I might have known on the flight fron Bahrain and then on the train ride in India from Chennai to Kakinada that this was to be a remarkable trip. There were divine appointments scattered all along the way. Sevi on the plane and then Prahas on the train and Pastor Rao had his own encounter on the way to meet me that resulted in a changed life.
The first pastors' seminar on the cleansing of shame and the five-fold ministry in Kakinada was held high on the third level of a rental building overlooking the harbor on a beautiful sunny day, and they had hung a banner from the balcony welcoming me which when I beheld it became one of my favorite moments of the trip, though there were 4 more seminars (on the same themes but also including teaching on the 7 churches of the Book of Revelation) to come in various areas of India and Sri Lanka including a session with a Bible College class of Buddhist background believers on the five channels of love. (In all I think it is accurate to say that over 200 pastors and leaders including some wives were reached in the seminars.)
I couldn't help but notice on the crowded train from Chennai how quickly the passengers bonded in our compartment morphing into a makeshift family for 9 or 10 hours of the trip. It was much more of a communal experience than a corresponding trip on an American train would have been.
The sewing machine we provided for the women's sewing circle was an encouagement as were the school supplies where we met a little girl weeping for want of a pencil. I gave Pastor Rao letters written to his Sunday School children (hoping to begin some pen pal relationships) as well as a pastor's backpack for his work in the rural villages. His ministry in villages notorious for bootlegging and oil smuggling has already produced radical changes for the glory of God!
Typical department stores and other establishments employ 10 times the employees that ours do simply out of the need to provide jobs in a country with a population of well over a billion. It wasn't uncommon to see as many as 5 employees congregating in aisles during frequent lulls in business. The following week in Chandighar to the north Pastor Jagan showed me a neighborhood dubbed Rickshaw Row where so many of the bicycle-rickshaw drivers lived. Drug addiction and prostitution were rampant and children roamed unattended and at risk in dangerous conditions. Jagan's heart is to raise up a church there where there are already a couple of believers.
Riding on the back of Jagan's motorbike in teeming traffic is not for the faint-hearted, neither is driving in India at all, though I saw no accident incredibly in 5 weeks, nothing worse than a collision with a dog and a pig. Indias' throngs have become adept over the centuries at avoiding collisions. Though our traffic system is more orderly and highly regulated, it is strangely also more accident-prone. Jagan's apartment is a Grand Central Station of church members and neighborhood children coming and going on various errands or visits, and there is really the sense of family and face-to-face fatherhood in his ministry though they have so little in a material way. There is no heat, so at night we layered our clothing and wore knit hats which seemed to work. Many of them seem also to be fighting nagging coughs and chronic health problems yet they soldier on undaunted, much more concerned for my health and comfort than their own. My hosts always insisted that I sleep in a bed (even if it might be a slab of wood with a thick quilt on top) while in many cases they slept on the floor on mats or rotated for the privilege of occupying the few beds available. There were dogs and cats that attached themselves to families but they had no names or privileges as our pets have in the States.
It was a blessing to be able to provide slate writing boards in the daycare there for the children who were having to do without them since there hadn't been enough to go around. Though I mistakenly drank the wrong glass of water and suffered for it, I couldn't remain in bed Sunday morning for long, hearing the worship songs rising from the sanctuary below was irresistible. I got dressed and made an appearance and Jagan immediately made way and I preached after all!
Back in the south we ventured next to Vellore in the mountains for a couple more pastor seminars on the cleansing of shame and the five-fold ministry. This was the most geographically beautiful part of India for me. One of the pastors in one seminar had lost his church in the flooding and needed funds for reconsruction. It felt good to be able to offer him a significant part of that funding. All along the way of this itinerary I have been able to visit and speak in obscure village churches and home churches, and prayer groups where missionaries like me have never been. Among the hundreds I prayed for some would press my hand to their foreheads. When I asked the meaning of that gesture I learned it represented a request to continue praying for them far into the future.
It occurred to me as I witnessed their delight in receiving my messages that they have been used to, say, chocolate and vanilla spiritual flavors and here I was bringing them strawberry and peach for the first time! Hence I was followed by some from village to town to village to hear the next message, which were never repeated but always unique to each location. Barnabas was so impressed (and to God be the glory!) that he requested I write the 25 or 30 sermons given and send them by email so he can translate them into Tamil and make little booklets to distribute in India and, hopefully, Sri Lanka.
Speaking of Sri Lanka, the 4 days on that beautifully green island were the perfect culmination to an amazing journey. It is to this island once known as Ceylon and to Adam's Peak that Muslims believe that Adam and Eve retreated after being banished from Eden. We passed through a town on our way north where Buddhists, Hindus, Moslems and Christians live in harmony, proving to all the world that it can be done! Pastor Ashok my host showed me a refugee camp built over 20 years ago during their civil war, the camp still houses about 160 families. We entered some of the mudfloor huts there and met a local pastor. Pastor Tony told me that even today the government refuses to acknowledge the atrocities that occurred in the war that the people with their scars and tragic losses will never forget.
On a lighter note in the town of Kandi there is a Buddhist shrine featuring what is believed to be one of Budhha's teeth, which he lost presumably from eating hard Kandy. (Just kidding, but not about the shrine and supposed tooth!) My translator, Rev.Tony spoke the most fluent English of all the translators, (sometimes there were two at a time) and we were talking and fellowshipping almost continually from which we both benfited and learned much, though Pastor Phillip translated for the final leaders' seminar on the cleansing of shame and did admirably as the others had.
Tony told me of a prayer walk conducted in Sri Lanka on one of the highest elevations and Buddhist temple sites. The organizers had forgotten to bring their shophar to blow but a 3 year old girl volunteered to offer her own substitute. She proceeded eerily to reproduce the exact sound of the shophar which had so impressed her before, using merely her own voice and lungs! In Sri Lanka salvation means deliverance from superstitions like those that surround the gecko. For example if this lizard makes his clicking sound while you're planning a journey, that journey must immediately be cancelled, but if he makes his sound after some statement in a conversation, that statement must be especially true! In Mallavi Sri Lanka there was a literal outcry for a Bible, there we provided 2 bags of clothing for orphan and refugee children, as well as frisbees and Bibles in Tamil. Over 100 of those children must share the same toilet during daycare hours.
We also were able to contribute toward the repair of a Pastor Ashok's washing machine. This is a great blessing for his wife Selvi whose back was injured repeatedly being thrown from a motorbike on bumpy dirt roads as she tried to accompany her husband to minister in the rural villages. She was so affected by the flute music I played that she thought she heard it in the middle of the night once and came to check my room and found me sound asleep with the flute packed away. A spontaneous praise session on the final night in Sri Lanka in the home of a Christian taxi driver from Colombo (who earns from $20 to $25 a day) punctuated a powerful sojourn there, which they told me repeatedly they'd never forget. (Nor will I!)
Pastor Barnabas informed me that when the apostle Thomas first came to Kerala, India he encountered sun worshippers in a river splashing water high into the air in homage to their god. Thomas asked them why their god didn't catch the water. He told them he would proceed to throw water to the True God who would catch it. He did just that and the water hovered above defying gravity. From that time many began to believe in the true God and to follow Thomas about as he performed miracle after miracle including one Samsonesque feat of dragging a huge tree from a river where it had obstructed the current, something none could do before him. I think that's a good note to close with for now, it was thrilling to be in a place where the gospel had taken its grand effect with such dynamic impact so long ago, and continues to do so today!
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