Monday, August 13, 2007

Gene's Blog...


Just a quick note to let you know that Gene has also created a parallel blog to track his view of the experiences in India. You can get there by either clicking here, or by clicking the link on the left hand side of the page.

-samurai jack

Sunday, August 5, 2007

13 Hours...

In the last 24 hours, we spent 13 in the car. It took us 5 hours to get to the church dedication, and 7 -1/2 to get back. We rolled in this morning at about 6:30 a.m. after leaving the celebration at about 11 p.m. Not exactly the most restful night, but I’m still glad that we had the experience.

Nicodemus As A 17 Year Old Girl...

Argh! Again, no picture, and I REALLY wanted one, alas! After the dedication ceremony, a young girl (maybe 16?) approached Raj at the platform. I immediately liked her! You could tell that she was driven. She had an intense look in her eyes, the gleam of intelligence, but balanced with a gentleness and calmness that simply bespoke the fact that she wasn’t a raving freak, but was definitely “on a mission” to talk with Raj. When she finally caught his attention, they went on for about 5 minutes, and I could tell that there was more to the conversation than just your simple, “thank you for the beautiful message, pastor!” thing going on. Raj would speak machine-gun-style for a few minutes and then she would whip right back to him with some staccato of her own. Finally, Raj wrote something down on a piece of paper and gave it to her. She smiled at him, bowed in the cursory gesture of polite gratitude, turned and smiled at me (against what I’m sure was just a bewildered look on my face), and then walked stealthily out of the room. When I finally got my camera, she had already left, so I couldn’t ask her and Raj to pose for you to see. Sorry.

Anyway, I asked Raj later what she had asked him, and his eyes brightened as he explained:

“This girl heard me speak, and came to ask me about when I said that she would have to be born again to follow Jesus. She said, ‘I have already been born once to one mother, and I have one name already. How can you tell me that I must be ‘born again’? Am I to abandon my mother and her name when she gave me life just to follow this Jesus of yours?’”

(Wow! Remind you of John 3 when a man named Nicodemus approached Jesus with the exact same question?)

When I asked Raj how he responded to the girl, he explained to me that in India, one of the big things is that people have mistakenly assumed that once you decide to follow Jesus, you have to abandon your Indian culture, change your Indian name to a “Christian name” (like Joseph or John or Mary), wear western clothing, and distance yourself from your family. Raj explained that more and more, they’re seeing that what people (like this bright young girl) are asking is if it’s okay for them to still “be Indian” and follow Jesus. Raj deftly explained to her that Jesus is about a commitment in your heart and in your life, not in how you dress, what you name yourself, or alienating yourself from your family (quite the contrary, in fact!). He explained that she said that she wasn’t sure about all of that, and so Raj told her to go home and ask God for wisdom. Then he gave her his phone number and told her to call him if she had any more questions.

New Creation Community Church...

We arrived at New Creation Community Church just in time to dedicate it before the worship service started. We prayed, cut the ribbon that barred the entrance, and then packed in for a worship service that was so loud and so enthusiastic, I actually had a splitting headache when it was over (reminds me of the Far Side where the cowboy, all shot up with Indian arrows says to his friend, “Yeah, Clem.. I hurt. But you know, it’s a good kind of hurt.” :- ): We followed the service with an excellent dinner served on palm branches, and then set about meeting the congregates and praying for them.

All in all, there were probably about a hundred people in the little church, and the building was large enough to seat everyone. The pastors are TBL church planters named Hannah and Anthony-Raj (husband/wife team) – shown here – and they were gentle and friendly while talking, but thundered away from the pulpit. I’ve seen that happen before.. it’s an amazing transformation that I truly admire about so many of the church planters with whom we work. They are lambs in every environment, but lions behind the pulpit. Anyway, Hannah and Anthony-Raj have both come to Christ from Hindu backgrounds, and both have experienced significant physical and financial persecution as they have not only continued to live out their lives for Christ, but lead others to do the same. They stand strong with this small community of Christ-followers, and by doing so continue to see (like the early church) their numbers swell daily in the community.

Also, I can’t remember who said it, but i love the quote that says that “a measure of greatness for any empire is how they treat their least”. The young man in this picture suffers from what looked to me to be Cerebral Palsy, and had to be helped or carried anywhere he went. He was a happy young man, but what amazed me most was how the church just “owned” him. They would come and pick him up to help or carry him to the front for Raj to pray for him, then help him to sit down in a chair by the wall. Then they would bring him food, and then take his plate when he was finished. Then they would carry him outside so that he could enjoy the meeting and greeting, and when it was time for him to go (I was standing nearby), an older lady tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to him. “Help him up!” she was saying through the smile on her face (I have no idea what she really said, but it was obvious that such is what she meant), so several of us took ahold of his fragile frame and then hoisted him up to his walker. Being limited in any fashion here in India would be tough (“Handicap access” is not a widely-understood term here yet), so I was significantly encouraged to find that this little church understood their responsibility to not only engage him, but care for him in every way.

The Female Infanticide Capitol of India…

As we continued to drive, at one point Raj turned to me and said, “look out the window… you see this place? This entire district (Madurai) has the highest incidence of female infanticide in India.” So I looked out the window and noticed how remarkably few women I saw walking around. See, here in India, if your wife bears you a daughter, your rationale goes something like this: “Well, we don’t really have enough food to go around as it is, so she’ll be hungry her whole life while she’s in our house. Plus, we’ll have to clothe her and care for her, which again, will be a significant drain on our already limited resources. Then we’ll have to raise a dowry for her to marry her off (a sizeable sum equaling up to $3 – 5,000, even for a poor family), and in the end, she won’t be able to help us when we are old and frail (that’s the son’s job… a daughter’s job is to take care of her husband’s family, not her own). So really, it’s better for everyone (including the baby), if we just give her a hug, take her down to the river, and then hold her under until she stops breathing.” I’m not trying to be melodramatic or unnecessarily graphic, and i hope that you’ll forgive me if such seems to be the case. Rather, I just had no idea (until a couple of years ago when I started coming to India with Rob) that such things still happen in the world, but they do. And we were driving through the middle of it. I had a hard time sorting through the emotions, and still do. Rage, helplessness, sorrow, hope (yeah, even hope… as Jesus comes into these communities, things like this atrocity stop) and amazement. And the more people (like all of us) who know about it, the better the chances that it won’t continue much longer as we pray, serve, engage and support the work of the men and women who are planting churches in areas like this.

Besting Best Buy...

I wasn’t allowed to take a picture of this because it involves political stuff (or something like that), but I have to tell you about an odd site that I saw on our way to the church dedication. We were cruising through a small town when I looked out our window and saw a gigantic line bending through and around a particular courtyard. It was filled with people from all walks, castes and status, and was so long that it even spilled out into the street. When I asked what was so important that people would be standing in line in such a fashion to acquire, Raj and The Professor both smiled and said, “That’s a government television distribution center. So long as you are an Indian citizen, you can line up there and receive your free television set!” As mentioned already in the previous post, the whole notion of government-sponsored televisions to every citizen as a high priority absolutely blows my mind. So… you may go to bed hungry, but at least you’ll be well entertained.

Breaking Formation...

We split up today to head in two separate directions. I’ll do my best to adequately recount the details of each:

  • Jack, Raj and The Professor – We drove 5 hours at about (as nearly as I can tell) ten or fifteen times the speed of light to a village some 500 km away. Reason? Raj had told a group of church planters who had just constructed a church building that he would come and dedicate it when they were ready. As a result, I tagged along and had a great opportunity to spend some time with Raj, talk about GCC/TBL strategies, and just enjoy laughing. You can’t spend too much time around Raj and not laugh as his personality, enthusiasm and chuckle are contagious.
  • Jodi, Brandy, Gene and Pastor Samuel – Pastor Samuel took the rest of the team back out to some of the more remote villages under his current span of care (I learned today that there are 72 villages in this immediate area, and that Pastor Samuel visits them all!), and they spent the evening doing more house-to-house visitation.

Sewing Saris By the Sea Shore...

Well, maybe not by the sea shore, but sewing saris nonetheless. The family pictured here is a sweet young couple who offered to help our ladies appropriately fit and tailor their saris (you see, you buy a sari in a rather incomplete phase, and then have it fitted and sewn after you buy it). The family lives in a 4-apartment building and keep their little flat immaculate. The husband works in a textile factory while the wife does some part-time seamstress work. The little girl is hilarious, acting very shy around us by simultaneously playing as coy as she could get in fostering our attentions.

"Do What Is!"

We blasted past a small car on the side of the road today (again, didn’t have time to catch the photo) that had a Nike “swoosh” on its bumper and the obscure phrase “Do What Is!” in English beside it. It took me a second, but I realized that someone had probably tried to explain “Just Do It!”, and while they may have gotten the general meaning across, “Do What Is!” just sort of seems to lack the same potency. But maybe you could try that out at work the next time you’re feeling all “go-get-‘em”. “C’mon, guys, ‘do what is!’”

Slow on the Draw, Pardner…

Okay, guys, I have to apologize. For some reason, I was just really slow on the draw with my camera today, or accidentally left it in the car entirely when I didn’t mean to do so. As a result, for a couple of the following posts, all I have is text, but will do the best I can to describe the details. Alas.

Postcard From the Land of Surreality!

Yes, that’s a thatched hut in the middle of nowhere. Yes, that’s a satellite dish mounted on the side-post of said hut. “Why would they need a satellite dish?”, you might be asking (we did!)? Well, to get them cable to their government-sponsored television set, of course! Apparently, a new initiative by the Indian government is supplying both free television sets and free satellite TV dishes (only specific channels, mind you) to all Indian citizens. When I asked why, Raj cocked an eyebrow and said, “So that the government can keep people well-informed about what it wants them to think.” Allrighty then. So we people living in significant poverty, children with orange hair from malnutrition, and thatched huts in remote villages… but at least we have TV! It became an exercise in total surreality as we moved from door to door, house to house in the villages, each of which had a faint blue glow coming from inside. When we looked in, sure enough, there were families glued to a small box usually propped up on branches or makeshift tables watching everything from news to what looked like an Indian version of Soul Train. Unreal!

Yeah... Definitely Tapioca...

Shortly before we enjoyed the “slaughtered goat”, we had the opportunity to try some REAL Tapioca. If you’re like me, you’ve probably ever only had it in pudding, but this was the real stuff. It’s a long, pale white root kind of like a potato that is boiled and served in raw form. Sometimes it’s served with salt or sugar, but gets mealy and mashy like a baked potato does. I’m holding a big one here so that you can see how it looks. It also gets turned into meal flower for various kinds of breads and pastries.

Evening Villages...

We spend the evening in two of the villages where Pastor Samuel is working currently. Both have very low concentrations of Christ-followers, and for the most part, there are high-caste Hindus living in both. Pastor Samuel has done a lot of “walking” in the villages and has spent quite a bit of time going door-to-door, but the few people who have come to Christ in the process have experienced significant persecution as a result. However, when they heard that we would be coming, they made sure that we knew that they would be slaughtering a goat to prepare for dinner! I tell you, the Bible comes alive here in India. When we read about a “fattened calf”, we kind of have to stretch to think about what that might be like. Here, however, they still do it.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a large group of people, the most notable of which were 6 – 12 enthusiastic teenage girls. They were quick to want to practice their English, smile and laugh at our attempts to mimic some Tamil. When we asked about them, one of the village members told us that the girls were all new brides in the village, and had been married for between 1 and 3 years. When we asked how old they were, we found that they ranged in age from 16 – 19. Wow! One or two already had a small child as well, and were performing all the duties commensurate with wives and mothers.

As we walked through the village, we stopped by a lady named Ravina’s home. She was very kind, and asked for us to pray for her. Pastor Samuel told us that was one of the first people to come to Christ in the village, and that she and her family have experienced significant persecution since. When I say “persecution”, I don’t mean the verbal kind (though that certainly happens), but rather the “we’re going to beat you up, and then, if you don’t leave, we’ll come back and finish you off” kind. We prayed that God would guard her and her family, and that through their peaceful steadfastness, would win others to faith.

We also had the opportunity to pray for a number of other people along the way, and my heart broke as we prayed for a group of women I came to call the “Ladies in waiting”. I don’t know all their names, but their stories made it difficult for me to move beyond. Three of the ladies were related, and live in a single home together. The eldest (the mother) has been sick for some time and has tried a number of remedies suggested by doctors and Hindu priests, all to no avail. Her daughter-in-law asked that we pray for her and her husband as they have tried to get pregnant a number of times, but have only experienced miscarriages. In India, much like we read in Scripture, to be childless is a significant hardship, and while losing children is its own extreme pain, to continue without them carries ramifications far beyond the current generation. The other daughter’s husband left her six months ago, and has simply “vanished” without sending support or help in any fashion. In India, that’s particularly difficult as it will be culturally taboo for her to ever re-marry, and due to the patriarchal nature of the culture, will limit what she can “do” for income or career options as well. She is simply “trapped”. The next lady was diagnosed with TB six months ago, and is not able to afford therapy or treatment. The final lady’s abusive husband left her recently (they have 2 small children) and has not returned. While the abusive nature of the relationship is terrible, the fact that she no longer has any means of support causes her more pain as she has to scrap together whatever she can for herself and her children. None of these women know Jesus, but all are waiting on God to show up. Hence, “ladies in waiting”.

Coconut Break...

Raj is quick to stop by the side of the road and let us “try things”. In this particular instance, a lady and her husband were selling coconuts by the side of the road. They were really sweet people, and when she saw all of us pile out of the car, she happily began hacking away at various coconuts and gave them to us. See, the way it works is, you drink the milk first (either with a straw, or, as Raj showed us, “chug style”), then hand it back to the seller to split it open so that you can eat the meat. I’ll tell you, fresh coconut rocks! It also helps you to do some “high speed downloading” (Raj’s metaphor for going to the bathroom) afterward.

Aw, Rats!

I’m a fan of Disney, but “M-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-U-S-E” isn’t something you typically want to think about while you’re eating lunch. Especially when it weighs 8 pounds and is larger than your Dachshund at home. We finished lunch after our errand-running and as we were standing up to go, I saw this shadowy blur dart between Raj’s feet. When I thought “hmmm… that’s odd… wonder what it was”, I looked again and it was gone. But then I saw it again, and it DEFINITELY was “something”. Every time I got closer to it, it moved, and it was pretty big, so it took the image a second to register. But yep, it was a rat. Not a “mouse”, but a big honkin’ rat. Now, I lived in Chicago for 3 years and I saw some pretty good sized sewer rats while I was there, but even they had nothing on this brutha. He was about 26” from nose to tail tip, easily weighed 8 pounds, and was roughly the size of a small cat. In fact, I’ll bet that most cats would have a hard time with this homey! When Raj finally saw him, he (Raj, not the rat) jumped in the air and shouted. It was pretty funny. I thought about trying to go all “Mouse Hunt”, but opted for a hasty getaway instead. Sorry the picture isn’t any better… this is where he was cowering under my chair, and it’s the only time he stayed still long enough to photograph.

Meet "The Professor"...

This is “The Professor”, and everyone simply calls him such. He’s an amazing man, and has worked closely with Raj for years. They originally became friends when he asked Raj about the church-planting materials that he was teaching (in conjunction with Bible League). The Professor currently is an English professor at a local university (which naturally means that his English is very good), and has spent the week with us here in Kavundampadi. His primary focus has been to observe Pastor Samuel to see how he is doing ministry so that he can replicate what is most successful. One of the great things about our friends with TBL is that they freely lend and borrow from one another.

Morning Worship... Hindu Style...

While we were running our errands, we had the opportunity to watch some Hindu worship in action at a local temple. Some things to note if you can see the pictures here (sorry they’re so small… they have to be in order for me to be able to load them to the blog page given our internet connection):

* “The Cow” – as you probably know, cows are sacred in the Hindu system of worship, and so people bow down before their images, worship them, present them with flowers and garlands, and ring the bells around their necks. Why ring the bells, you might ask? According to Raj, they ring the bells to “wake the gods up so that they might hear their cries for help”.

* “The Cobra” – snakes are not only feared, but also revered here in India. I’m not exactly sure what all the significance is, but the cow statue is constructed in such a way that the cobra is drinking from its udder.

Service for the Sick...

This morning, Brandy had the chance to speak during a special service for those who are suffering from various sicknesses in the community. The service was held at the church facility, and involved about 30 – 50 people from the surrounding community who were afflicted with various ailments ranging from skin diseases to internal pain. It started around 10 and kicked in with some serious music, followed by Pastor Samuel’s address to the crowd, and then Brandy’s message on strength in Jesus. She sited passages ranging from Isaiah 41:10 to the prayer of Hannah, and did a great job negotiating translation, timing and delivery. Go Brandy!

An interesting side note: while the service was under way, the neighboring house suddenly erupted into a cacophony of ear-splitting Hindu/Indian music. The louder the people in the service sang, the louder the neighbor would crank the volume. When I asked what was going on, I was told, “Oh, see, the neighbors are high-caste fanatical Hindus, and they don’t like the fact that we’re here. As a result, they went out and bought some thousand watt speakers and put them in their windows facing our church (note: the buildings are maybe 10 feet apart). Whenever we begin worship services, they turn on their speakers and try to drown us out.” Whoa!

After the service was finished (around 1 p.m.), we left to run some errands and eat lunch.

Dosa, Chutney and...uh...Goat Intestines!

Oooookay, here’s something IHOP probably doesn’t have on their menu: goat intestines! Yup, we sat down for “breakfast” (it was around 10 a.m. by the time we got there) and were promptly served a banana leaf (which functions as a plate), a dosa (a tortilla-like flatbread), some white chutney (you’d think it would be sweet, like it’s made from coconut or something, but it’s not. Think “spicy oatmeal”.), and goat intestine curry. We sort of peered over the plate and sure enough, you could see little spongy tubes about the size of your little finger floating around in a spicy brown gravy. Well, what the heck… load us up. For the record, they taste about like you think they would: spongy, springy, rather tasteless… kind of like eating a garden hose. According to Raj, goat intestines are really good for you since goats eat mainly grass and other natural things. The only problem with that logic is that I’ve also seen goats eat beer cans, pop bottles and other “recyclables” if you know what I mean.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Up and At 'Em!

The last time I looked at the clock before we konked out, it was just after midnight. But around about 6:30 a.m., morning devotions kicked up just outside our door, shortly followed by increased traffic in our little area, so we got up around 7 a.m. and hit the day running.