.

India - 12 February 2008 - Delhi Belly

It goes by "Montezuma's Revenge" in Mexico and no doubt other names in other parts of the world. Among India travelers it's called "Delhi belly" and it probably comes in different flavors. Mine came with with a headache, "running stomach" as a Swedish friend delicately put it, and feeling wiped out.

It hit Saturday evening the 9th of February, which was the night we returned home from our village trip. We took the train that night. Getting on the train wasn't too bad, but getting off the train the next morning was zombie land. My friends guided me to my hotel room, and I spent the next 24 hours pretty much sleeping. I seem to remember knocks on the door, and friends appearing to check on me, to provide Coca Cola, and other comfort items.

I'm writing this about two weeks later, and while it is less bothersome, I still have some reminders with me.

Acquiring Delhi belly is simple. All one need do is drink the tap water. I was thinking that I didn't need Delhi belly so I had avoided drinking that, even going to the trouble of brushing my teeth with bottled water. But all it takes is one drop of on a washed plate that was not dried. And that may have been the vehicle that carried the little organism to my mouth. Or, maybe I didn't clean my hands often enough.

The only good thing about Delhi belly is that it has helped with weight loss. If you go, I recommend giving it a miss.

Monday, February 11, 2008

India - 10 February 2008 - Traveing the Roads of India

Travel over the roads of India is far different than at home. On several occasions, I have looked up to see a truck coming right at us, only for us or it to veer off to the left with seconds to spare. (Here, as elsewhere with British influence, people drive on the left, and steering wheels are on the right.) There is so much pedestrian, bicycle and moped traffic that it is difficult to stay in one’s lane for very long. In rural India, there are also bullock and donkey carts, which are my personal favorite. The drivers of these stand and direct their animals with reins. Other vehicles, some handmade, also appear on the roads.

Driving on the streets of the villages and towns is where it gets really interesting. I’m glad I wasn’t driving, and I found it better to just look out the side windows…which held plenty of interest anyway. Both sides of the streets are filled with a mind-numbing assemblage of little shops, kiosks, stores, and often, what looks like a big box on stilts, inside which will be perched a merchant selling brightly colored packets of chewing tobacco. It would be easy to purchase food for simple here, although with more walking required. More complicated meals would probably require more knowledge of who sells what.

The shops attract commerce of course, and that’s what makes the driving interesting – all the people coming to shop. When we came into a village late one evening, the streets were almost vacant, and very simple to navigate.

On several occasions as we drove through the towns during daylight hours we came into near gridlock. It can happen when a truck or cart breaks down in the road…and is being repaired on the spot….or left in search of parts. Or it can happen from just congestion. Not infrequently we were hemmed completely in by vehicles and people and cows. But most of the time, the driver calmly used the horn and threaded his way through.

Speaking of cows, they are common in the towns and cities. Since they are not eaten, they have few enemies. All that I have seen eating have been eating garbage. They just wander loose.

India -- 8 February 2008 -- Islam in India

This district of the Indian state through which we traveled is predominately Muslim. It can be seen in the dress of some of the people, and in the small mosques along the way. It can be heard in the early mornings with the call to prayer just before dawn.

Hinduism is certainly the predominant religion of India. In fact, another name for the country is Hindustan….country of the Hindus. But in portions of the nation, other religions are larger. In Punjab, in the Northwest part of the state, Sikhism is the largest. There are also Jains, Buddhists, and others. Christianity is also much in evidence here, although overall it is one of the smaller religions.

Interestingly, Middle Eastern Islamic states have been pouring oil money into building up that religion here. They have been building up Islamic structures and providing training. Even in small villages a “false front” style mosque can be seen, consisting only of a wall and a couple of modest minarets.

India -- 8 February 2008 -- Love Center

After much careful driving over passable roads and occasional smooth sailing on sections of really good roads we arrived at Love Center (not the real name). It sits right at the edge of a real Indian jungle. Outside on a tall tree was a troop of black faced monkeys, and there be tigers and leopards here, no foolin’. On the other side is the village of about 2000 people. The Center is built right at the edge of the forest at the outskirts of the village.

We were met with excitement by 50+ children. Most are orphans, but some have come here because of parental inability or unwillingness to care for them. Some were shy, but others immediately warmed to us.

The evening that we spent with them, the children sang for us. It was a moving experience. The children sang mostly in English but a few songs in Hindi. Learning English is a huge advantage for Indians. This common language of this complex country is English, and learning it allows young people to both communicate with other Indians who do not share their language and with others from abroad.

What we saw is only a beginning of the vision. When Love Center teamed up with an international organization, more money became available, and along with it, new perspectives and even larger vision. The center is working on purchasing more land so that more buildings can be constructed. Their plan is to care for about 100 children, and at the same time provide occupational training for them and children in nearby communities. This will provide opportunities for relational evangelism.

India -- 8 February 2008 -- The Train Trip

We have made two round trips by train. The first was about 5 hours, and we were awake the entire time. The more recent trip we made in a “sleeper.”

The started at 11:30 PM and ended the following morning about 9 AM. When we boarded, we quickly set up our bunks. The beds are about 6’ long and perhaps 30” wide. While that fits the average Indian frame fairly well, it was a not quite so comfortable for us taller types. The coaches were fairly clean and seemed well maintained.

The Indian National Railroad provides a blanket and a packet of clean sheets, pillowcase, pillow, blanket and towel. There were six of us in each sleeping area, and perhaps 20 such sleeping areas in each coach.

Here, as many places in India, the train toilets are squat-style. They call our toilets “western toilets.” The concept is simple: you squat to do your business, and clean up with the left hand over which your pour water from the small pail and water spigot usually provided at squat level. It actually makes a great deal of sense. On the train a sink is also provided.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

India -- February 8, 2008 – Into the Jungle

We saw a distant cousin of“Riki Tiki Tavi” the mongoose of Rudyerd Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” today at the edge of the jungle. We had left the monkeys and water buffalos behind and as we bumped our way down the road we saw the mongoose.

But that’s way ahead of the story. After lunch today, we hopped into the car for a look at the countryside around Love Center. Abi took us to the huge (400 km long) canal that helps distribute water for irrigation, and on the other side of it were the monkeys. These were city monkeys afraid or unable to go into the jungle and live a normal monkey. These troublemakers had been live trapped in a nearby city and taken out here and dumped. At this forest checkstation, they made a meager living by theft and finding some of their own food.

A retired wildlife ranger stopped and briefly chatted with us. He said that there were some tigers about, but many more leopards. The problem here is that people kill the tigers for hides and because they kill livestock and even people. There are several species of deer, too, he said. The lettering on the back of his old red car? “Desperado.”

After leaving the monkeys we travelled along the canal road, and that’s where the mongoose comes into the story. I didn’t even see it, as I was looking at my camera, unfortunately.

We stopped where some local people were loading sugarcane. The harvest is going on now, and much of what we passed as we drove here was sugarcane. Our stopping and looking caused the young people with the sugarcane loading crew to come and look at us. We were the most interesting thing they had seen for awhile. With no electricity and no TV, we were a pretty amazing site with our pale faces.

India – February 8, 2008 – Plunging into the Countryside

Our day started early when we were picked up at our hotel by the Asia Action (ministry name changed) ministry leader for this area, Rabine (also changed). We stuffed ourselves and some small luggage into a fairly recent model vehicle hired by Rabine for the trip. It was relatively comfortable, really; and that was good, because we drove for the better five hours to get to Love Center, the orphanage operated by Asia Action on one edge of a small Indian village.

The drive was a long succession of near misses as we threaded our way along a mostly narrow series of paved roads, along which was also travelling an endless number of pedestrians, bicyclists, motorbikes, trucks, “autos”, a few cars, bullock carts, donkey carts, cattle drives, tractors with trailers, and vehicles a little hard to describe, but certainly never made in any factory. On either side of the road passed rural India: fields, rivers, villages, towns, roadside stalls, people sleeping in the fields, interesting birds and old ruins, statues to Hindu gods and goddesses, small village mosques….an incredible tableau of the orient.

We stopped for breakfast at Rabine’s favorite roadside spot and immediately became the center of attention for a number of locals. It was a pleasant, if unusual breakfast. The samosa, served in a bowl made of a leaf, was the featured attraction, but along with it came chai (tea) and some a few other baked items, including an interesting sweet item, dripping with liquid sugar.

India -- 7 February 2008 -- Pastor Naoul

We visited a friend of Anchorage City Church, pastor “Naoul” in a community north of Delhi. Naoul is a church planter. He told us that he had planted 1 church in the 1973-83 time period, 10 churches in 83-93, and over 100 in the following 10 years. He says there are now over 35,000 believers in these churches, and the church planting rate is now accelerating.

He makes a strong case from experience that small churches grow more effectively. He says that in a large church there are many people with gifts who essentially have nothing to do. It is best be believes to harness the God given gifts in kingdom work; often, building new churches.

Their church planting movement moves into villages where a congregation has started and does all the work of building a structure. They have a specialized team for this purpose, so the work goes extremely quickly….which is usually much faster than is the case in rural areas.

They then do two things for the community: first is to provide a 200 foot well, which provides access to good, clean water. Villages often suffer much from disease because of shallow, tainted wells. Second, they build education centers. Both the school and the water pump draw many people, and serve as an opportunity to develop relationship, and to share the Good News.

Naoul also operates a ministry on a satellite TV channel. It reaches many, many people in Asia, and they receive much response. They have a studio set up in the church building he built in 1983.

He said something interesting about tracts: we must have a response address. It is a human soul we are dealing with. The tracts often stir people’s hearts with the Good News…and then have no one to walk through the first steps of faith with them would be terrible.

Naoul traveled with us back to our hotel. He said don’t stay in a hotel again…stay with me. He was a little upset that we had not stayed at his house. He has a large house and there are many staying there as they travel through.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

India – 6 February 2008 – The Market

Frank and I spent hours this afternoon with two Indian friends in one of Delhi’s market areas. This was quite some distance from the hotel, so we traveled over in a car owned by some other friends and returned in an “auto.” In this case, auto means a three-wheeled green and yellow vehicle that carries two passengers. It is covered, but open on the sides. One gets right up close and personal to the traffic. Many times we passed within an inch or two of another vehicle. Autos are not expensive. A 25 minute ride cost Frank and I 42 rupees….just over a dollar (about 38 rupees = 1 dollar right now).

Jyotsna has a small Christian bookstore in the market, and we met him there. Premdeep arrived not long after and we went to visit a typesetter where Jyotsna had arranged for some Hindi typesetting of a New Testament.

But before getting to the typesetter, let me paint a picture of the market.

Along the narrow streets are thousands of little shops, people in little stalls, or just a small corner where commerce is taking place. All kinds of foods are being sold from shops, and others on bicycles are calling out what they have as they pass by. Overhead a welter of wires and cables of varying ages and danger pass. Under our feet….well, better not to go there. One watches where the feet fall.

The market, Jyotsna explains, is much better than a shopping mall. Everything is available in a small area, from services to goods and food. The prices are also better, if more negotiable. There are fixed price stores, but not here, apparently. Prices for us are higher, as we look like we can pay more. We are a few pale faces in a sea of delightful hues of brown.

In the typesetters shop we first pass an open anteroom with a roof but no windows or doors. A metal pull down door closes the place off at night. In the anteroom, some young women are industriously typing. Later, it develops that they are typing on the QWERTY English keyboard for practice. A progression of other faces followed, including one young man who was guilelessly interested in everything we had to say and do. He didn’t understand a great deal of English, but clearly thought that he could peer into all that we were doing and listen intently to all that we were saying. He wasn’t obnoxious in his manner, just obviously not raised by mind-your-own-business parents.

Jyotsna took me to a shop through the crowded streets of the market where I could recharge my and Frank’s SIM cards. An older Indian man wrote down our telephone numbers and called over a younger man who did some tricks on a cell phone….and credit suddenly appeared in my phone.

Speaking of cell phones, the rate is quite cheap, and we aren’t paying a farthing to receive calls. BUT, we are inundated by SMS calls for all kinds of interesting things. Well, I guess they’re interesting things; the ads are mostly in Hindi, including the voice ads. Sigh…maybe that’s the price for cheap cell phone access.

Back to the market: washing is hanging out from balcony windows creating a lively competition with the colorful signs advertising everything. The washing wins, however, by virtue of having been washed in this decade.

Speaking of that, I have looked carefully, and impeccable casual attire is very much the norm on the Delhi street. It seems an improbable contrast against the dust and rubbish, but it isn’t: these are a very clean people with a high standard of hygiene. There are many exceptions, of course, but most tend to be well turned out; the men mostly in western attire, and the women mostly in beautiful Indian dress of many colors. I have to say that I find the women’s clothing very attractive.

A little later, trying to puzzle our way through putting together a Hindi translation of the Gate to Life on the web, Jyotsna and I traipsed across the street to an “internet café” where we could work for 10 rupees an hour. The “café” consisted of 8 small booths with impossibly small monitors, but passable speed. The keyboards were in English. Few people use Hindi keyboards; all the young people want to practice English, he explained. He and I fit into the booth with scarcely room to breathe. Personal space is not a big issue here.

By the way, English is the common language in this incredibly multi-lingual country. There are literally hundreds of languages here. It is also the language of commerce. Premdeep and his wife speak English in the home because the languages of their raising are mutually incomprehensible.

In the end, we went away somewhat frustrated. There is much that can be obtained here, but for us, the exact fonts we needed for typesetting, and the access to the Internet by the right people just wasn’t available.

But the market… what an experience that was. I found it fascinating in a rich, very human way, even if one not very familiar to me.

Monday, February 04, 2008

India - 3 February 2008 - The Radio Program

As indicated below Frank has been working for some years with Jyotsna on radio programs. These five minute programs have had tremendous response from people in India, with many cards and letters pouring in; some even having started churches as a result of hearing about God’s word.

Today we traveled to where the program has been recorded. It is a ministry within a church with many regional and local branches. The church is planting about one church per day right now. We came into a nicely appointed recording studio. The entire building was constructed at a very high level of excellence. “We have built this to the Lord” the radio program director, “and we wanted it to be excellent.” The sound-deadening walls of the studio were finished with strips of hand carved Indian paneling.

Jyotsna and his wife and some younger friends worked with him on this day’s dramas. They were about death…how does one understand and cope with death and dying, from the perspective of a believer in Jesus. The five minute programs are long enough to have some substance, and short enough to maintain attention.

Later as the program director talked about the ministry of the church he spoke on persecution. He says it is happening now more and more. Just this past weekend an Assemblies of God church building was burned down and some of the inhabitants beaten. Some church leaders have told believers that if they are not willing to be martyred, then perhaps this is not the church for them.

We met the bishop of this region for this church movement. He was a tall, well-built, grave but polite Indian in his 50’s. Being a church leader is surely no easy task here in these days.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

India - 2 February 2008 - Preaching

A bit to my surprise I found myself the featured speaker at a village church meeting on the other side of Gadra from Bratpra. After travelling through Gadra and other villages, we came to the church meeting.

When we arrived, we were given leis and then escorted to a platform where all the speakers and worship leaders removed their shoes. The church was singing loudly as they awaited our arrival. It was meeting outdoors, with colorful tapestries defining the “walls.” There were about 200 men, women and children…in those groups. There were more women than men, but not by too much. The women were beautifully dressed with colorful shawls and nose jewelry. The men were attractive in their proud way and the kids were just delightful and well mannered little people.

After some introduction….which none of us understood in the slightest….Mothas and I were handed microphones and I commenced to preaching. I would speak a sentence or two, Mothas would interpret. It was a simple message of perhaps 25 minutes on the importance of forgiveness while living together as a family of believers….when “living stones” are brought together they knock…the Lord commands forgiveness. I spoke for the first time without notes.

When I was done, Mothas took over and spoke even more on the issue. I know he was still on the subject, because several times he turned around and pointed at me. People started coming forward, but we did not understand what was happening. He said later that one woman came forward to testify how she had been unable to walk for many years because of arthritis. She had been prayed for, but nothing happened. Finally a word of knowledge came: you have unforgiveness. When she forgive the one that wronged her, within hours she was able to begin to walk again. That brought others coming and healings started.

It is always amazing to me what happens when we weak humans bring forth the Word of God and how it touches the lives of people. It is good to be a good speaker, but what really matters is to clearly speak forth God’s word.

After the meeting, we were treated to a pleasant meal al fresco at the home of a church member, who works as a church planter.

India – 2 February 2008 – The Apostle

I saw an apostle working today. For those that believe the apostles disappeared at the beginning of the church age, I won’t argue over the title. All I know is that I have on several occasions now watched men work as did the first apostles.

Pastor Mothas is such a man. In a quiet but gently assertive way, he uses his relationships with other pastors to support their ministry. He told us privately that God had shown him that Ragij is the man chosen by the Lord to be an overseer for this Indian state. For this reason, he has been helping in a number of ways.

One of those ways is as an advocate. As we and he were riding south on the train, Mothas concluded that we might be able to help Ragij, so when I asked later how do we in the west help this growing church movement, he was ready with an answer. He suggested that we provide enough funds for pastoral trainee support…2000 Rs per month, or about $50 USD. We did leave double that amount as a gift, and said that were it possible to do more, we would.

I asked him if would be willing to help with the transmission of such funds, should that be possible for us. He was politely not willing. This, for me was another indication of where he stands with this: he is a helper and a guide, not a controller. I suspect also that he could see an added layer of bureaucracy for himself. When we asked for his email, he just said that he didn’t do much email, and by extrapolation, he doesn’t want to do much more.

Last night Mothas talked into the wee hours with Ragij….just 1-1/2 hours before the temple started blaring…..I was impressed with the self sacrifice of the man.

India – 2 February 2008 – The Bible School

This day started early with temple chanting starting at 4:30. It was LOUD. Sleep was difficult after that time. Pastor Mothas, who also stayed in the house with Ragij and family, says there is only one or two people doing this chanting, and probably no others in the temple. The loudspeakers were only 50 meters from where I slept, as it turned out.

A Bible school meets here, as mentioned earlier. The believers assemble twice weekly for an entire day. There are several teachers. We greeted them and prayed over them. They are earnest in their new faith, having left other Gods….and families and friends in many cases…behind them.

On their wall is a graph of church member numbers and local churches in Ragij’s district. It has been steadily growing and the goal for 2008 is one that can only be reached by faith….and it will be reached.

India – 1 February 2008 – Believers in Bratpra

Again….the village name has been changed for security. I knew this was an issue here, but it became brutally real this evening. As God’s kingdom expands by love and brotherhood in this land, the enemy has counterattacked with hate and vengeance. If the agents of the enemy could connect this post with people here, there could be real suffering.

This evening, a church leader showed us the marks of the enemy on his body…and his badges of honor as he has suffered for Christ. He pulled up his pants leg to show the healed over knobby bone protrusion on his leg….a result of having been purposely run over by a car. There are also scars on his chest from the same incident. His perfectly formed teeth are replacements for those lost in the attack. It is a miracle that he survived.

He is not alone….he showed us newspaper clippings of some Christians who were beaten by extremists and forced to reconvert. But he persists, even as he knows his life is in danger from extremists in other religions who are jealous over the thousands who are coming to faith in Christ. The authorities have done ittle or nothing in these cases to bring the evil doers to justice.

We are meeting this evening in the home of Pastor Ragij (name changed) who lives in a concrete wall structure with his son, daughter in law and grandchildren. He speaks the majority local language, and is interpreted for us by Pastor Mothas (also changed) who we have known from earlier associations which will not be mentioned here. Pastor Mothas understands this language, Hindi, English and possibly others and has been a friend and support to Ragij and others like him in this northern region of India.

The work of Ragij has been rewarded by the Lord with success and favor. He is one of a number of leaders in this state, and today the number of believers stands at around 2.5 million. In his home tonight is meeting about 15 believers who have come here to pray and to meet us. There is 24 hour prayer going on in this house. Believers take two hour shifts, all day, every day.

Ragij is a district leader and there are 30-some villages around here and perhaps 10 pastoral leaders over which he watches and cares. There is also a Bible school here meeting in shifts. We meet them tomorrow. Bible school students are required to bring 12 converts to Christ in a week (and they do); these new believers become the nucleus of a new local church. When their training is complete after a year, there are already many people in the flock.

Ragij says the village churches do not usually meet in buildings, because they have only a few of them. Government permission is not given for church buildings to be constructed, so when they do make a building they do not start as a church. On Sunday they will meet outside his home in a tent. They want at least one of us to stay for the meetings and preach…but time presses with other commitments.

Some of the local churches are quite large; one numbers 900! Others may be 200 or 400 in total.

India – Train to Gadra – 1 February 2008

There is no Gadra. The name of this place has been changed for security reasons. We took a taxi from the YMCA to the New Delhi train station where the express was ready to go south. We left right on time in a nice coach. We paid a little more for this level of service and received several snacks, meals and beverages. By Western standards it was not terribly expensive. A comparable train journey in Europe would have been several times more costly.

Sally’s plane arrived late, and she and Leena had arrived at the train station with only 10 minutes to spare – after some prayer for timely arrival. It turned out that some Pakistani airspace had been closed and her aircraft coming from London had needed to take on more fuel because of a greater travel distance.

The images that flowed through my window as we rolled across India are stark in my mind: poor people picking up bottles for some small income, hovels, cattle tied to stumps, green fields, birds, cell phone towers, broken down villages, slums, and always, everywhere, people, people, people.

Friday, February 01, 2008

India – Breakfast – 1 February 2008

Breakfast this morning is as it was yesterday: porridge, tea, toast, butter, jelly, eggs, but with the addition of some small bread fried in donut shape one then dips into a sauce. Frank and Leena and I sat and talked over tea about effective ways of helping spread the Gospel in foreign fields.

Frank said a former leader had told him that we often hear that “you should work yourself out of a job.” This means of course that we should develop leaders that come up behind us. For westerners working in evangelism overseas however, it should be instead that “you should never take on the job on yourself to begin with.” The point is that unless national workers are not raised up immediately and take on the work themselves all could be lost if one is required to leave within 24 hours.

I asked what they thought was the most effective way of spreading the Gospel in foreign lands. Without hesitation Frank replied that would be Gospel literature. He is, of course, a publisher, but he also speaks from experience as a missionary in India, and from working with many missions organizations over nearly four decades.

He said that bringing promising leaders to the West often backfires because their lives are unsettled by the differences in standards of living, and it can be that their direction turns to moving to the West rather than ministering at home.

Buildings can be useful, but the Kingdom is made up of people, not bricks nor timbers. Buildings can be constructed by local believers as they are needed. Furthermore, buildings can be a point of attack in countries where there is organized opposition to Christianity.

Gospel literature on the other hand can impact multiple lives at low cost. Bibles or New Testaments have obvious value over many years. Other introductory or faith-building materials are also useful in developing a life of faith.

India – Dinner – 31 January 2008

The food was interesting at dinner but not nearly so interesting as the company. Our dinner companions included an Indian church network leader and his wife, and a European who is working on publishing Christian materials. I won’t mention their names for security.

By the way, this discussion of security is not just being cute. During dinner the church leader told of growing threat to Christians and leaders, and cited some disturbing recent news. A swami in Aurissa has been inciting Hindus to attack Christians. This is not the first time this has happened, but a growing violence and Hindu nationalism threatens. Christianity is making great gains in India, but the enemy of our souls is rising up in counterattack.

The church network leader spoke of a great Christian work rising in a nearby state where he says there are now 2.5 million believers. He is going there with us tomorrow and the next day. He wants to partner with Frank so that new Christians and leaders can obtain Bibles and Christian teaching. There is nothing like seeing the work first hand and developing relationships with the leaders involved.

Dinner is pleasant and somewhat intense. A lot of information is being exchanged, but the main reason for eating together is simply the continuation and building of relationship. On such relationships is the Kingdom of God built.

India – 31 January 3008 - In the Market

About noon Jyotsna (name changed for security), a friend and colleague of Frank’s arrived and the day became busy.

Jyotsna has been working for some years on a radio program that he produces and his family “stars” in. The daily five-minute programs are in one of India’s largest languages. They use drama to illustrate a Christian perspective on everyday problems of Indian families. They point to Christ as the answer to life’s many issues. The response has been good, with some writing to say they have become Christians and others writing to request literature. Frank and Jyotsna are discussing how to increase the exposure of the program. It is now broadcast on shortwave to India from another country.

At lunchtime, we walked to a market area where we could change money and find something to eat and obtain SIM cards for our mobile phones. My Alaska pre-paid card does not work here.

We walked from the YWCA first to the bank. Walking along the street in a new country puts all the senses on alert, with impressions flooding in: flowers….people walking, sitting, camping, talking….dogs….cars speeding, stopped, honking, darting, asserting right of way….. insistent motorized rickshaws seeing foreigners….careful street crossing with vehicles coming on the “wrong side” of the road with few controlled intersections….apes…birds…street vendors…beggars.

At the bank we are told that the conversion rate for US dollars is 38.65 rupees per dollar, and we have to fill out a form and provide a copy of our passport. There is no copy machine nearby. We start to fill out the forms, and the teller informs us that he is going on lunch break. There is no other teller in this section.

Off we go again with Jyotsna in the lead. We plunge into a market area and go up some stairs where Money Change is noted on a sign. Half way up the stairs, we turn and go up some very narrow stairs to a little garret where the money changer works.

He quotes 38.4 rupees to the dollar. Frank tells him that the bank is quoting 38.65.

“Not possible” the money changer and says that he can do this for 38.5. Frank haggles with him and brings him reluctantly to 38.65. I changed 300 dollars and received an impressive stack of 500 rupee notes, all with the Mahatma’s image. Later, Frank tells me that “anything is possible in India.”

Next is lunch. But the restaurant we want where they serve South Indian Masala dosai has a line forming outside. It’s lunchtime (2 PM) and the office crowd is hungry. But Jyotsna does some fast talking, and the guard lets us in. An empty table is presented immediately.

These Masala dosai are good! It is a large, very thin, somewhat crispy pancake rolled over some vegetables, served on a banana leaf, with little indentations in the plastic tray that hold sauces of varying spice temperature. The bill for 4 of us is 518 rs – about 12 dollars.

Finding SIM cards for our phones is next and so out we went again. Jyotsna stops at a place in the market, but the vendor is not very helpful and the prices are high. As we go through the market, people notice our foreign faces and a few bolder ones tap us gently on the shoulders offering all kinds of merchandise. Others, less bold, look at us wondering if there is a way that they can please us with something they are selling and receive some rupees in return.

The market is a rich medley of people, colors, smells and sounds. It is like the rainbow of spices found in Indian food. I found it fascinating and energizing. I like this.

Jyotsna stops again at the shop of someone he knows. It is a narrow place open to the street, but down a few steps. It is filled with calendars, pens, “daytimers” and other items. He is a spare fellow about my age with a pleasant face. A young man works with him. Both a nicely dressed and well groomed. It turns out that we cannot get a SIM card without passport style photos. Where does one get these?

Just a few meters down the row of shops there is another shop where passport photos can be made. For 50 rupees, we soon have passport photos.

We present the photos, passports (which are copied) and our mobile phones and the involved process of setting up telephones begins. All of this takes about an hour, but not until the end does money change hands. Everyone is now smiling and happy. And I now have an Indian telephone number. I do not pay for incoming calls.

On the way back to the YWCA, we stop at the YMCA for Internet access. It takes a bit of work to set up the computers to work, but we are soon online sending and receiving email. I am writing these blog notes in my hotel room. When I have Internet access, I copy and paste. Here in the YMCA business center, access costs 10 rs for 15 minutes, 30 rs for an hour. We paid 10.

On the way out, we look into rooms here. It would be nice to have better access. The arrangement is made and on our return from our trip, we’ll come back here.