Monday, August 13, 2007
Sunday, August 5, 2007
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.
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.
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
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 (
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.
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.
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!’”
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”.
* “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.
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.
Saturday, August 4, 2007
Village #1: We met on the porch of a woman who, along with her husband, were recently threatened to stop following Jesus. The attackers were armed, and cut her face with a knife, as well as her husband’s arms. They also threatened to return and kill them, but a neighbor called the police and were able to intervene before the attackers could return. A police case was filed, and is now under investigation. The process has actually caused other people in the village to be alerted to the claims of Jesus as they have been amazed at her tenacity and the strength that her faith affords her, and even a few of the initial attackers have come, asked for forgiveness, and begun exploring what it means to follow Jesus. In addition, I also looked over one of Pastor Samuel’s helper’s shoulders and recognized that the content of the Bible study material being used is actually the translated version of the 101 CORE class. When I asked Raj about it, he confirmed that each of the people who were present were proceeding through the 101 CORE class materials and were proceeding toward membership. Here in India, they divide the CORE class materials into 10 – 1 hour lessons rather than doing 1 4 or 5 hour class like we do at GCC.
Village #2: In village #2, we gathered into the hut of a nurse named Susi who also helps Pastor Samuel. She works at a local hospital by day, and helps Samuel at night by conducting Bible studies and…yes, again…CORE class materials in the local village contexts. Two cool things that happened in this village were that Jodi cracked everyone up as she learned to say some Tamil phrases. Believe it or not, she’s surprisingly good at it, and amazed everyone at her intonation and pronunciation with just a few times hearing a phrase. In addition, toward the end of the meeting, several men joined the group, looking a little inquisitive, but rather sheepish, and there was a sudden ripple through the group of mostly women. We learned on the back end that the men who joined us had never been to a Bible study before, and that they were largely comprised of the women in the group’s drunken husbands. Whether the husbands came to see the “odd white people” or just were curious doesn’t really matter. It was a cool moment of “potential” when the women saw their men come in, and the men seemed to feel pretty comfortable as well.
And want to know what else is cool? He had the engineers design the building so that they could easily “blow the wall out” on the western side when they exceeded a thousand people and mirror the sanctuary for another 1000. I swear, somebody’s been reading GCC’s mail, eh?
Apparently, we will sleep at the church, but make little day-treks out to the villages to engage people with whom he’s been working.
* Brush their teeth with the branches by chewing on the wood. This causes the wood to “fray” and then can be used to brush one’s teeth.
Also, as I have been travelling with Jodi, Brandy, Gene, Raj and “The Professor”, what follows for the next several posts will largely focus on that team. When we all gather back again on Sunday from the field, I’ll try to get pictures and stories from each team and post them then.
Friday, August 3, 2007
Sub-Team 1: Jodi, Brandy, Gene, Jack
Distance from Trichy: 5 hours (west)
Method of travel: car
TBL staff: Rajendran and “The Professor”
Notes: Our church planter contact is an extremely successful pastor, and currently is planting a single church with over 400 members, with other daughter churches and cell groups in development. Most of the current work he does is within villages that surround the church building, and there is a fairly high instance of persecution among the people with whom he works who come to Christ.
Sub-Team 2: Josh, Hayley
Distance from Trichy: 8 hours
Method of travel: car
TBL staff: Prema & Clorinda
Notes: They will be staying in a smaller town, but will make periodic ventures to surrounding villages to assist the church planter with whom they will be working.
Sub-Team 3: Jeanna, Courtney, Allison
Distance from Trichy: 5 hours
Method of travel: car
TBL staff: Aroma & Raj
Sub-Team 4: Don, Stephen
Distance from Trichy: 10 hours
Method of travel: train, then car
TBL staff: Annanraj
Notes: Don & Stephen had to leave the hotel at 6 a.m. to catch their 6:30 train connection. (Later: When I last talked to Stephen, he said that they had reached their destination, but literally had to run with all their gear to catch the train as it was pulling out of the station.)
After a couple of hours, each of the team’s ladies had enough skirts and other related clothing to last them for the remaining duration of the trip. We also stopped by a couple of souvenir stores to find some fun trinkets to bring home, but by the time we were finished, we were all a little too bushed to climb the 40 gazillion steps of the “Rock Fort Temple”. Maybe when we get back on Sunday or Monday… we’ll see.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
A new friend of mine recently told me that in ancient Hinduism, human sacrifice was often practiced, and that a human’s skull was sometimes split as part of the process. She also said that in light of the fact that such sacrifices are now illegal, many Hindu priests will use a coconut instead. It’s roughly the same size, shape and weight of a human head, and so it is still often split as part of the priestly duties. She also said that in many instances even today, the Hindu priest will color the milky white “coconut milk” inside with red food dye to make it look more like blood once the coconut has been fractured.
I asked Raj about this historical piece of information, and he agreed that it was so. In addition, he said that covertly, even today, whenever anyone builds a bridge or a dam, there will be a small, hollowed out grave at the base where a Hindu priest has been invited (usually under cover of darkness) to sacrifice 2 to 3 humans to ensure that the bridge stays erect of the dam successfully holds back the water.
We had a traditional Indian lunch today, and it consisted of the following:Rice – Yup, white rice is to Indians what bread is to us Americans. They serve it as a “base” for just about everything.
- Sambar – Yup, the same “pepper water” from breakfast. It’s really good, albeit a little sharp on the tastebuds. But hey, they don’t call it “pepper water” because it’s bland, right?
- Chicken 65 – Yup, they actually do call it “Chicken 65”, even in
! It’s chunk chicken that’s been rubbed with a red mixture of (at least the legend says) 65 different spices to give it a “buffalo” sort of “dry-but-spicy” flavor. India
- Chicken Curry – Yup, it’s tasty too. It’s “soupy” the way that
’s Chunky Soup is, and you just pour it straight over the rice. Makes eating it with your fingers a little tricky. Campbell
- Chai Tea – Yup, even in 90 degree weather, the tea is awesome but straight from the boiler.
After eating, you simply retire to the upstairs porch to wash your plate and hands, and then wait for your scalp to stop sweating and your sinuses to re-close after the awesome Indian spices have still lingered on your lips.