February 2012 Mission Journal

My Palace In India

I thought you all would get a kick out of seeing my ‘palace’ here at the House of God, and the bicycles I bought for our transportation during my time here.

The Gampalas are truly treating me like royalty and it is sometimes disconcerting because I am here to serve them and I am afraid of becoming a burden to them.  But they did not like how my air mattress went flat my first night (the cap was not put on tightly) so they built me a bed and put a mosquito canopy over it.  It was still a bit hard as beds go, and my lower back was killing me from sitting in an economy airplane seat for hours and hours on end, so I have popped my air mattress on top of the bed and I am able to sleep more comfortably now.  That will change soon as the really hot weather sets in in a couple of weeks.

Here are pictures of my room and bathroom that they have made into a Western style one, complete with flushing toilet and running water!  I now tease them and say that this is the House of God Hotel, 5 star (for India).

MyRoom1MyRoom2

They eat 3 squares a day, plus snacks that I am assuming are due to my presence here and the funds Brian sent.  Ericka told me last night to let Ruth know that a smaller portion for me is sufficient for the time being.  Chitti is continuously teasing me about the ‘many cobras’ in the food, and this morning – he was not kidding.  He snuck a chutney made with a ton of red chilies onto one of my pancake like chowpatties, and my mouth was ablaze for about 10 minutes.  “Very sneaky the cobras are” he says.  I told Chitti that if he sneaks any green cobras into my food, I am going to sic my wife on him when she gets here.  They are however, very stunned at the amount of chilies I have been able to handle thus far, and even more appreciative that I am enjoying everything served to me.

NewBikesHere is a picture of the new bicycles I bought for Chitti and me to get around the villages here.

Thanks for your continuous prayers, sometimes I think I can feel them, especially in moments of quiet, which are very rare.

 

 

 

You are not in America Anymore

As I think about this situation, all I can see and hear is Brian saying “Welcome to India”.

The bicycle I bought for $149 – is a lemon.  Chitti’s bike is okay, but it needs some serious tightening of all the nuts, bolts and screws.  But my bicycle is now a burden to everyone who is trying to find a way to fix it.

In India, it is customary for a shop owner to rig something up to make it look good and then after you buy it, it breaks and you are stuck with it.  Such is the case with this bicycle I bought in Kakinada a few days ago.  I was not happy that they would not let me ‘test drive’ the bike before I bought it, but Chitti told me that it is not possible to do so in India.  He says “You may buy or not buy – but you cannot try it out or ask about it’s validity”.  The Vaishya caste here in India have major chips on their shoulders and it is not only impolite to ask them about whether their wares are legitimate, for the Gampalas, it is also illegal to ask them if what they are selling is good.  If I go to complain about this situation to the shop owner who sold me the bike, the shop owner will call the cops and I will go to jail!!

So we are stuck with having to repair this ourselves, and therein lies the dilemma.

The main problem with the bicycle is that it was improperly assembled and put together in the most half-baked manner you can imagine.  It was rigged just enough to deceive they eyes.  The secure bolt holding the pedals on the bike are the wrong ones and half the size they need to be, so the pedals fell off today during my ride and I am lucky I did not break my neck.  Some places screws are required have wood slugs there instead.   Also the cable to the front and rear derailleur is not tightened sufficiently and I cannot change gears.  In India, whatever it is you buy, they do not tighten or adjust ANYTHING, you have to do all of that yourself AFTER you buy it, so every nut, bolt and screw is loose on this thing and we tried to tighten them all before we went on our inaugural ride – but they have all come loose since.

Which leads me to the point of this note today.  The main reason we cannot fix this bicycle, or anything else around here is that they have not a single decent tool to their name.  I watched yesterday after the water pump failed, John attempting to unbolt the pump head with HALF of a wrench and a rusted pair of pliers.  So – I am pricked in my heart to buy them a socket wrench set and a few screwdrivers so that not only can we repair the bikes, but they can also repair other things that they need decent tools for.

We will have to go to Kakinada to buy the tools as no one sells tools in any of the villages.  Please pray that the tools we do buy are decent enough for the Gampalas to get enough life out of them.  I will need to take some cash out of my reserve account to probably get them, but it makes no sense to me that they have not a single decent tool to fix anything that breaks around here.  ESPECIALLY when their water pump fails and they have no water.

UPDATE: Stubbornness is not always a bad thing

DCIM100MEDIA

Christians have no rights in India but I am a stubborn American.  Having been ripped off by a shop owner I demanded that we attempt to take the bicycle back for repair or replacement. I thought in the information age, I might persuade the high caste shop owner that it would not be in his best interest to upset a White American Blog author.

The threat worked.  Having Prasad translate into Telegu the story I would write about this shop’s poor customer service complete with pictures – the owner graciously agreed to fix my bicycle .  Getting the lemon back to Kakinada was no small feat, as a man named Kumar had to hold my bicylcle upside down on his lap on the back of a motor scooter for a 45 minute, harrowing ride to Kakinada.

 

We spent the day there, and the shop had to replace my back tire, as the ball bearings were broken in the axle, an entire gear replacement and rewired all the cables to the gear systems.  The good news is that it is FIXED!  and we bought enough tools to fix any bicycle, motorcycle or water pump that needs fixing at the House of God!

Update February 3rd

Vandanamulu Brothers and Sisters,

The Gampalas wanted me to be sure to greet you all with thanksgiving for your prayers and love for them that I try very hard to convey.  Chitti has been reading your e-mails and Facebook entries and is often moved to tears of gladness to read of your love and concern for them.

Today as I write, marks exactly one week that I have arrived here.  It may seem a little odd to some, but I feel at home here, thanks mightily to Our Great God who has prepared my heart and mind for the first stage of this mission.  As time goes by, and the destitution, chaos, disease and hostility that plagues this land may dispirit me, I ask you join me in the prayer that Our Father through Christ would keep me uplifted in His Love and purpose for me here, so that I will not despair or become despondent.

Technology has been an incredible blessing, as being able to see and talk with my family and friends has been most uplifting.  I think I would begin to feel homesick at this stage without the ability to see and hear those I love back home in the good old USA.  And by Good old USA – it has a bit more meaning to me having lived a week here in India.

Distribution1This entry for the week is covering the last two and a half days, as I was witness to how the general monthly Widow support for foodstuffs is distributed among the congregation’s non-resident widows and the Gospel Meeting that we preached on Wednesday night India time in the open air courtyard of a potential believer who is is welcoming the message of the Gospel.

 

My health has been generally good for the most part.  The last two days I Have felt some cramping and other abdominal issues that I fully expected to materialize at some point as my body adjusts to the radical change in climate, diet and environment.  Pastor John also doubles as Doctor for the congregation and he brought me a gentle laxative to try and get my abdominal issues to calm down a little bit.  So far, it has done the trick and I am feeling somewhat steady at the moment.  But I fear that sudden twinge down below that will prompt a rapid sprint to the toilet here or some bush if I am out and about.  I need to remind myself to carry TP with me when out along with the hand wash that everyone is now using here before eating.

Michael-&-RuthThe Gampalas have such concern for me and my health, that I am worry about being a burden to them.  I do have to say that John’s wife Sister Ruth reminds me very much of my wife Ericka in terms of sternness in demanding I take care of myself.  She is on my case to eat properly, drink water from my Berkey that she watches like a hawk to ensure it is always full and filtering water.  Since Chitti spoke to my wife on Skype a few days ago and learned about the probiotics I am supposed to take every day, I am now understanding her Telugu in asking if I took my pills.  As Stephanie and Brian Smith can attest from their time visiting here, Ruth is as perfect a living illustration of the Proverbs 31 Wife that you could ever witness.  She is up around 4:30-5 AM getting fires going and pots gathered to cook the meals for everyone in the household.  She oversees everything that goes on here, and directs many church members and widows to the tasks that are assigned to them.  Everyone serves and works with joy.  There is always a busy atmosphere here and Ruth is the main gear that keeps the Gampala family running like a watch.

GeneratorWednesday morning Chitti and I filmed a thank you video to the church of God’s Messengers in Lexington, Tennessee and Wes & Carmen Kincade for funds to purchase the new diesel power generator.  They used it for the first time this past Sabbath when the power went out right in the middle of Services.  They are very, very thankful for such a gift.  Chitti also had me take a video of his thanks to Vicki Bryant for her generous gifts of a NKJV of the bible and a solar flashlight.

I forgot just how dusty and acrid the air is here.  Each day the women come to clean my room, and there is a film of dirt and dust that coats everything that when swept into a pile, is the equivalent of an ashtray’s worth of dust, just from one full day here in India.  The reason for this is that from morning until night, the air is thick with the smoke from burning fires of animal poop and straw that is used as a primitive kind of sterno most of these people cook with.  The mosquitoes were really bad this week and the coolness and irrigated fields breed millions of them.  I think some of the smoke is desired by the locals to try and keep these pesky critters at bay.  I have been inflicted with a few nasty bites, but I am counting on the Lord to provide protection for me.

This morning (Friday), I awoke, nearly unable to open my left eye.  It was swollen shut as Ruth came at 6:55 Am with coffee for me.  I also had a massive swollen lip and my left ear was swollen like an elephant ear.  Thanks to Google, it seems I have an angioedema, an allergic reaction to something here which we have narrowed down to a sweet I was given last night, or from many virulent mosquito bites I have suffered, as it seems the black mosquitoes here are impervious to Deep Woods Off with 40% DEET.

One widow that I prayed for and anointed, was bitten by an infected mosquito and contracted some kind of inflammatory parasite that caused her right ankle to balloon in horrible pain she said was traveling up her leg to her knee.  We ended up sending her to the hospital, and Pastor and Doctor John will need to administer 4 injections of antibiotics for her and dispense several kinds of pills for her to take.  John wears many hats here; and is the family carpenter, mason, bricklayer, plumber, worship leader, teacher, taxi driver and Doctor.  John administers all medical care here for the congregation, and I am eager for my wife to be able to give him some pointers to care when she comes in May.

Concerning the widows, every afternoon the 6 adopted widows come to pray at the House of God and before they go down to eat, they come to my door to greet me with smiles.  I greet each one with a kiss to the forehead and try as best as I can to convey your love for them.  They can feel I think because I am able to see it in their eyes.  There are about 29 other widows, some of them very young who come intermittently to the House of God for prayers that Kardias supports with basic foodstuffs that essentially keep them alive.

Distribution2I was privileged to be able to take part in the monthly food distribution to the Widows who are not adopted by the Gampala family but are members of the congregation.  Each month, Kardias sends funds to purchase rice, dhal and a packet of oil for these widows.  It is a menial amount of food, but these women are only permitted one meal a day and it keeps them alive as a basic protein, when the Hindus around would prefer they lie in the street and die.

Distribution3Distribution4Baby-distributes

DistributionPrayerTheir distribution began with prayer at the House of God and songs of praise.  Then the widows filed downstairs, each of them had an old rice bag.  New large bags of rice were poured out on the floor, and a metal bucket was used to measure the rice as a portion.  I overfilled each bucketful and poured the rice into each bag the widows held.  Then I distributed a packet of dhal (a kind of lentil) wrapped in newspaper and a plastic pouch containing sunflower oil.  The widows were beaming with gladness that a representative of the ministry responsible for feeding them was filling their empty bags with the sustenance to keep them alive.  After the distribution, we gathered together in prayer and then individual greetings of love were offered to each one.

Distributionprayer2

They were then treated to a delicious lunch prepared by the women in the Congregation and Sister Ruth of Chicken curry, rice and dhal.  As I watched them eat I suddenly felt a strong sense of responsibility for them as I considered how wonderful the support is coming from the brethren in the USA through Kardias.

Our joyous occasion of distributing the foodstuffs was being watched however.  Moammar Gadaffi, the village Caste leader who lives directly in front of the House of God was watching us intently with his throng from his home.  Later in the afternoon it was learned that there may be some trouble from him as he was furious I was feeding and caring for these widows.  Chitti explained that he may say “Who gives you the right to feed and care for these cursed creatures?” or some such thing.  Due to Hindu hostility and caste, it is possible they view the care for the widows as the reason this area is experiencing a drought now for about a year.  Regardless of their views, Chitti and John are very nervous for me should some trouble start.  But as for me, I told them – “Let him come, and I will give him the Words from Our Father – I do not fear him or what he can do.  For the only power he has is what the Lord may allow him to have.  And we know that the Lord works out all things for good.”.  Of one thing I am certain, should those people attempt harm on these widows, they are going to be stopped by a very angry short, fat American that outweighs them by half with years of martial arts training.  God willing, it will not come to that, but these rumors of trouble are causing my Gampala family much consternation.

PreachingGospelOn a joyous note, Thursday evening a Youth Meeting was conducted by Prasad and Anusha.  I was the guest speaker and I gave a message to the children and young adults about Satan as a roaring lion and that we should put on the armor of God and use the Sword of Truth against the attacks we receive from the Adversary.  For the occasion I had my NERF foam swords and all the children and young adults delighted in my message that I mostly gave while sitting on the floor with them instead of lecturing from the podium.  To my embarrassment, when I stood to show them that with bible study will come perfect training to be an expert “swordsman” in the Word – while performing a kata as an illustration I hit a low-hanging fluorescent CFC bulb that shattered over my head and rained down on the floor.  I was red with embarrassment, and I told everyone if my wife was there she would scold me about “Playing with those toys in the house”.  Everyone laughed out loud as Chitti translated and said they were telling Ericka I was playing with the swords in the House of God.  I think they are delighting that I deserve some punishment for my youthful behavior.

preachingslums
As I prepare the Sabbath sermon which will be at the Church in Lanka, we have the joy of meeting with Sagar Jalli, who is coming from Hebron Home,  which is a government-sanctioned orphanage that Sagar and his wife are caretakers of.  We are all excited for the pastors of the Church in Andhra Pradesh India to finally meet, and we will discuss the needs of the children and specifically what the Mission Team can perform at Camp Kardias when they arrive in May.

The weather here now is beautiful in terms of temperature.  Cloudless skies and perfect 72 degree mornings that have the locals bundled up like it is snowing.  But by afternoon, I am sweating pretty good.  The weather will change soon and my room here will become like an oven as all the heat of the day is absorbed in the cement.  Thankfully, the battery camp fan works great and I am not too worried about the heat as much as I have been about those pesky mosquitoes.

ChittiThanksVickiWe are holding the Body of Christ up in prayer here, and please do the same for the brethren here in India and elsewhere that they do not have the liberty to worship as we do in America.
 

New Brethren Together

Vandanamulu everyone.With the onset of this past Sabbath in India, I am now into my second week here as a resident and guest of your brothers and sisters in Christ in India.In the past week, I have been witness to the daily service the Gampala family provides to the brethren and the Gospel here in a place where the majority of people around them, are hostile to them and their message.ChittiMichael2-4Myriad youth groups and meetings at the House of God and on rooftops in Kakinada are offset by Gospel preaching in courtyards in the slums here.  I have never been in a situation where I was needed to prepare a message to deliver nearly every day, but the hunger of the lost here for the message of reconciliation and forgiveness is great and the eagerness of the saints to learn more, urges me on.  I am beginning to feel God’s inspiration on my messages and the Words He is directing me to give are already having an impact among those who are hearing me speak by the translation of Chitti and Prasad Gampala.  The eyes of the children and the adults as they grasp the biblical concepts I am illustrating is intoxicating.  I do not believe they have heard the word expounded on in the manner or style  I am led to teach them.  Often the Pastors here will read a verse or two and expound on what it says, nearly always ending with an exhortation to continue in the Commandments. So far, much of what I have been led to give as a message is in terms of practical application in life for their faith from various parts of the scriptures, not simply one set of verses.  I can tell that they are extremely appreciative.

sabbath2-4The Sabbath services are always a highlight of the week for the brethren here which may seem odd considering there are ALWAYS some kind of service going on each day in the churches here.  Services were combined between the two local villages at Lanka for my sermon, and while the brethren were eager to hear and greet me, they received an unexpected surprise this Sabbath.

Since 2010 after my first Mission Trip to India, I had been on speaking tours in various congregations sharing my experience.  I had created a multi-media seminar for the purpose of illustrating our need to become involved more directly with preaching the Gospel, and my own experience in India.  At the time, Kardias and I assumed the Gampala family were the only Sabbatarian congregations in this part of India.

We were wrong.

COG-India-pastorsDuring the 2010 Feast in Florida, I met Keith Kleeshulte who had also been on a mission trip to India.  Their congregations support a devout Sabbatarian Christian ministry and orphanage led by Sagar Jalli and his wife.  Ever since I had learned of this ministry and hearing the testimony of the growth of Sagar’s congregations – it was pressed on my heart to try and get both the Gampala Family Ministry and Sagar Jalli of Hebron Home to meet.

Sagar’s father began the Hebron Home orphanage and ministry when he was young.  Today, Sagar heads a government-sanctioned school that teaches subjects in English, and cares for 210 orphans full time, providing their meals, clothes and care while teaching them from the Bible about God’s way of life.

Last year, Corporations tied to the UN who were subsidizing Sagar’s school, demanded that Sagar stop teaching Christianity and allow the children to worship their own Hindu gods, following the UN Charter on the Rights of the Child.   Sagar refused, and as a result, lost his multiple thousand dollar a month subsidy from those corporations.  The income loss has cut the numbers of orphans he can care for in half from what it was to 210.

Knowing this testimony of Sagar, Brian and I were very eager for the pastors here in Rajupalem and Lanka to meet a fellow pastor in the Faith during my time here in India before the Mission Team arrives in May.

What a joy it was for these men of the faith who have been given the stewardship of preaching the Gospel here in Andhra Pradesh, unknown to one another until recently – to finally meet.

Ephesians 4:12-13 says  “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

I am pleased to say that I was a witness to this scripture coming alive before my eyes this past Sabbath Day as we worshipped together at the church in Lanka.

SagarMeetingSagar had an almost three hour car trip due to traffic to reach us, but he arrived in perfect timing and I was filled with gladness as Pastor John, Chitti, Prasad and Ananda greeted the pastors from Hebron Home with warmness and joy.  Sagar was of course especially glad to meet me, and I conveyed your greetings to him from the Body of Christ in the USA.

SagarMichaelDuring the service, it was my privilege to introduce Sagar to the congregations before my sermon.  It was wonderful to hear Sagar greet them in Telugu and give thanks that these brethren were obedient to the Commandments and observing God’s Sabbath.  Both Sagar and I were then surprised together for the sermon, because my message was about giving this congregation an anchor to our doctrinal faith due to efforts by a new church here locally that is preaching against the Gampala family and the observance of God’s Holy Days. Sagar surprised me by asking if he can interpret my message from English into Telugu for the Congregation and what a terrific team we made!

sabbathmealAfter the service, we were all served a delicious lunch at Chitti’s home and then went to the House of God to meet about the Mission Team and Camp Kardias in May.  We all sat together in the worship hall and had a wonderful conversation together.  I was very happy to feel the camaraderie between the Gampalas and Sagar, as often here in India, jealousies can erupt very easily.

We were pleased to be invited later this month to come to Hebron Home and visit.  Sagar also invited us to Passover, which the Gampalas had to decline due to the services provided here on that night.  But Sagar invited us for the Night to be much Observed, and we will travel again to share in that evening with his congregation in Palakol Town.

Hebron Home is about a 2 hour drive South and a little East from the House of God here in East Godavari District.  Sagar informed us that he pastors over a 1,000 brethren in 30 congregations in 4 districts.  WOW!  The work of God in Andhra Pradesh is absolutely astounding to behold!

We were pleased to learn that Prasad, Rienne and Kardias have the liberty to design the bible camp when they come in May as they wish without any restrictions.  Lessons, games, songs, worship and sports are an exciting opportunity to reach the children here in India with the Gospel.  I am excited to see what plans are developed as our brethren in the USA prepare to go and serve the Gospel and the young minds and hearts eager to meet them.

Thanks to Our Gracious God for bringing us all together here in Andhra Pradesh India.

 

A Life of Ministry

Vandanamalu everyone!

This past week I was privileged to experience more fully, the ministry life the Gampala family leads here in India.  For the Gampalas themselves and the congregation, worship, prayer and instruction occurs nearly every day for everyone in the church.   Here in India, being a Christian is truly a way of life.  Despite the hardships, they are truly blessed being close together as they are in their poverty, for they have a strength in fellowship that is different than what we are used to back home.

Twice during the weekdays, Chitti, John or Prasad will go “House visiting”.  This entails a visit to one of the brethren’s homes during the late morning where song, prayer and worship with some preaching is conducted.  Often the house visit is for a specific purpose such as to pray for someone who is sick, to celebrate a new baby or birthday or to comfort brethren who have endured a trial.

On Monday the 6th, Chitti and I went to Lanka to meet at the home of Sister Mercy for prayer.  Mercy is one of the hardest working members of the congregation and has been suffering an infected right foot from stepping on a dung-covered piece of wood that she was unable to extract.   Over the weeks the splinter remained, her heel became septic and she required a very invasive surgery to save her foot.  Pastor John comes every morning to change her dressing, but as an Indian woman, it is impossible for her to stay off her feet as she has to cook and chore for her family.

Her role in the Congregation however, has been suspended to give her more rest.  As a Deaconess (of sorts – they do not use titles here outside of pastor and elder) she normally does most of the food preparation for the congregation.  When Brian and I came in 2010, she was stirring a giant pot of boiling chicken and vegetables over a campfire that were going to be served to the congregation and the village.  Mercy’s husband, a carpenter is not a Christian, but he is not hostile towards her faith or the Gampalas. He has a warm smile and I catch a twinkle of happiness in his eyes when we have had a chance to talk.  I sense in his being, a hard worker and a good man of charity.  Often he comes to hear the services and they have asked us to pray for God to open his mind and heart fully to the Gospel.  I am hopeful that during my time of mentoring here, that perhaps if God will bless the efforts, he may come to repentance and conviction.  For what a joy it would be to have him join us for baptism on Pentecost!

Cottage-2-8The homes of the brethren here will break your heart.  Often their homes are simple two room hovels with a small area you can barely fit two in to cook a meal over a hot plate. The walls are a discombobulated array of stained bricks without mortar that have some plaster or concrete smeared on the outside to hold the wall intact. Most have thatched roofs of bamboo and dried palm leaves just sitting atop jagged and uneven brick walls.  Some homes are a poured concrete pillbox roof to floor.  Often these homes have a single cupboard that houses what little utensils, plates and clothing they own.  Often only a dirty dim yellow bulb is all they have for light at night when the power is on.

When we arrive at Mercy’s home, we are warmly greeted by the entire family of all relations.  Some of the family I can tell by their markings are Hindus, but having an American here in the rural slums of Lanka and Rajupalem is seen by some as a rare opportunity to obtain a blessing.  The welcomed up up onto their porch.  There was no power at this time due to a daily blackout so the single rusted fan they had dangling sat silent.  The brought a tray with two sodas and bananas for me in appreciation for my visit.

I prayed for Mercy’s foot after greeting and being introduced to everyone.  I anointed her with coconut oil and set her apart for healing, both she and her husband.

After I sat back down, a women was helping along a younger woman up the walkway to the porch.  I was guessing the elder to be in her 40’s, and the younger to be in her late teens.  There were two children trailing behind them.  The woman began to speak to me in Telugu, and Chitti was translating her greeting to me. The young woman’s name was Arjamma.  She was 24, and was suffering a worsening condition of convulsions and passing out.  She explained this condition was one she endured since childhood, but was getting worse.  They asked me to pray for her healing, and I was convicted to tell them that I have no power to heal, only this woman’s faith in Jesus Christ could heal her.  I asked Chitti to ask Arjamma and her mother if they had the faith in our Lord and Savior to heal her.  While Chitti translated,  I looked at Arjamma and made eye contact, and she became very agitated, and the anger in her eyes was disturbing.  I felt as if my very presence was an affront to her.  While Chitti was still translating my question, this woman’s eyes rolled back into her head and she began to convulse, shake, choke and drool all over the place.

I had experienced what my wife identified as a grand mall seizure only once before in my life as a few months ago, one of my daughter’s friends, had one in our bathroom.  This one seemed much more violent and I was completely taken aback by it’s violence.  I thought she was going to choke as she fell like a thud to the porch floor.  I was up immediately to bring her to a sitting position and I began to pray aloud and more fervently than I ever had before for someone else.  In my prayer for healing, because of the discernment I had of her agitation towards me, I asked God to rebuke any unclean spirits from her in the Name of Jesus Christ.  I repeated this more fervently about three times and begged God to end this convulsive fit that was occurring as Arjamma flailed about trying to push me away from her and she seemed to be nearly choking on her tongue. I had never seen such a seizure in my life and my heart grieved for her.  I knew this land is one of abject spiritual darkness and evil, and and I ended my plea to God for His intervention.

Within a moment the convulsing stopped.  Arjamma’s eyes opened and it seemed life returned to them.  She was helped to a sitting position.  As she gained her breath and wiped away her mouth, I received a smile and my heart rate was able to relax a little bit.  As the visit continued, and we sat and shared the love of Christ and His desire that we should have an abundant life.  My gaze kept going back to Arjamma, who sat meekly on the step, fatigued and almost oblivious to what happened a few minutes earlier, and I would not soon forget that encounter as it still haunts my memory.

As she shifted her weight when sitting, I saw that her right foot was horribly, horribly mangled.  When I asked about it, they revealed she has a wound from her knee down to her foot.  Apparently she had one of these convulsive episodes while cooking about 4 weeks ago, and as she passed out, caused boiling oil and knives from the stove to fall on her leg and foot.  The injury looked like it cut her foot in half lengthwise between the two middle toes on up to the ankle.  The white scar traveled her foot and leg, offset by twisted toes that had healed improperly. As with the Christians, the poor castes of India do not have any access to decent health care, and even if they do (as my wife found out) doctors in India often diagnose and prescribe treatment in accordance with their Hindu religious beliefs.  Which usually entails crippling a lower caste person further, prescribing sugar pills for antibiotics and telling diabetics to eat more white rice and fruits instead of meat, eggs and fish, which they claim will harm them.

But such is India – a place of hidden beauty and backward superstition.

We prayed for her a second time as our visit was concluding and I am pleased to announce as I write that Chitti said that Arjamma has not had another episode since I was there, praise God!

As we were preparing to depart after thanking our hosts for their hospitality, several other Hindu neighbors had come up to chat excitedly to Chitti.  They were begging me to come to their homes also and pray for them and their family.  I consented to go, after all – how can one preach the Gospel by only going to the homes of believers?  For the next hour we went to two more homes, praying for those who invited us and sharing the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

Chitti and I returned a little late for our own lunch, but I remember what Jesus said in John 4:32 – “I have food that you do not know about”, and thus we were sharing the Bread of Life, a far more important task than worrying about our physical stomachs.

Twice a week nightly, the Gampalas have “Cottage prayer meeting”.  Which is a shortened worship service in the homes of one the brethren who invites the pastors and congregation to come gather, praise God and hear The Word.

Around 7:30 PM that Monday, Chitti and I walked the dark streets of Rajupalem, led by only my feeble LED flashlight to the home of Sagari’s family.  Sagari is one of the members of the congregation in her mid teens who befriended my daughters when they were here in 2008.  She was very excited to have me at her home.

On the way we met several brethren who were preparing to come to the meeting and they were excited to show me their “homes”.  As before, my heart sank. I could not help but think human beings should not live like this.  Our cattle and horses live better than the poor people here do.

As we walked on to your destination after greeting each person who came out to see what this bizarre white person was doing here, I could hear the sound of Prasad’s voice through a portable loudspeaker we bought them last year.  In India, religion is a literal war on the air as loudspeakers adorn nearly every home and temple as every form of worship is blasted from loudspeakers as high as it can go to everyone the sound can touch. For Christians it is no different.  They make sure their worship, songs and messages are blasted right alongside the Hindu temple worship and calls from Islamic minarets.

Cottage2-8BAs we neared the porch where I saw Prasad kneeling over the small loudspeaker, Sagari greeted us on the porch.  She was dressed in a spectacular sari that I assume is normally kept for very special occasions.  We were introduced to her family and entered the humble home.  Because the house was so small, we were seated in her bedroom with an open door to the larger room where the congregation was already gathering.  The dim yellow bulbs that Sagari’s family normally use were replaced with some fluorescent bulbs the Gampalas brought with them to shine forth better light.  With the loudspeaker blasting from the porch to their Hindu neighbors around, Prasad led those gathered in worship songs.  As we sang, it became clear to me that the worship songs also double as a call to prayer by the members who live nearby.  Soon the house was overflowing with brethren all sitting inside and overflowing onto the porch to participate in this “cottage prayer meeting”.

PreachatSagarisTo everyone’s delight, including mine, Pastor John came through the doorway.  As the patriarch of the ministry here, most of his exhortations to the congregation come on the Sabbath or at public Gospel meetings.  Usually Prasad, Ananda or Chitti will conduct these cottage meetings.  So now the excitement was building in the smiles and faces of the brethren who clapped more loudly than before as they sang their hearts out in worship to Our Great King and Savior.

CottageMtgPreachI was somewhat befuddled by what I should speak about because I had never been to one of these meetings, and had asked God to provide me His Word.  I had nothing prepared in terms of notes, cross referenced scriptures or an outline with points.  As I sat and enjoyed the welcoming hospitality of these brethren, I suddenly recalled what Jesus spoke of in Revelation 3 when He said “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”  I let that be the foundation of my talk and noted the hospitality of our hosts with the open door analogy to Christ standing at our doors and knocking.

Chitti chided me later for a message that was less than 15 minutes long minus translation time – but as I explained – ‘brevity is the sole of wit’, letting him know that it is not the number of words used, but the message behind them.  The brethren will no doubt my message as my knocking on the door frame to the bedroom elicited many smiles and laughter from everyone, as knocking like that is not something done here in India.  But I explained that is what Jesus is telling us.

As my message concluded, there was worship time and a closing prayer that was almost a sermon in itself from one of the elders.  My discernment was that they repeated what I said so everyone understood and gave thanks.

prayerAtSagarisWhen the service concluded, as always after I end up speaking – refreshments are served and the entire assembly lines up for me to pray for them.  I enjoy those moments, being able to meet with and touch each family and member with a prayer.  Often the sicknesses and disease brought to me is staggering.  I have had several people with TB come to me for prayer, but it is when the children come – sick and deformed that my heart is crushed the worst.

As I learned from the earlier meeting during the day, some kind of flu is rapidly spreading through the villages here.  It begins with sneezing, followed by high fever and vomiting.  Chitti’s own daughter came down with it as did Sister Glory.  I prayed for both and today they are slightly better. My wife has them on a regime of alternating ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

Thus much of the week for the Gampalas is spent in one form of worship service or another.  Serving the brethren here is much more tedious and time consuming than I witness with most pastors in the U.S.  Being a servant to the church of God in India involves more than just conducting services once a week or a bible study on Wednesday nights.  More than just a phone call to check on brethren or anointing to heal the sick when it can be made convenient. The Gampalas are on call for the brethren 24-7.  John doubles as church doctor, and meals are prepared for 6 adopted widows on a daily basis.  Worship, prayer and instruction is EVERY DAY, and in more than 7 places in Andhra Pradesh that often requires a lengthy and dusty ride some 30-45 minutes to different villages to preach, teach and share the Gospel.

InsanebikerepairI’m exhausted after this first week of regular ministry work and I have not yet even gone to Rajaro-Peta, Muggapeta or the youth meeting in Kakinada!  Two cottage meetings in the evening which require a sermon;  two mornings and afternoons of house visiting with both brethren and curious Hindus; daily service to the widows and a road trip to Kakinada to get my new bicycle that I bought, FIXED by the shop that sold me a broken and inappropriately assembled bike.

But aside from the exhaustion of sorts that I will eventually grow used to, it is a major awesome high to be able to share our blessings with these dedicated servants of God.

While in Kakinada, I insisted that we buy new tools after I saw Pastor John try and fix his well head water pump with a broken wrench and a rusted screwdriver that accounted for most of the stamped tools they have in a soiled plastic pail.  By your love and generosity, the Gampalas are now proud owners of a 60 piece socket wrench set (which they have never seen before), 2 adjustable wrenches that Pastor John is delighted in like a toddler at Christmas, a pipe wrench for the wellhead, an electrical plier, needle nose pliers and a wire cutter.

The faces of the pastors here as they marveled at the bounty was worth every rupee and cent spent so they can keep themselves, their home and their vehicles/bicycles repaired.

But that was not all the joy we were able to spread.

RuthsNewStoveSister Ruth needed a new LP stove for her to cook on while she sits due to some nerve damage from her neck that limits her ability to stand for lengthy periods of time.  It was my absolute delight to present my “Amma” with a dual burner LP stove that almost cracked her face in half with her smile and tears.

After a prayer of thanksgiving to God for these blessings, the tools we have provided will equip God’s tools here to continue to preach the Gospel in this land that desperately needs it.

 

 

Prayers For India’s Sick Children

Praying for the Adhi Andrha children of India. This infant has an open stomach wound of unknown origin that was recently operated on without success, and he was brought to me for prayer.

It is heartbreaking to see the amount of sick and suffering here. When visiting brethren at house visits, the Hindu relatives or neighbors will come bearing the sick and begging me to pray for them. It is necessary to explain to the superstitious Hindus that I have no power to do any kind of healing but only their belief in the true God of Creation through His Son Jesus Christ can they receive His blessings.

I have prayed that the healing would occur, so that these poor villagers might believe, and turn from their pagan gods and superstitions to the God of Life who wishes they have it more abundantly.

 

Preaching the Gospel in India

To preach the Gospel in India, I must unlearn nearly everything I have learned and am comfortable with.

One of the MAJOR tasks of a missionary in a  foreign land is the need and necessity to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to those who have never had the witness of Jesus Christ presented to them.  As I am learning – my time over the next few months here in rural Andrha Pradesh India is no exception to this task, and it is far more difficult than I imagined it would be.

India is a land of radical superstitious beliefs and extreme paganism.  There is no Atheism here.  300 MILLION Pagan gods are worshipped and officially recognized by the government of India.  New gods are manufactured each and every day, often as a way to bilk money out of other Indians through promises of blessings for worshipping the new god.  Hinduism accounts for more than 80% of the population here and it is a faith that literally worships the creation.  Shrines, temples, devotional platforms and home altars to many gods are the standard of faith here.  Everywhere you look, is a pagan temple or shrine.  Businesses are adorned with decorated golden idols while posters and billboards of gods and their priests litter the landscape in every direction.  Chanting and Hindu worship is ever-present from loudspeakers and radios screaming the demands and virtues of this god and that god to every ear that can hear.  Chalk drawings and ornate symbols adorn every building and decorate nearly every block of pavement in front of a dwelling or business either to invite in spirits, or to keep them out.

Hinduism in India is not benign or peaceful.  It is insistent and radical in these rural slum villages where the majority of poor Indians live.  Combined with Caste – Hinduism is literally injected and forced upon the whole populace, by force if necessary.  To be a Christian, and accept belief in a God who exists outside of Creation which the Hindus worship, is the worst sort of blasphemy here.  Living as a Christian is beyond difficult in this place.  To be a pastor with a ministry here, is a daily routine of impossibilities needing to be overcome.

For the Christian here in Andrha Pradesh, persecution is part of daily life.  It is inflicted from the family level on up to government officials and leaders.  Christians have no rights here whatsoever.  It is permissible to steal from, beat or even kill a Christian here in rural India, despite the lip service provided that India has ‘freedom of religion’.  There is no freedom of religion if you are Christian.  There is also no such thing as Justice here – only graft and corruption in payment for favors.  In the event of persecution, the police and officials eagerly look the other way and proclaim the persecution was instigated by the Christian himself and the beating or arrest is just punishment.  Most often, a Christian lodging a complaint against a higher caste official who has wronged them, or complaining against a Hindu beating, will be met with the Christian being arrested and jailed.

Choosing to be a Christian in rural Andrha Pradesh is a choice that automatically brings the convert scorn, loss of respect, station and income.  This is the largest obstacle most Christian-prospects face, and often these are the very roadside thorns Christ spoke of in His parable, that choke the seed of Life from being able to take any root in the new Christian.

New Christians or even those Hindus attending a Christian service are immediately relegated to the very bottom of Indian society and treated as cursed.  Families will often evict a converted family member from the home and mark them as an unclean thing.  The pressure from family, peers and society often dissuades those whom see and hear hope among the Christians before they can ever taste the good truth God’s Way offers. Many brethren are stunted in their growth by persecution and even suffer beatings, that inhibit the ability for them to blossom and bear fruit if they are not rooted in the Word of God and nourished to withstand the constant assault upon their faith.

Yet the desire and eagerness of the Adhi Andrha to hear and accept the Gospel is an opportunity that many of the mainstream churches of Christianity have missed or are ignoring.  Biblical Christianity taking root in the rural delta of India is extremely difficult. The desired results by Western churches for congregations to be full of tithe-paying members often vanishes the moment the missionary or church official no longer provides the funds and handouts a majority of these poor see as the church’s main duty.  Many mainstream Protestant churches have left India altogether, citing these difficulties as proof money and effort is wasted in preaching the Gospel in India.  Somehow they missed the scripture in Isaiah 55:11 that says God’s Word does not return empty.

so shall My Word be, which goes out of My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in what I sent it to do!   Isa 55:11

There is a small truth to those reasons many Christian churches have abandoned India; they do not bring forth the results Westerners expect in terms of tithe and support back to the headquarters church. Indian churches are dependent on support from Western Christians.  They have little ability to send anything back because keeping their own congregation from starvation and healthy is often a major effort.  A majority of these Christians are forced to live on less than a dollar a day, and it is the church congregation itself that tries very hard to make up any differences required.  While additional new church members are always greeted and welcomed because they represent additional tithes and support for churches in the West, here in India – each new convert becomes an additional burden and mouth to feed for the congregation.

Money is not the only problem or reason most of mainstream Christianity has abandoned this dark nation as an impossible land to convert to the Christian faith.

The Western/White manner of preaching, teaching and expounding on the Word of God  is also a reason why churches do not take root and prosper here. There is a deep seated animosity among the Hindus and the culture itself against “The White Man’s Religion”, which they equate with British Imperialism.  This also affects some Christians here, who prefer an Indian approach to preaching and promoting the gospel.

This is a vital issue and problem even my own church culture has failed to recognize in the few mission fields it supports in the Third World.  Most church groups in the West have a hierarchy and expect to level a large amount of control over how a congregation operates and even what they teach.  This will not fly here in India, even if being cautious of where we send our support is something we consider to be a good thing.  To Indians, Christian or not – such is a supreme insult.  While corruption and graft is rampant in India and accepted as a way of life even among Christians here, the Western demand for accountability for how each and every cent is spent, breeds a resentment and feeling of distrust among the pastors who often suffer horribly in leading these congregations.

What works in India and many other third world countries, is to empower and support the local ministries led by those who know their own country and culture best. Our role in the West should be to merely ascertain if they are upstanding Christians and if God shows us His fruits in such groups and churches – we should give freely as we desire and leave the accounting to God.  But most church groups will not do this, and consider the risk to their own mission funds too precious to continue supporting what they consider to be a bad enterprise.

Yet the hunger for the message of being reconciled to the Father of all Creation through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice is attractive to this low caste of people.  This caste willingly allows themselves to suffer misery and deprivation in the vain hopes their suffering for their past life’s sins will redeem them to a better reincarnation.  They have never heard the good news that their sins are ALREADY forgiven them if they would just repent of false idolatry and turn to the God of Life through His Son Jesus Christ.

As an American/Westerner I am discovering that everything I have learned in our churches in terms of sharing my faith is useless here.  The effort of handing out bible tracts, booklets or bible lessons the way it works back home is absolutely of no value here.  More than 80% of the poor here in India are illiterate in their own language.  Even in the Gampala congregations, illiteracy is common due the societal irrelevance of an education among the poor and untouchables.  Menial labor the people here are subject to is the only means they have to survive.  Picking rice or cleaning out a cesspool of human waste does not require a poor untouchable the need to read or write.

Hearing the Word of God spoken to them, and singing songs about their faith is what takes root in most minds among the Christians.  But before an Indian can even get to that level of practice and faith, they first have to have the Word of God brought to them.  And there are only a few ways that seems to work in India; by feet that are invited to come and personally share the Gospel door to door; preaching and exhorting via Gospel meetings outdoors via loudspeaker, or by a miracle God performs for a believer that perks up the curiosity of Hindus or engenders them to question their own gods they worship.

I’m discovering that our way of proclaiming biblical truths, such as expounding on the specific doctrines of God’s Laws, Holy Days or warnings of prophecy – are absolutely useless to the Hindus and Muslims that surround the tiny groups of Christians that exist here in India.  And I do mean useless.  It does no good whatsoever to preach about the Sabbath or even the Commandments to a people who have absolutely no clue who or what God it is we worship to begin with!

I am also learning that our Western ways of church planting and building is also useless here in India.  Without spending a lot of time explaining why, suffice it to say that empowering Indian Christians to preach the Gospel here and grow their congregations is the only assured way that the Gospel can be effectively preached here, and the only effective way converts are nurtured in the Word so they can take root and dig down deep to the water of life to survive in this blistering desert of paganism.

As a Missionary with a fundamental goal to build up the brethren here and proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to the heathen, I have to go to the foundation of simple basics: Who and Which one is the True God?  And why should we worship Him instead of all the others?  Acts 17 and Paul’s sermon in Athens has been an excellent foundation of advice for me to follow, and it works!

Preaching Christ and Him crucified is the basic, simple truth that I am seeing grabs the attentions of these low caste Hindus in India that never heard of Jesus Christ.  It is also a much appreciated validation of the faith the brethren here already hold onto.  I do not know why I found that so surprising, since THAT is the cornerstone of our faith to begin with.  I think it has to do with what the churches in the West have devolved down into in terms of grabbing members from one church to plop down in their own.  We seem to have forgotten that there is an entire world out there that we are commissioned to preach the Gospel to.  Preaching to the choir is not exactly “going forth unto all the world”, but even the Apostles themselves took up a 37 year residency in Jerusalem and it took the sacking of the city by the Romans in 70 A.D. to get them out into the world.

Having been steeped into my own culture and church ways, being thrust into the middle of a totally alien culture to do Matthew 28:19-20 has certainly made me feel totally inept and inadequate to the task.  But God is teaching me every day to trust Him in this work, because it is HIS WORK, not mine.  HIS WORDS I am to preach, NOT MINE, and certainly not the approved words of some committee somewhere back in the U.S.A.

We are so blessed in America with being surrounded by nearly everyone who at least knows who Jesus is, that our efforts to turn others to Christ usually involves directing our neighbors to Him whom they have already heard about.  Such is not the case here in India, nor in most of the world.

But I am glad to say in my prayers, I am asking the Father in Jesus’ Name to help me empty myself and what I am familiar with, to fill me as His vessel so I can pour it out on those He wishes me to reach and edify here.

And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. – Matthew 24:14

I am discovering a great as yet untouched field in India, ready to be plowed, planted and watered with the Word of God, because I have no doubt that when Christians here are empowered with the right tools, they will harvest a great crop in The Lord.

But that requires the right tools and seeds to use on this ground, and American corn is not going to grow and take root in this soil.  But indigenous seed, can and will produce fruit, all I need to do is learn to be as an Indian, that I may win the Indians.  (I Corinthians 9:20-22)

I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

I am unlearning what I have learned, and as always – God’s Ways are not our own ways.  For that I am deeply grateful.

Tears At The House of God

By Michael Deering

From the tiled marble floors and cement walls of the House of God, comes the sound of the soft rasping of prayers in Telugu echoing quietly in the air as they are being said.  Afterward the prayers are punctuated with worship songs sung quietly, almost in whisper by those who come here to pray every day.

Often the widows will come and sing softly in unison and once in a while the tears of lament gently reach my ears as they beg God for forgiveness and provision as is the custom for widows to do in Indian culture.

In the several weeks that I have been here at the House of God, I am getting used to these sounds and routines.  It is a daily Christian life here and its day-by-day repetition has been pleasant as I have grown comfortable with their practice.

But there was another sound last week that came from those tiled marble floors and cement walls that grabbed my heart and squeezed, and burned down all the way to my innermost being.

One of the most gut-wrenching aspects of India’s Caste and Hindu cultural system, is how it affects women, and Christian women and untouchables in particular.  As a culture nearly unchanged in 3,000 years, I am learning how insidious this system is.  In many ways, the Hindu Caste system is worse than the oppression of Islam on women in Muslim theocracies, because the enslavement to the Hindu system is in mind, body and spirit of the people here.  Truly, the Gospel is the only hammer and chisel that can break the chains that imprisons the Indian people.  But even among Christians and their families, the chains of Hindu and Caste traditions are hard to break, if they are ever broken at all.

On a house visit last week, I met one of the stalwart women members of the church here in Rajupalem. Her fiery disposition and insistence of justice often has major influence in her small slum, and in many cases, she is able to stop persecution or persuade Hindus to allow their preaching due to her insistence and no-nonsense approach to dealing with problems.

During my visit with her, she introduced to me her family.  She is one of only a few converts in her home and her example of the Christian faith and the various miracles that have occurred to her by the power of God (including being run over by a train after falling off a platform and not receiving a scratch) – has only afforded her the tolerance to practice and follow her faith by the rest of her family.  Her husband is a devout Hindu to his own private gods and her children are ordered by his influence to remain true to their pagan religion.

She tells me of a tearful trial she is undergoing, as her granddaughter is suffering an extortion she has to suffer and bear.  Her granddaughter is a Believer in the faith, and  was recently betrothed to a man who comes from the same caste, but are Catholic.  She explains that their family and the groom’s family had come to an agreement on the cost of the dowry she has to pay, and right before the marriage, the groom’s family is demanding she now pay double what they agreed.

India is a patriarchal society, and boys are prized and esteemed by any couple forging a family.  Girls are a burden to the poor and the superstitious, as dowry is a custom with the force of law in India.  Even among Christians, dowry is still practiced.  Most marriages are arranged and almost all are essentially business contracts agreed to by families and leaders of caste.  A girl’s family must lay up a large amount of money from when she is small to pay the family of the future groom that the groom’s family will set.  In addition, it is imperative that the new wife provide everything for the new husband’s household, including all cookwear, furniture, clothing, and any appliances required.  Failure for the woman to provide what the man and his family demand, is grounds for annulment of the marriage.   It is only after the marriage that a woman is then considered a full human being in Indian society.

She cries in disbelief over the situation and she pleads to me aloud in Telugu.  Chitti translates this tale of trial and I do not know what to say.  My mind is still grasping the entire concept of dowry and extortion as an accepted practice among Christians here.  But such is the sway, influence and tradition that Satan has enslaved this nation with.

I ask if the “contract” was written or verbal, and if this woman’s family and granddaughter had any legal recourse.  Laughter followed my question and a resounding ‘no’ was emphatically stated several times.  The grooms family can change their mind at any time about the dowry, sometimes even AT the marriage ceremony itself.  This woman was prepared to pay the groom’s family the equivalent of several thousand dollars U.S., and essentially the Christians here are as homeless welfare recipients in economic stature – with very little means to earn such money in a short time.  They must save it and/or sell whatever assets they have.  This groom and his family now demand she pay twice the amount they had agreed to earlier.

Looking at this from an American viewpoint, I sat incredulous. I ask if the groom even loved this girl to allow his family to demand such an amount.  I am told again that this is a business arrangement first and foremost, and given what I have seen of the treatment of most women here in India among the slum villages, a soon-to-be wife is seen as nothing more than a burden needing to be shaped into a slave;  another mouth to feed with the added benefit of having another laborer to cook, clean, wash and bear and raise the groom’s children.  A new wife must move into her husband’s family’s home after marriage, where she is beholden to the in-laws who have the right to make any demand of her they wish, regardless of her own faith, beliefs or wishes.  I am perplexed as to why Christians continue to follow these same imprisoning customs and I almost angrily explain to Chitti this is why the scripture says in Genesis 2:24:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

I ask if the husband will ever come to his wife’s aid against those in the household who are making such demands, and the answer is no.  The wife is now essentially property of the man’s family, who will rule over her to the benefit of themselves and the man without consideration of the wife.

As the father of three daughters I explain that I would never permit my daughters to marry such a man if money was more important to him than loving his future wife, and that she deserves much better than that.  I also explained the challenge of being unequally yoked in the faith, and asked her to trust God to make a provision for her granddaughter to find a good husband.

My words made no sense to her, and were of no wisdom or comfort.   I felt completely helpless during this visit as my mind tried desperately to grasp the absolute backwardness and barbarism of these traditions. The woman’s cry of despair for her granddaughter’s plight I could only meet with a head shake of incredulity.  All I could do was pray that God would provide an answer to this woman’s heartfelt prayers according to His Will.  Again I felt completely helpless and of no use in yet another situation that I assumed I was here to comfort.

As I left feeling despondent and bewildered, Chitti explained the situation of marriage a little bit clearer to me.  While it may seem that men have it made, for the Christian men in the Gampala congregation – the ability to find and marry a wife is almost as frustrating.  It takes the consent of an entire family and caste leaders to allow a marriage, and regardless of what faith you practice.

Caste takes precedent over everything, even among the Christians who have to follow the dictates of centuries of tradition.  Marriages are usually only approved within the same caste.  Intercaste marriages are rare, and when they occur, there are often many people in the family and the neighborhood itself that will sabotage such marriages, in some extreme cases, even by the killing of the woman.  Most often it involves the husband’s family making impossible demands on the wife to provide things she on her own cannot provide, and when she is unable to comply, she can legally be put out and divorced – losing everything she owns and essentially becoming as a widow consigned to the streets.

As God would have it, my instruction in this insidious system would continue, and the house visit was simply a precursor to what followed the next day.

As I sat writing last week’s blog entry around 3 PM, Sister Mercy came to the door to my room next to the worship hall here at the House of God and greeted me.  Mercy is a stalwart member of the church and one of the main workhorses for the congregation.  Brian Smith baptized her during one of his first visits to India in 2005, and she has been a most influential and prominent servant in the ministry here ever since.  She has a son and a sixteen year old daughter, Mahdave whom is one of the first smiley and happy faces I met in 2010.  Sister Mercy’s husband Prasad is a carpenter from a higher caste, and he is a very warm and friendly fellow.  When I first met him, Chitti had asked me to pray specifically for Prasad that God would work in his heart and lead him to salvation. He comes to church every so often and helps the congregation frequently, but he will not cross his caste in conversion to the faith. Since my arrival last month, he is a regular visitor and his warm smile and handshake has endeared me to him, and I pray fervently for God to open his mind and heart to Christ.

I rose and greeted Mercy, her smile and twinkling eyes always lift my spirits.  Mercy was in my prayers often since I arrived, as she was recovering from an operation to remove a dung-covered wood splinter stuck in the deep heel of her right foot.  The splinter was lodged in her heel for over a week and became septic, and she had to have a lot of tissue removed.  Pastor John was changing her gauze bandages daily, and I provided packets of antibiotic ointment my wife instructed John to smear on her wound before putting the new dressing on.   I have insisted Mercy rest and stay off her feet for a week, and her absence was deeply felt in the congregation as many things she does went undone.

I ask Mercy how her foot is doing today and she tried hard in Telugu to converse with me, but I could only smile back as I had no one to help translate what she was asking me.  She patted me on the shoulder and made a praying gesture with her hands while lifting them to God, signifying what I understood to be thanksgiving to God for my presence here.  I smiled back and was able to say “Danyvadamalu” meaning ‘thank you’.  She returned a large toothy smile at my use of her language and she bid me good day and turned to exit the curtain draping my main doorway to the porch.

I returned to typing my blog entry, and my mind was busy recalling events from the previous week.  Mid-afternoons at the House of God grow quiet in the heat of the day. Naps are common in the mid-afternoon as it is generally too hot to do anything, and it is a good time to write as I am able to concentrate apart from the normal noise levels.

In the relative quiet amidst the sound of my keystrokes, I heard the familiar near-whisper rasps of prayer beginning next to me in the worship hall of the House of God. But as the minutes passed on by, the brush-like sounds begin to change from gentle under-the-breath prayers to intermittent sobs.  I take note of the change in sound, but pay it no mind as this too is not unusual as the widows that come to worship and pray also sob during their devotions.  As the minutes passed, the sobs grew into a lament and the prayers being uttered were no longer whispered, but pleading.  Fervent prayer is a practice I see every day here, but the sounds of this particular prayer were far more mournful than those I have heard previously.

While I continued typing the next paragraph, the sound again changed into cries and desperate pleas that were hoarsely uttered, in an almost begging fashion.  I heard the word “Yeshua” uttered many times under the choking sobs, and as this sound coming from next door now had my full attention.  As I sat staring at the wall separating myself from the person in tears on the other side,  the cries grew into a wail of uncontrollable sorrow, pleading and shouting to God (Adonai) and “Yeshua” (Jesus). Clearly something was horribly wrong, as the anguish of sound was bringing me to tears myself, while I had no understanding whatsoever of what was being begged of God and His Son.

I rose from my chair and quickly walked around out my door and around to the doorway to the Worship hall.  My eyes had to adjust momentarily from the bright afternoon sunshine on the porch to see inside the darker hall.  On the floor in the middle of the worship hall looked to be a pile of rags, but the feet sticking out from the bottom of the pile informed me that this was a woman weeping in her full sari.  Her scarf-covered head rose as another cry and outburst of pleas erupted from her.  Her back rose and fell as she convulsed in tears, screaming and begging aloud as if she were pleading for her life at the hand of an executioner.

I stepped into the hall smoothly and took a few steps towards the wailing pile of rags on the floor.  The right bandaged foot sticking out told me that this was Sister Mercy on the floor before me. Her head rose again and she projected forth another shouting plea to Jesus.

Tears were now running down my own face silently, and my instinct was to rush over and hug her to provide comfort for whatever this was that had her in an anguish I had never seen before.  But such a thing is forbidden in Indian culture, and as much as I yearned to give some comfort, God provided the scripture in Romans 12:15 to my mind:

  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

I walked silently next to her and kneeled down quietly.   Mercy’s scarf-covered head was on the tiled marble floor sobbing, and I thought for a moment that she had spilled a bottle of water beneath her, for slowly spreading out before her head was a puddle of tears.  She lifted her head from the floor again to wail aloud another plea in anguish and tears ran down her face in a steady stream to plop onto the puddle spreading out on the floor.  Her mouth was agape and the guttural cries as she put her face down on the floor to beg and rise again to plead grieved me beyond words to describe.  The spittle from her lip draped in a line to the growing puddle of tears on the floor.  This woman was in an anguish I could not fathom.  I had never seen anything like this in my life; a puddle of so many tears enough to create a pooling that slowly drifted towards the dias at the House of God.

I kneeled and said nothing as she wept aloud.  My own tears were silent and I suppose hearing such sorrow is as piercing to the heart and catching as is the opposite sound of a baby’s laughter filling the heart and face with joy and smiles.  I could not help myself, yet I had no clue what was causing such a display of grief.

I do not know for how long I kneeled there or how long she cried, but after a time I could tell she was tiring, and the pleas grew more quiet and further apart.  She began to close in her prayer in the familiar Telugu; “Yesu Christu Namaluao Amen”.

Her face rose from the floor and she blinked, opening her eyes for who knows how long they had been forcefully shut. She noticed me kneeling next to her, but was not startled.  I think the tears in my own eyes told her that I was there, weeping for her.

She took her scarf to wipe away her tears in what appeared to be some embarrassment, and I finally spoke and asked her why she was crying.  She began to speak quickly in Telugu as she apparently understood my question.  Mercy reached out and touched my arm and tears again fell from her face.  I silently prayed to God in Jesus’ Name that now would be a good time to grant me a gift of tongues so I can understand what she is telling me.  She gets through a litany of explanation and stops to take a breath, and I hold up my hand to tell her to stop and stay.  I suddenly had an idea.

My son Prasad’s wife Anusha HAS the gift of languages as she is able to speak six of them fluently, including English.  I suddenly rose to my feet, and Mercy quickly follows.  I tell Mercy to stay seated and that I was going to get Anusha.  My repetition of her name helped Mercy understand what I was going to do and she again sat down on the floor.

I quickly ran down the stairs at the House of God and was calling out loud for my son.  The urgency of my voice brought out Prasad, John and Chitti from a talk they were having inside.  I asked Prasad if his wife was here, and he replied that she was.   Chitti wants to know what the problem is and I explained that I want Anusha to help me translate because Sister Mercy is upstairs crying.  Chitti then insists that he will take care of the problem and calls for Ruth.

In the time I have been here, I have felt helpless on many occasions.  If I truly wanted to provide comfort, now was my time and opportunity as the Spirit was clearly indicating to me.  Indian comfort is something that appears a little less to me than the kind of comfort I wanted to share from the Father.  For even among the Christians here, the culture and traditions of India do not mirror or touch the kind of respect and care we are fortunate to have as a societal norm towards women in America.

All I needed to know is what the anguish was over so I could have God help me serve Mercy with some counsel and prayers of comfort for her.  Because of the divide between men and women, and the cultural rules that govern even the brethren here, I am discovering that some of my questions to the women here are not translated by the men exactly as I ask them.  Women’s concerns are generally disregarded by the men and they do not trouble themselves with those, rather they let other women discuss and counsel those issues with them.

Because I cannot understand the Telugu language enough to have a conversation with anyone yet, I needed to tap the tool the Lord did place in the House of God with such a gift of language, and one I knew would translate exactly what I was saying.  That gift is anointed on Anusha.

I emphatically and forcefully tell Chitti and Prasad that I want Anusha to assist me and that they should stay downstairs please.  I needed to counsel Mercy myself, as my mission to provide comfort to the brethren here is the foremost thing I desired to do before I left for India.  The Lord has allowed me to be in India, not to watch and observe, but to be active and to comfort, preach, bear burdens and teach.  I felt beholden to comfort this woman who was in lament, and Indian cultural rules or no – I was determined to do so.

Anusha came out of one of the bedrooms as both Prasad and Chitti were yelling for her to come to me.  “Yes Uncle?” she asks knowing there was some urgency to the request.

I asked her to follow me “Right now please” and led her up to the worship hall at the House of God.  I heard Ruth close the blue metal gate to the stairs down behind us, and a quick glance at her as we rounded up the next flight told me that somehow she understood what I was asking Anusha for, and she was supporting my efforts and closing off any potential interruptions.

As we entered the sanctuary, Mercy was still seated on the floor and the puddle of her tears still reflecting large in front of her.  As we both sat down next to Mercy, I was explaining to Anusha what had happened and that I was here to counsel and comfort her.  My first question “Why are you crying”? and Anusha’s translation immediately brought Mercy’s hands up in a reflexive “no”, and I already understood that she was indicating to Anusha that I should not trouble myself with her burdens even before Anusha replied to me in English.

I explained the scripture of Galatians 6:2 about bearing one another’s burdens, and I tell Mercy that I cannot fulfill this scripture if she does not help me understand why she is so distraught.  At minimum I tell her, “I should know what to pray to the Father for you”.

Mercy begins to explain to Anusha the reasons for her tears at the House of God – and as fresh tears come as her hands flail like wet dishrags wiping them from her face, I learn more about the system of Caste and Hinduism that Satan has imprisoned the people of India in, and at the same time sit in stunned amazement at the forcefulness of her prayers that truly put my own petitions to shame.

Anusha translates and Mercy explains that she is crying aloud for God and Jesus to bring her husband and her son to Salvation.

I learn that Mercy’s own mother is wroth with fury over Mercy’s conversion to Christianity because she is very important in the Hindu sect her mother belongs.  As such, she is an agent of the Adversary in constant effort to divide Mercy’s children and husband from her.  Mercy weeps anew when describing how her mother and other family members have convinced her son to reject and abandon his mother’s love and influence.  Her own son is becoming radicalized against her.

If that sowing of discord was not disconcerting enough, Mercy then describes the continuing lament she has for her husband.  Mercy’s husband Prasad married her out of love and crossed Caste lines to do it.  Both his family and Mercy’s mother and father convinced him that he would be infertile and unable to have children unless he married someone of his own caste also – which they literally forced upon him.  Mercy laments because her husband is forced by caste to remain married to this woman he does not love, while continuing to be married to Mercy.  Polygamy is acceptable in Caste situations in Hinduism

Despite the fact Prasad and Mercy had two children proving the superstition false, the Hindu priests are very convincing that it was only because he married within his caste that he and Mercy were able to have a family.  Prasad has no children or relations with the other wife to my understanding, but the Hindus in his family and caste will not permit him to divorce her.

The family works very hard now since Mercy’s conversion to convince Prasad to throw Mercy out into the street and abandon her.  He thusfar has not capitulated, but recent arguments are grieving Mercy that the pressure from caste leaders and her own mother will divide her from the man she loves.  She knows that only a converted heart and mind can save her family from an almost certain fate.

Again I sit in stunned bewilderment.  How horrifyingly wicked this system is in this country!

Mercy’s home is beyond poverty level, even for India and I wonder aloud if her husband’s other wife is afforded more than she and her daughter are provided.  You by now of course know the answer.

I tell her that God will not allow her to suffer more than she can bear (I Corinthians 10:13) and will enable her to endure all she suffers for His Name’s sake.  I tell her God often allows our trials so He can build His perfect strength and character in us.  In our weakness God’s power is made perfect.  I make her laugh by telling her that God must be building her up to be a mighty creation, a warrior princess of the Most High by what strength of power will be made manifest in her by her weakness.

I use the opportunity to tell her how God’s way is the exact opposite of the system that exists here, and that we must purge out this leavening that we were born into, as true happiness comes from those living in obedience.

She agrees but decries the loss of her son and fearing the attempted division from her husband being foisted by her own mother.

I recall Matthew 10:34-37 that I remind her of:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

I tell her she does not suffer needlessly, that God sees all and one day everyone will be held to account.  I remind her of the joy the Apostles had for being beaten in that they were worthy to suffer in Christ’s Name and how precious she is to the Father and Jesus Christ.  As she chose The Lord, so too her family must also make that choice of their own.  Her example is already one of stunning and incredible testament to these villages, and I tell her that I wonder if the Father cries for each of us in the same way she cried for her family’s conversion.  Mercy immediately recalled the Prodigal Son parable and we laughed together.

Mercy shifts her weight and motions to the floor and the bucket and rags sitting in the corner.  Anusha tells me Mercy feels badly because she did not wash the floor in the House of God like she was prepared to do when she entered.  I sat incredulous and pointed to the still-drying puddle of tears exclaiming aloud, “You already washed this House and the whole floor with your tears – a clean and comforted heart is far more precious to God than a tile floor!  Look how clean you made this House!”

Anusha smiled large at me, seeing the change in Mercy’s spirit.  I smiled large back, knowing Anusha told her exactly what I was saying.  Ruth comes into the hall and sits down with us, and within a few minutes we are all smiling and enjoying the fact that a fat, short white fella is willing to sit on a tile floor with a weeping woman and comfort her to the point all are able to laugh together.

Mercy stands and we all follow, the women cover their heads with their sari’s and I pray aloud every sincere thing I had learned and felt in the last two hours or so.  I ask for Mercy’s comfort and pray for her husband and her son, and that the demonic influence in her family would be blocked and hindered and come to ruin in the Name of Jesus.  I ask again for her healing in the heel of her foot.

Upon Amen, there is a feeling of refreshment and the eyes of woe are now sparkling as they normally are when Mercy sees me.  I break protocol and give her half a hug with one arm, and salute her in the traditional Indian way.  She returns the thanks and we all exit the hall together.

As I returned to my room, my thoughts returned to the plight Mercy and so many other women face here in India.  Conversion to the Faith in Jesus Christ here in India is a far cry from the ease it is back home folks.  Baptism and conversion almost immediately relegates one to a life of persecution, scorn, ridicule and efforts by even your own family to harm and hurt you.  And while I have known for years what Jesus said would happen to His followers in Matthew 24, witnessing it in real time, every single day – played out before my eyes, is far different than our past church leadership would envision for us in their literature and sermons.  It is not some far-flung future event that will not touch us before we get zapped out of here in a rapture or whisked away to some place of safety.

No.

It is now.  It is real, and your brothers and sisters suffer it every single day in abject pain and misery in most cases.

Yet their faith eclipses anything I have experienced or seen back home. Their trust in God is at a level I continue to witness in awestruck wonder, and their willingness to count the cost to follow Jesus and suffer for it, shames me when I look in a mirror here.

Sometimes I think it will be more tolerable in the Day of Judgment for India, than it will be for us in America.

While there is still daylight in which to do the work Our Father has given to us to do – let us do it with the kind of heart and vigor I am seeing of our destitute and persecuted brethren here, and remember them and their bonds in your prayers

 GO TO MARCH 2012 Mission Journals >

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