We welcome a new babe into the Body of Christ as Satti Babu took baptism on the afternoon of April 5th so he could join us for the Passover.
An overtly friendly and strong Indian, Satti is the Kareem Abdul Jabbar of Rajupalem – and towers over everyone. I said that someone his size may end up baptizing the pastors!
We baptized him in the fish pond in back of the House of God, because the power was cut early in the day and the generator that sucks water into the baptismal pool did not fill it enough for Satti to be able to be immersed.
So three souls braved the mucky mud bottom and small fishes to bury the old man of Satti in a watery grave and raise him up a new man in Christ.
He is a most welcome addition to the body here in India and the first of several people that have expressed a desire for baptism since I have been here in January. The church here continues to grow and baptisms are the surest proof that God is adding to the Body of Christ.
It continues to be an awesome experience to witness God working so powerfully here.
After drying off and getting all the slime and mud off of ourselves, we posed together for a new family portrait welcoming the newest addition to the congregation in Rajupalem.
Holy Days at The House of God
With great excitement and joy the Spring Holy Days arrived and were celebrated by the congregation at the House of God in Rajupalem. The week leading up to the Passover was filled with preparations for the feast and the gathering of brethren in a virtual party atmosphere.
Chitti had contacted many brethren who have had to move to Hyderabad for work due to the severe drought of the last few years that have blighted the rice crops, making job opportunities scarce. Sadly, most of the brethren now working in Hyderabad were not permitted by their new employers to take off the time to travel back to Rajupalem to celebrate the feast, and there were fewer brethren attending than I remembered in 2010.
The evening of April 5th, a bright moon arose over the House of God as members made their way up the stairs to the roof of the church to commemorate the Passover and the death of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The roof is seen as the ‘uppermost room’ and like Jesus and the Apostles, we gathered there to partake of the Passover, which for many Christians is more commonly known as Communion. The Gampalas do this once a year, to commemorate the death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as He requested we remember in scripture. It is also the time that many of us renew our commitment made at our baptism to be more faithful in our walk with Jesus.
While we were fewer in number in church members, we were invaded by billions upon billions of flying insects that swarmed around the lights like little tornadoes of bugs. They were very pleased to get in our ears, eyes and noses,and being very warm and humid, the bugs would easily get stuck on the sweat on our skin making us all very itchy.
At the same time the mosquitoes were able to have a blood feast spread out before them. I had to joke that at this Passover, we were getting a taste of one of the plagues of Egypt, and everyone laughed at the reference and agreed it was not a pleasant plague to endure. I was told that the reason there were so many insects is that the rice harvest has begun, and the insects were ‘homeless’ looking for other places to congregate than among the crops.
John opened services and an hour of worship and prayer followed. John returned to give the message about the footwashing. Then following the example Jesus said we should follow, the brethren happily went to work washing one another’s feet.
Afterward, I was invited up to give the message and the bread and wine service. I had discovered that the death of Jesus was understood by the brethren only in the context of the bloodless Renaissance paintings that depict an effeminate Jesus quietly and benignly nailed to the cross. To help them have a deeper understanding of what Jesus was willing to do for mankind in order to reconcile us to the Father, I described the Roman process of scourging and crucifixion – and reviewed the scriptures in the Old Testament that prophesied the manner of death Jesus would suffer.
Then with much reverence and worship, the bread and wine were prayed over and partaken by the baptized members.
We worshiped and thanked Our Lord for His sacrifice. We then read Jesus’ prayer in the garden for His Church and were uplifted by His thoughts for us. I noted that before Jesus and the Disciples went out to the Garden, that they had sung a hymn, and I surprised everyone by belting out the English Hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” – and after the first stanza, launched into the Telugu version of that same song “ParishuDa, ParishuDa”. I was then joined by the entire assembly and was moved by the flowing tears of many members who sang with full hearts to the Lord.
A Night To Be Remembered
There is nothing that equals a celebration in India, and Christians keeping the Feasts of the Lord are absolutely no exception. A night of delicious foods, curries, meats and fruits were enjoyed by all the brethren who were able to gather at the House of God after the Passover and enjoy a night of laughter, fireworks and joy in our fellowship together.
Eating Indian style takes some getting used to because your utensils are your hands and fingers.
Of course the love of brethren is infectious and I like to spread it around.
Being An Unleavened People
The brethren in India are surrounded by pagans, and the false worship is blasted at them continually and ever-present in the face of the Christians here. As we gathered to celebrate the First Holy Day of Unleavened Bread on Saturday – there was worry that the celebrations the night before had angered the Pharaoh and rumors were that he would demand we stop our worship.
Thankfully Our Lord kept His angels protecting us and we celebrated the holy day in peace and with thanksgiving.
Since the poor brethren here do not use leavening agents, the sermon delivered was about how leavening works in dough and why God used that as an example of how sin can infect everyone from churches to entire countries. I shared many examples from my own experiences and also the current conditions in our nation to illustrate how easy it is for a people to become covered with sin if righteous people allow sin to remain among them.
After the Service, many prayer requests and anointing for sicknesses and injuries came forward. Many brethren are suffering drug-resistant TB and Strep viruses with high fevers.
After anointing, the whole congregation gathered for a meal to celebrate the Holy Day together. After stirring worship, prayers, messages and spiritual banquet Our Father laid before us, the physical banquet of food and fellowship left us all full in spirit and in stomach!
We are wishing our brothers and sisters back home in the USA a most joyous and wonderful Holy Day season. Vandanamulu!
Gospel Festival At Hebron
On April 3 & 4th, I was privileged to be invited as a guest pastor to preach at Hebron Home in Palakollu, India. There, the ministry of Sagar Jalli and the Church of God in India prepared a large 3-day Gospel festival that would conclude on the night of Passover April 5th.
I had been originally invited for the entire event, but had obligations for the Passover with our Gampala brethren back at the House of God in Rajupalem. I had accepted for the two days prior and was a bit unsure of what I was getting myself into beyond having two sermons ready. Sagar Jalli wrote me with some advice on speaking to “big Indian meeting”, but I did not understand what that meant, until I arrived on Tuesday afternoon with my son Prasad and his wife Anusha, this being her first experience with our brothers and sisters at Hebron.
Our brethren again provided every hospitality as experienced in my first visit to Hebron Home back in late February. This time however, the experience was specifically more spiritual as the marathon 2-day visit involved several sessions of preaching and expounding from the Word, as well as uplifting and inspiring Gospel music before the large evening gathering of brethren to worship and learn. The event was an all-day affair that had a morning session of sermons and music after breakfast, in the afternoons with the orphan children and brethren at the Home, and then the large Gospel Rally out in the main field in front of the college building.
On Tuesday evening while getting dressed in my white slacks and shirt for the evening messages, the sounds of a live band and a children’s choir rang in my ears. I peeked out my window from the third floor guesthouse and saw what was the equivalent of a carnival atmosphere. Fluorescent tubes were strapped to poles and placed down both sides of a large midway of chairs a football field long, with guests filling them. Tables and booths were set up along the side walkway with literature, DVDs, CDs and other fun items for the guests to purchase. Multiple spotlights lit up a large dais decorated with tropical plants, while a giant sixty foot banner with my pug-face and those of Sagar Jalli and a gospel singer made a colorful backdrop to the stage. In front of the stage was a large spread of tarps for the children to sit on and a sound booth with large television cameras was positioned in the middle to capture the events on stage. An Indian band with flutes, two types of bongo drums, electronic drums, a scimitar, bass and electric guitarists and keyboard player was off the stage to the right, making a lively noise with the large children’s choir singing on the stage.
The sheer numbers of chairs and the stream of people I could see as shadows funneling into the Hebron compound amidst the lights making their way to the seats suddenly made me very nervous. This was something much larger than I envisioned. I had never spoken to a group of people larger than a hundred souls or so, and most of those were with the Gampala congregation at the House of God. This was huge in comparison, and as I took in the sights of the crowd assembling as the children sang, a bus drove into the compound with guests from another area and I remembered Sagar telling me that he led more than 30 congregations of over 1,000 brethren in four districts around Palakollu. I gulped a bit because I am not an accomplished speaker and what I say has to be translated into Telugu. The sight of the buses coming in dawned on me that I was about to meet the large members of the Body of Christ in this part of Andrha Pradesh that Sagar had only told me about in February.
Indians are a musical people and it is surprising to learn how many are able to sing and dance. At both the House of God, and here at Hebron, musical praise and worship is probably the biggest factor in retaining the faith. The children sing their hearts out to memorized gospel songs that go on for more than ten minutes apiece. Worship makes up the bulk of a service in India, whereareas I am used to a few hymns by piano and a generic prayer. The comparison is stark between church services in the USA and in India; a funeral in comparison to an open air concert festival.
I made my way down the stairs at the guest house where Sagar, Prasad and Anusha were waiting. I was sweating profusely, not just from the humidity, but the nervousness over the scene and peoples I knew I was going to stand before to speak.
We walked out into the hot night and down the field aisle towards the stage. The Dean of the college introduced the thirty pastors of the congregations of the Church of God, and welcomed the brethren to Hebron. He then welcomed all the guests that were invited or came of their own volition. Pastor Sagar Jalli was then introduced, and his stature and celebrity is obviously well admired here in this part of Andrha. Then I heard my name amidst Telugu, and as is common in my time in India, I do not know the rules – but it was my cue to take the dais and greet the seated pastors. My faux pas at standing there like a dumb mule waving was met by the kids with some laughter, and some hand gestures helped me understand I was supposed to go up on the dais.
Prasad and Anusha were then also introduced to the crowd and we all took our seats behind the podium in front of the large banner. I am not a big fan of myself in lights or attention, and when it happens I find myself sweating and stuttering all the more. Being able to sit and take in the largest crowd I have been in front of was daunting, but also afforded me time to think and pray to the Father for help with my nerves. Thankfully there was more gospel singing from acclaimed and famous gospel artists in India and the fast and furious beat of Indian drums and scimitar harp helped expend my nervous edge to hand clapping with the crowd as praise to Jesus was sung at octaves impressive by anyone who appreciates music. American Idol would have a run for it’s talent money with these types of singers.
Sagar Jalli then rose to give his sermon. His booming bass voice echoed down the field and echoed off the walls of the various buildings on campus. His voice commanded respect and attention. He garnered many laughs as he illustrated the confusion in the Christians church in the world today. The one line he repeated in English that truly inspired me and lifted me right up off the ground and put me spiritually into the flow of the evening, was his comment that “Jesus came to build a church, NOT a denomination”.
Sagar was illustrating and correcting a massive misconception about the church and Christianity in the West and in particular the USA among Indian Christians. He noted the growing religion of Secularism that is swaying even many Christians from the faith in the most prosperous nation on earth. He noted that our news magazines proclaiming “God is Dead”. The result he said is a Christianity without salt, and yet God cries out for the church to become as the Prodigal Son and return to Him!
After an hour, and another live gospel song – it was my turn to speak. After some microphone difficulty (welcome to India) I greeted the assembly in Telugu and offered your love for them in the USA and reminded them how excited the Mission Team was to come and visit Hebron.
I then launched into my own sermon and I spoke of the leavening this world is filled with and how the church needs to put it out, because congregations and entire countries can become leavened to the point of ruin. I could not help but note to the crowd that this was the largest single group of Christians I had the privilege of being with since the early 1990’s, and lamented that our congregations in the USA are shrinking and fracturing, while I applauded them that their congregations are growing. I told the brethren that their examples of faithfulness in difficult and sometimes abusive circumstances, is helping to wake up an asleep church back in the USA of the wonderful work God is doing in these fields of harvest in India and other places in the world where Jesus is not known.
The night ended late, after 12:30AM. The energy from the evening made it difficult to fall asleep right away, but when it did come, it went very quickly.
A Testimony to the Children
The next morning began early, and after a sumptuous breakfast, Sagar told us to be ready for the morning session and after lunch we would do the afternoon session after 2PM. I suddenly panicked because I only had two sermons prepared and I had given one the previous evening. Prasad and Anusha requested to present their Passover message to the kids with clips from “The Prince of Egypt”, and Sagar informed them that the afternoon session would be best for that. Sagar explained that the morning session was for members and the pastors of the congregations and that each pastor was speaking to the assembly at the college lecture hall.
I had to admit to Sagar that I was unprepared for more than two messages as I only understood his advice to include two evening messages. Sagar encouraged me to give the testimony I told him back in February about how I came to the Truth and into the church of God and that I should give that at the afternoon session and he would let the pastors know that they could use the time reserved in the morning for their own messages.
That was a blessing that afforded me time to prepare an outline and add scriptures to my message in the afternoon.
God of course was my inspiration to consider that most of the children at Hebron Home are being raised in the Faith by Sagar Jalli and staff. I thought it would be good to explain how someone OUTSIDE the faith could prove all things, and by God’s grace, understand the truth of the bible and follow Jesus. I would tell of the miracles God used to get my attention, and the lesson I taught my own daughters: just because we are raised in the faith, does not mean we will remain in the church unless we prove to ourselves what we believe and are able to defend it from those seeking to pull us away. This is working out our own salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord, and we should trust in God’s Words in scripture alone, not because of what some man or institution of men say God says.
In the lecture hall that afternoon, the children and brethren were all smiles and the joy of being with them all was unlike anything I can adequately describe. With much laughter they said hello to all of you back in the USA and I taught them how to yell “Awesome!”
After my message, Prasad and Anusha stood up and taught them all how to sing and dance to two worship songs, but the power failed at the end of the second song (welcome to India) so the video presentation of clips from the Prince of Egypt were not able to be shown.
But the children were not disappointed by much, for a great meal awaited them and I promised that the Mission Team would be spending two-and-a-half days playing with them in May, on which a shout and claps erupted in the hall.
Christ Our Passover
As evening came and we finished our dinner, I put on a brand new outfit Chitti bought for me – traditional Indian dress for such an assembly as I would speak to this night.
There were even more people attending than Tuesday night, and Sagar told me that even more would come on Thursday for the Passover service. Because I was unable to be there for Thursday night’s service, I wonder how such a service is conducted with so large a group of brethren all at one time. I am hoping brother Sagar has some video and pictures to share of the Passover service with us, because it is a curiosity for me when I consider how many brethren were before us on the two nights I was blessed to be with them.
Sagar spoke again a powerful message of Christ’s unified body and after more worship and gospel songs, I was privileged to share the message I had prepared. First I thanked Hebron and the congregations for their faithfulness to the Lord while living amidst a hostile majority to their faith.
I then preached about the significance of Christ our Passover, not our resurrection. I made the point that we are not saved from the penalty of sin by Our Lord’s resurrection, that is our hope and future. It does not cover sin. Rather it is the DEATH of Jesus that we commemorate at the Passover as the Lamb Slain from the Foundation of the world to reconcile us to the Father. Jesus our High Priest who went into the Holy of Holies to sprinkle His own blood on the mercy seat and thus rip the curtain of separation between us and the presence of God in two.
After the rally and meeting, the heat and humidity of the night was taking it’s toll on me, and by the grace of Sagar’s hospitality and love, I discovered the switch to an air conditioner unit in my room. I was never more thankful, nor have a more restful night since I arrived in India in January, as I did that night. How blessed we are for the things we take for granted back home. I never thanked God for air conditioning before, but I did that night – and there will be many things I will no longer take for granted that I have enjoyed living in the most abundant and prosperous nation in all human history.
The truth is that most of our brothers and sisters in the world live in decrepit and otherwise primitive conditions as compared to us, and despite the persecution, poverty and limitations thrust upon them – the brethren in India are far outshining the kind of lukewarm Christianity I had grown accustomed to practicing.
Our thanks again to Sagar Jalli, Sunitha and Shiny for making us so welcome at Hebron, and I cannot contain my excitement for the Mission Team’s arrival in May where I am told there may be up to a thousand children as Sagar invites the kids in the city of Palakollu to come and hear the Word of God.
Please continue to pray for the ministry that Our father has blessed the Jalli family to be stewards of. The fruits are indeed very great and the crop of young Christians they are planting and nurturing will be a crop to the Lord that is already beyond inspiring.
Gametime at the House of God
One of the benefits of serving the brethren in India, is not just in preaching and praying, but in playing.
Having a 12 year-old mindset is a talent and blessing Our Lord is allowing me to use to my fullest in spending time with the kids who attend the congregations here. Hindu children often prohibit the Christian kids from taking part in any sports or games, so often playtime is limited to what the kids can do for fun here at the church. Having a big kid in their midst such as myself has afforded many opportunities for fun and games, and this is the kind of joy that fills up my emotional gas tank to the top!
Indian children are very, very competitive, and they enjoy sports where scores are kept. Because the courtyard at the House of God is not very large for games like soccer – sidewalk games like hopscotch, and foursquare have been enjoyable. However, the kids were always clamoring to play something a bit more ‘aggressive’ in terms of a team sport. So I taught them how to play Basketball – albeit with some major modifications.
They are too poor for a basketball, so we are using a soccer ball. Baskets are not even remotely possible here, so we are using upside-down plastic stools for ‘baskets’. And there are no ‘shots’ to take – simply the gusto to muscle past the crowd and stuff the ball into the stool.
The kids here have never seen basketball, so introducing them to this game was received with a lot of enthusiasm, and like most things in Indian culture – rules are arbitrary – especially when they are not used to many rules. This game could have been called mob ball, because whomever held the ball was often piled on by everyone, especially by those vicious girls who really let all their pent-up rage made manifest on the hapless carrier of the ball. After a few rounds of mob piling on the ball, the introduction of the jump ball was necessary.
The laughter, screaming and competition confirms that this ‘sport’ is a big hit – and for me; dwarvish as I am, I can actually play this version of basketball and not stink like a donkey’s rear-end!
Hmmmm…. maybe the game should be called ‘Stoolball’?
Building Up The Brethren Worn Down By Trial & Persecution
One major perk of doing Our Father’s Will in rural India, is to be able to provide comfort and encouragement to a congregation of people who nearly daily, are suffering trials of various sorts from health to hunger, and often amidst persecution from family, neighbors and the local leadership.
Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. – 2 Corinthians 1:4
One particular family has been hard-hit with such troubles and asked us to come and worship and pray with them. Being moved in the heart over their hardship, it was no effort for me to preach without notes after Chitti was uplifting them from the Psalms about courage.
During my impromptu message, I could not help but note a worry that I have for those of us in America so blessed with prosperity and liberty having no experience with the kind of hardship and persecution I witness these brethren enduring.
Out of the pages of scripture, we read about courageous hearts of God’s servants, and the Crown of Life that awaits those whom endure to the end. I could not help but think while the world sees these brethren as the least of all men, and indeed even churches may look upon them as being least – I showed them from scripture that God measures us differently; the last shall be first, and the first shall be last (Matthew 19:30).
The concept was completely foreign to them in terms of applying that quote from Jesus to themselves, but the truth is that their faithfulness in the kinds of poverty, persecution, sicknesses and other trials they face, deserves words of comfort and encouragement that I am privileged to share with them.
Supporting Widows and the Desperate at The House of God
A primary function of the Gampala ministry at the House of God, is to serve the widows and destitute in their midst. Due to the cultural curse that Indian society places on widows and orphans, doing James 1:27 is a far more urgent and necessary function of the church in India, than it is in our own country.
The Hindu culture teaches that widows are cursed, and the superstitious have emplaced various rules and requirements for widows to be outcasts and shunned from society. Many widows willingly suffer abuse, thinking their plight is to blame on the sins of their past lives that they must atone for.
The Gospel provides them a truth millions have never heard here; that there is nothing that we can do of ourselves to atone for our sins,but that the God of Creation has given us His Son, who willingly died while we were yet sinners, to make that atonement for us. There is no need to allow oneself to suffer, when God has accomplished that suffering for us, that we might be able to walk in newness of life.
This gives the widows a hope and reason for living that the Hindu system does not provide these women. And the church here serves as the teacher of that truth, and many widows will come to the church to receive the words of life, and also – in the hope to receive food enough to live as well.
Fellowship In Faith Ministries has as a function of it’s service to the widows in India, monetary funding to provide 29 widows and destitute families of the congregation basic foodstuffs for a month. These funds that are provided by the generosity of people back int he U.S., allow the Gampala ministry at the House of God to provide rice, a pouch of cooking oil and a packet of dhal, or lentils to make a basic protein and base for curries and sustenance to keep these brethren alive. Coupled with funding for congregational meals, life for these members revolves around the church itself – and the House of God truly becomes a beacon of life for the brethren here. A place for spiritual, as well as physical nourishment for those in need.
Being in India to serve these precious ladies, is a joy each month when distributing the foodstuffs and share the love of the brethren back home in the USA who make this distribution through Kardias possible.
First-Ever Bible Study at The House of God
To my complete surprise, given the faithfulness of the Indian brethren to the Truth of God’s Word and in our Savior Jesus Christ, I learned that the Gampala Ministry has never conducted a congregational bible study before.
Much of what the brethren learn and understand from the scriptures, is what is preached to them during services. That was worrisome to me. My own experience tells me that such trust can be dangerous, especially when scripture tells us to ‘prove all things’ (I Timothy 5:21). With all the winds of doctrine blowing, and wolves dressed up like Christians preaching Hinduism or that “666” is the mark of the good Christian to accept”, I felt a strong urge to teach the brethren the value of having their noses in the bible and not their ears to the clever words of men. My desire is for the brethren to have deep roots in the Word of God, and not a shallow grasp of their faith based on words spoken alone.
So I requested to devote this past Sabbath on April 21st, to conducting an interactive congregational bible study. The idea was not initially accepted by my hosts, because this idea was as alien to them as American fast food. An interactive study breaks many Indian cultural molds that the brethren are beholden to, and Chitti worried a little bit on how it would be received. But I insisted on it’s importance and wanted the congregation, and the pastors in the Gampala family to see the value of conducting bible studies like this.
After worship on Sabbath, instead of the usual sermon, I led the congregation at the House of God into the new waters of interactive bible study. To everyone’s delight, especially mine, after asking a few quiz questions – some very deep questions came from the brethren.
One question asked why it was that Jesus asked His Father to let the cup of His Sacrifice pass during the prayer in the Garden (Matthew 26:39). Thankfully, God’s spirit was with me and we looked at several scriptures to illustrate that Jesus was fully human, in anguish over what He was about to suffer. We read that Jesus was tempted in all points as we are, but that He always submitted to His Father’s Will. I then pointed out that if Jesus Himself could ask such a question of His Father, even possibly knowing the answer, how much more should we also be able to go to Our Father with any request and worry we may have?
Another question that led to an admonition was over an incorrect translation from the English into Telugu bibles. The Telugu bibles refer to the City of God in Revelation, and the precious stones it is said to be constructed of, translated into ‘colors’, which has prompted some pastors of other denominations to cause a huge controversy and division among all the Christian churches here. The Caste system is so imprinted on the Indian DNA, that any potential biblical passage that can enable a pastor, swami or priest to establish a caste within the church, is easily exploited. Even colors are used to make some Christians ‘better’ than others, and ‘other’ Christians of a ‘lesser color”.
The great news was that God was with us during the Study and everyone was receptive to the concept and confirmed to the Gampalas that they would like to have such an interactive study every other month. I was very happy to introduce something that many of us may take for granted in our congregations back home, yet here – they have never held one, until now. And now, bible study will be a practice at the House of God to strengthen the congregation.
For that, I felt my first real sense of accomplishment here in India, and know that this will be another tool that God will use to sharpen these laborers in His Harvest.
Indian Wedding Celebration
A wedding is always a joyous occasion, no matter what culture you are from. However, I may have had my biases altered, as the Indians surely seem to know how to throw one humdinger of a party, especially when it involves a wedding.
Imagine my surprise when informed just a week ago that I was being asked to preside over the wedding of our brand new baptized member, Joshua. I was not even aware that Joshua (formerly Satti Babu) had chosen a wife. Joshua had been a Sabbath School student of the Gampala congregation for many years. His mother had chosen a bride for him while he was working recently in Hyderabad. It was then that Joshua decided to put his life on the correct path and turn it over to God first in baptism, before he agreed to be married.
A more prescient example of a literally new life for an individual I have never seen before as I have in the last few weeks with Joshua. He truly is a new man in every way one can think of.
Weddings in India are largely arranged by the family. In rural India, caste is also a major deciding factor in choosing a spouse, along with agreements for dowry. As previously blogged, marriages here seem to be mostly financial arrangements between families, to the benefit of the husband’s family. Thankfully in this case, as the bride is also a Christian, the financial aspect of the marriage was not an influence.
Indian weddings, like everything else in India – is…..well, chaotic, loud, obnoxious and of it’s own sets of rules, traditions and regulations. Even though I was the pastor chosen to preside at the wedding, I would not be ‘marrying’ the couple. That job is reserved for a government sanctioned entity. It is required that a Registrar from the government actually perform the ceremony itself, and in this case, the only Christian Registrar in the area had to come from near Vishakapatnum (4 hours drive) to perform the actual nuptials.
I was befuddled by this when preparing for my role in the ceremony, which I had a difficult time understanding as I was preparing. But after experiencing all the traditions and cultural aspects of an Indian wedding today, it was good that I was limited to what I knew; preaching the message and laying hands on the Bride and Groom to ask God’s blessing on them.
As with all gatherings in India, music is a necessity. So there are many ‘bands’ of musicians that play classical Indian beat music, and surprisingly, enough Christian bands to play the newer and most ‘disco-pop’ versions of worship music.
After Pastor Anonda opened the service with prayer, Sister Esther sang a hymn, and then I was called up to the dias, which was a decorated tent of tarps, flowers and colorful birds. The heat was oppressive, well over 105 degrees. When the power failed and the fans stopped, it was as if someone poured a pitcher of sweat down my head.
I had the blessing of being able to give an upbeat message on marriage, especially considering hat my own wedding anniversary of 26 years is in one week. Experience has a benefit of being shared and it was my own personal examples that brought much laughter and emphasis to the scriptures I was referring to about how God views marriage.
One thing I cannot get used to, is the chaos and disruption that occur in every activity I have been part of or witnessed here in India. Even at a wedding, there is no respect or regard to order, graciousness or consideration. During my sermon, I had to cease from speaking while people loudly came on stage to take pictures or perform some greeting. I was tempted on more than one occasion to shout in a deep New York City accent, “Hey Yo, I’m preachin’ here!” I kept telling myself in my head, “Welcome to India”.
After I spoke, the Registrar then led the ceremony, which is very different from anything I had seen before in a wedding. There were the standard questions of vows, but done in a different manner than the usual “I Do’s”. The families were required to come up and also agree to the marriage publicly and confirm the vows. There were toe rings given by some members that were placed on the feet by the uncles and aunts. There were more prayers and after, a contract signing that had to be done in different stages with all members of the family singing, followed by the bride and groom.
After the certificate was presented, the Groom tied two gold talismans on a string around the bride’s neck. This is apparently the equivalent of kissing the bride as public affection is absolutely forbidden in South Indian culture, even at a wedding.
While the bride and groom were being garnished with decorations and flower lais, one man came up and angrily rebuked Chitti and John for having a ceremony going too long. “It is past time to eat, and we are hungry” the man was shouting at Chitti in Telugu. It seems most of the neighbors, Caste leaders and others came right when the feast was supposed to be served, and were offended at the Christian aspects of the ceremony. Chitti just smiled and tried to diffuse him, but clearly the man was drunk, as are many Hindus of upper caste here in Rajupalem.
Finally, the Bride and groom were to kneel as the Registrar and I prayed over the couple. All the pastors then gathered over them and rice and flower petals were sprinkled upon the bride and groom, picturing the spirit of blessings being poured out on them.
Then all the assembled guests lined up to go on stage to give their recognition of the marriage and sprinkle the rice and flowers upon the couple and congratulate them. It seemed and explosion of chaos, but like all things in India, it is what it is and somehow pure insanity works best here.
In Indian custom, the bride will go to live at the Groom’s father’s house, where the Mother-In -Law become her matron, and the new bride will serve the matron and the family by doing the chores and cooking for the family. Not exactly what we Americans would picture as ‘happily ever-after’, but it might interest you to note that divorce is almost unheard of here, and family – even among the pagans, is the highest prized aspect of life.
Afterward, there was much music while the marriage feast was served to the assembled guests of the village. Fireworks sounded off in the bright heat of midday and ceremonies would carry on into the evening as the families and close friends spend time to celebrate with the bride and groom.
We pray for a happy and blessed marriage for Joshua and his new wife Supria.
Y.E.A. Bible Lessons Translated Into Telugu
Educational materials from the bible was one of the most desperately needed items for the Kids Ministry of Prasad and Anusha Gampala. Teaching materials in India are very hard to come by in India for anything Christian. Much of what exists are second-hand coloring books and cheap dollar store bible stories for pre-school aged children. There were no teaching materials to assist middle school to teenage kids in learning the bible.
Thanks to Ron and Allie Dart and Christian Educational Ministries, the Y.E.A. Youth Educational Adventures Sabbath school series has been donated to the Gampala ministry for translation into the Telugu language.
For the last several weeks, Prasad Deering Gampala has been working with me to learn new software that we provided on the new HP Laptop purchased for him by Pam and George Dewey. When the Y.E.A. lessons were donated, we switched into high gear to reset the graphics of the lessons by removing the English and translate each lesson into Telugu.
After a few weeks of diligent work, the first book has been translated and completed. The lessons are an absolute joy to the Gampala family who never dreamed they would have such fine tools to assist them in preaching the Gospel here to Hindus who largely have never heard of Jesus Christ.
Prasad also went a step further, having learned the PowerPoint software, he went to work to prepare each teaching portion of the lessons into a Powerpoint presentation that can be shown to everyone before the class begins the activity pages.
Prasad’s wife Anusha is now busy translating the lessons into the Hindi language for a trip they will both take to Bihar, where the church is severely persecuted and services have to be held in secret.
Many thanks to Ron and Allie Dart, Paula Hughes and the staff at C.E.M. for helping the instruction of this Joshua Generation of Christians in India, a lot easier for the church here in Rajupalem, and thanks to Pam and George Dewey for helping to provide the tools to enable such a task to be completed.
The fruits of our service to the church here are awesome!
The Bold and Brave Brethren of Rajaro Peta
It was a brutally hot Sabbath morning on the front porch of the dilapidated brick hovel where services were conducted. The home belongs to a woman who has been beaten for seeking Baptism, but continued to open her home for the church here in this small village some 20 KM from the city of Kakinada. Most of the attendees were children.
I had been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to be able to be with these brethren for many weeks, and now that I was there with them, I reminded myself what it took for me to be able to be with them.
Prasad Gampala has worked hard over the last year to evangelize in Rajaro Peta. He has a growing children’s ministry here, and there are a few parents of the children who have been moved by what their children had been telling them about the Words of Life preached by Prasad and his wife Anusha.
Most other children however, who were delighting in the ministry meetings with Prasad, were often beaten by their parents for attending. At times the parents would come when the children were worshiping, and dragged away by angry relatives who beat them at home. One girl had asked Anusha to keep the bible that they were providing the children, because she feared being killed if her relatives found her in possession of it.
Despite such hardships, the children are eager and glad what they were learning. Often if Prasad is running late, the children will call and plead for him to hurry to get to Rajaro Peta to conduct School and worship. A few adults had been moved enough by what the children were testifying of, they asked Prasad and his wife to come and conduct Sabbath worship for all of them. It was with much joy that weekly worship services were then being held for the brethren who were learning of the truths of scripture.
Prasad had been trying since my arrival in January to arrange me to come and conduct Sabbath services for them here in this village. But persecution and difficulties had forestalled any opportunity for me to go and preach there. I had visited in February for a night-time Children’s Camp that Prasad and Anusha conducted for all the kids in the village, most of whom attend Sabbath School regularly. It was one of the largest and most joyful gatherings the village had experienced.
But jealousy and anger followed the camp. The local Hindus, already angry with Prasad, were livid at our presence in their village, and turned their wrath upon the children and the women who were inviting Prasad and Anusha to teach and preach there. A Hindu temple sits right next to the place that the children are taught and the Hindus saw the Christian teachings as an offensive intrusion to their faith.
To make matters worse, the local Christian pastor who has a large politically subsidized congregation near the village was also angry at the growing delight of the villagers with the truth of scripture being taught. My appearance at the Children’s camp only worried him further that there was a legitimacy to this ministry Prasad and Anusha were presenting. The pastor was lamenting the dwindling numbers in his church and promised the village and the women who opened their homes to the Gampalas,that he would give gifts and satisfy them with ‘presents’ if they would return to his church and forsake the teachings being brought by Prasad and Anusha. Some children and two adults confessed to Prasad that this pastor has done this in the past, but that his church has ‘no life’, and they learn nothing like what Prasad and Anusha were teaching. It was said that the pastor makes sure to focus everyone’s attention on himself, and demands obedience to his teachings that come more from his own mind, and not from the bible.
The Christian pastor then met with the Hindu leaders, and Prasad and Anusha were summoned before them. They were told they were forbidden to conduct any more children’s ministry or any Sabbath worship in the village. Even worse, he learned that the children were being beaten by now-angry parents stirred to wrath by the Hindus, to serve as a warning to the others to stay away from the teachings brought by the Gampalas.
Prasad was devastated and he and I counseled for some time about the situation there.
As a pastor, he has an obligation to God first and to the brethren God gave into his stewardship. But Prasad did not want to bring further trouble and harm upon those he loved in the village. I could not fathom being in Prasad’s shoes, for harm being wrought on children due to the ministry would indeed be a burden I am not sure I could live with either. I told him he should go quietly and visit the adults and ask them privately if they were willing to continue to have him come to pastor them, and if so – then it was better for all of them to obey God, rather than men.
He grieved quietly for a few days, trying to figure out how to handle the situation, but God’s answer would soon come.
It was the children in Rajaro Peta that illustrated boldness that I have never seen before. They called and begged Prasad and Anusha to continue to come to Rajaro Peta and continue to give them the words of truth. The children said they were willing to endure the risks and were begging their parents and leaders to relent of their ruling and allow Prasad to return. Out of the mouth of babes had come boldness and courage of the likes I had not ever seen, even from adults.
The prayers of these children were heard by Our Father and the parents pressured the pastor and the leaders to allow Prasad and Anusha to continue their kids ministry, for good fruits were already evident by all in the village in the behavior of their children.
So twice a week, Prasad and Anusha would go and continue to work with the children. Several of the women quietly were asking Prasad to come back to conduct Sabbath worship, and they were also asking for him to bring me to visit them there. However, the Gampalas considered it too dangerous to risk bringing the fat white man with the silly face to meet with the congregation at Rajaro Peta.
We would have to wait and hope time wore down the jealousy and agitation of the Hindus and the pastor. One woman in particular, Lakshmi, has suffered horribly. She sought baptism last Feast of Tabernacles at the House of God. Her son, angrily came and forcefully took her back home, where he beat her mercilessly and cursed her for daring to offend the Hindus.
Still and all, even after that, she has opened up her home to Prasad and Anusha to conduct worship, trying to remain resolute in her faith. On top of the physical beatings, Lakshmi is suffering from demonic persecution as well. She testifies that the Hindu spirits are angry with us, and causing much agitation among the people. She has a serious fear of these demons which she says come to torment her each night.
Still the Spirit of God is working with her, giving her strength to do what she knows in her mind and heart is the Truth. She was pleading for Prasad to bring me for Sabbath worship before I left, but the Gampalas thought the situation was too dangerous for me and wanted to wait until it was safer.
By the Grace of God, the tensions died down, and after several attempts to solve logistical problems with where we could safely meet, I was finally able to stand before the handful of children and four women who were brave enough to be seen by their neighbors worshiping with this American this past Sabbath.
Knowing their trials and the courage of this handful of people, I encouraged them with thanks that they loved God’s Law. We read Psalms 119:97-104 and I got down to eye level with the kids to tell them that God’s Law is wisdom and leads to peace. But to this world and everyone around them, keeping God’s Law is considered foolish (1 Corinthians 2:14). Yet we read from Jesus in John 14:15 that if we love Jesus, we will keep His Commandments. Knowing who Jesus was in John 1:1-3 & 14, we understand it was Jesus Himself who gave the Commandments. I congratulated them all on emulating the Apostles, and we then read the account in Acts 5 of the religious leaders forbidding the Apostles to preach in Jesus’ Name. The children delighted in hearing the words “It is better to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) and they repeated that together a few times.
It is indeed better to obey God, rather than men. I have little doubt that those words will become a standard here for this handful of faithful children and adults. My lament is that I am seeing faith and determination here among persecuted CHILDREN in India, but I see very little of that same kind of fortitude when it comes to the Christian adults in the church in the USA. It seems based on news I am reading back home, that the churches are more willing to cooperate with sin and the rules of men to be seen as tolerant and accommodating, rather than being steadfast in God’s Law and stand for righteousness.
I shudder to think how Christians back home will handle the kind of persecution that even children here must suffer for the Faith, when it seems half the churches back home are going along with the secular culture and the rest are busy fighting one another over miniscule aspects of doctrine.
Maybe we have had it so good for so long, we have forgotten what our first love should be. And here I am, learning it firsthand from a handful of children and women on a hot cement and brick porch, amidst angry stares from passing Hindus.