Oasis In The Midst of Chaos
If there is a word to adequately describe India to a newcomer from the USA or any other Western country seeing this place for the first time, it is the word: chaos.
The Western mind cannot quickly comprehend the culture, mindset and systems of Caste and Hinduism that govern this land. To our eyes it is nothing but chaos. Not even organized chaos at that. Organized chaos would be an improvement. What exists here to our eyes is a culture and system that makes absolutely no sense, is totally medieval, backwards and extortive in many of its caste practices.
There is no regard to cleanliness. Garbage and filth cover the landscape no matter where you look. The misery of everyday life is worn hard on the faces of many you pass on these dust-covered roads. Life is cheap and easily dismissed and disregarded if it is advantageous to a higher member of society.
This is very true for the millions upon millions of orphans and widows in India. They are the discarded lives of India. Due to the majority faith and caste ordinances, women are considered only half of a man until she is married. And then, should she survive her husband, is considered a cursed creature and both family and society cast her out and shun her. Children from infants to teens face a similar fate of rejection by the whole of society. Most orphan children in India are not orphans in the sense both parents are dead, most of them are that way because the families consider a child cursed, for any number of reasons; from religious superstition to simple economics – and are often tossed into the street as refuse and treated as such by everyone else.
James 1:27 is a scripture that goes far beyond quaint Western understanding of spending a few hours at a nursing home or inner city soup kitchen, when you see a REAL NEED that goes beyond our sensibilities for it here in India.
There are two jewels of light actually living James 1:27 in their ministries and purpose here. As if from the wasteland of this chaos, shine these two oasis in the heart of India; the Gampala family ministry of Rajupalem and Lanka, Andrha Pradesh; and Hebron Home of the Sagar Jalli family, from Palakol Town some 2 hours distance in Andrha Pradesh. Both are islands of refreshment in a desert of a dark wasteland.
During this past full month of my ministry service here with the Gampalas, I have been writing essays and entries into the grind, troubles and ministry of life for Christians in the rural slums of East Godavari District in Andrha Pradesh, where widows are the main focus of support and service from the Gampalas.
Last week I was privileged to cross a bridge Our God is building between congregations and witness the fruits and perfect religion of the Jalli family, and their ministry that specifically caters to the other outcasts of Indian society; discarded children.
I had first heard of Hebron Home and Sagar Jalli at the 2010 CEM Feast of Tabernacles in Florida, after I had given a seminar on my first mission trip to India of that year. I met Keith Kleeschulte who showcased and shared his own India mission experience with me from back in 2001 at Hebron Home, where he spent a month with Sagar and the children there. It was our first glimpse of one another’s placement by God for ministry to the Indian people. We both were excited that God was moving the Sabbatarian churches to be involved in that part of the world, totally unbeknownst to one another!
Since that time, Kardias has been excited about the opportunity to become acquainted with Sagar Jalli and visit Hebron to meet the children and serve in a mission effort. By God’s blessing and timing, it was an absolute joy to come to know that not only are there over 200 children being loved, educated and cared for daily, but that there is another refuge of Christian brethren here in a land of insanity.
Sagar and Sunitha Jalli
As point-man for Mission India 2012, our first opportunity to walk across a bridge the Lord has made, came on the weekend of February 18-19th. And let me tell you, I have the complete satisfaction to write of joy, happiness, smiles, laughter and love – at a place that I am still in stunned speechlessness over after visiting. I am exceedingly glad God purposed this visit as one of our mission goals in 2012.
Hebron Home is not a typical orphanage one would find in India. It is an educational and living compound that serves not only the physical needs of the neglected children here, but also serves them spiritually and communally to serve the whole person. Hebron builds in these children both character and intelligence to create opportunities for them in life where none have existed before in this society.
Hebron Home was started by Sagar Jalli’s father Prakasam back in the late 1950’s. It was a simple place for orphan children to be fed and sleep off the streets. Over time, as God called Prakasam to ministry, Hebron Home became a central headquarters of sorts for the preaching of the Gospel to the local people in the area in the late 1960’s. The orphans became a full time focus and opened the door for Prakasam Jalli to also write and print several books and begin a magazine in Telugu that explained the biblical plan of salvation for mankind. Amazingly enough this was nearly the same time that Chitti and John Gampala’s father began his ministry, and neither men had contact or involvement with the Churches of God culture in the U.S. or even, one another.
With the caring of the orphans came the need for a school to educate them. The elementary school on the grounds was staffed by not only Hebron volunteers, but eventually certified teachers that the local and state government sanctioned.
Sagar Jalli himself was raised among the children at Hebron Home, and in time he assumed his father’s mantle upon Prakasam’s death in 1989. While the loss was significant and Prakasam’s presence and legacy is still large and present at Hebron Home, under the direction of Sagar and by God’s Grace and blessing, Hebron Home’s greatest expansion was yet to come.
Through a unique friendship with Richard Swannell, his family and connections with similar philanthropic humanitarian organizations and corporations, Hebron Home was about to expand into the center it is today. Richard served as an inspiration to Sagar to help Hebron Home reach a potential he did not know could be achieved.
With Richard’s inspiration, many new facilities were built on the grounds; new dorms and teaching facilities; a guest house and meeting center. Suddenly the opportunities for new plans became not only dreams, but possible realities. In time, Hebron Home was blessed with a water filtration plant, a high school and an accredited technical vocational college right on the grounds! The three schools on the grounds made Hebron Home a center of educational excellence for the children of the area. They are private institutions that the government of Andrha Pradesh acknowledges and permits. The tuition collected helps Sagar fund some of the many expenses taking care of hundreds of orphans full time requires. A blessing from the Lord is that Indian government teachers are provided to teach the subjects at the grade school and high school, and the college serves as one of the first bridges of opportunity for the Adhi Andrha and poor to acquire skill sets to actually obtain a career outside of working a lifetime in the ricefields or tending goat herds.
Sagar’s wife Sunitha serves as Principle at the English-medium elementary and High School, and academic excellence is expected of the students here. Sagar serves as Headmaster and Director of all the facilities, and due the good fruits that Hebron has to its credit, Sagar enjoys the blessing of autonomy from interference from the kind of radicalism that the Gampala family suffers under. The last government testing put the schools at Hebron in second place state-wide, a credit that goes to the Jalli family and the teaching staff.
The tragic loss of Richard Swannell to cancer in 2011 was deeply felt at Hebron. But the legacy he and Sagar’s father established at Hebron, continues with the same determination and dedication while the spirit of service they both gave is ever present at Hebron.
On the Sabbath of February 18, Sagar Jalli came with his driver and one of the pastors to Rajupalem to pick up Prasad and myself for the 2.5 hour drive to Palakol. The Gampalas, while glad to receive Sagar, seemed almost worried I was off to war, never to return. I reminded them I would return Sunday evening.
During the drive, I was able to share with Sagar my calling into the church and also to India. Likewise Prasad was able to share his history and the Gampala ministry with our newfound brother in Christ.
During the drive, I was able to see more of this area of Andrha Pradesh I had not yet seen, and the effects of the 2 year drought were devastating. The Godavari river, larger than the Mississippi and the main source of water here to the state was all but dried up. Along with the loss of water are the loss of crops and the already difficult lives for many Indians are growing more dire.
We stopped along the way to buy a bunch of watermelons for the children at Hebron for later in the day, and after a good conversation of getting to know one another, the time passed quickly and we had arrived at the sprawling complex at Hebron Home.
On our arrival you would think Prasad and I were conquering war heroes in the excitement and celebration that greeted us. I never experienced anything like it in my life and for the courtesy of the Mission Team arriving in May, I do not wish to spoil the details yet. Incredible is about the only adjective I can think of.
The energy and excitement from the children is beyond electric and totally energizing. The happy eagerness in which the orphans sought to greet us could only be controlled by letting everyone yell a welcome to us as we yelled a thank you back to them.
After shaking over two hundred sets of hands and names exclaimed with smiles so large and bright I was sure I would go blind, Sagar came to rescue us and led us up to the guest house where we would retire our overnight bags and ourselves later that night.
The guest house itself was a vision of splendor, unlike any of the structures I had seen while in India. The grounds were manicured and a garden lay against the wall separating Hebron from the outside world. It appeared I had arrived at a resort, not an orphanage. Inside the guesthouse I literally gasped on walking inside. “It’s the Taj Mahal!” I said aloud, making that the only comment I could say to equate what I imagined the interiors there to be looking at what lay in front of me.
Sets of rich colorful fabric adorn a spiral staircase in marble stairs up three stories. The hand-crafted wood doors and trim were astounding to behold. Prasad and I were being treated like royalty and here was the palace!
We were introduced to many members of the staff, most of whom were orphans here in years past, returning to serve those like themselves. A fitting testament to the impact the institution has on everyone who was touched by it. Some of these staff members and former orphans were now also pastors themselves of various congregations in the region around Palakol town.
After settling our belongings and grabbing the camcorder, we then went to the worship service that was just underway at the worship hall. As scattered as our congregations are back home, it was a delight to have a fully packed hall of worship and the two hundred ten children belted out Telugu songs of worship so catchy that one has to clap along.
Sagar then introduced me to the congregation assembled, and his father-in-law, who also serves as Dean at the college translated my message to the hall. It was wonderful to tell of my calling to India and God’s hand in bringing us together to be with them and to worship on His Sabbath Day. I exclaimed the wonderful fulfillment of experiencing Psalm 119’s affirmation of how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. Only by the love and Grace of God is it possible for people from opposite sides of the planet and differing languages be united in a single body as we were at that moment!
After I spoke, Prasad rose to speak, dressed in his preaching clothes – and I discovered the anointing of God on this young man I am privileged to call my son in Christ. Within seconds of a few words, every eye was wide and electric as Prasad got the entire congregation to follow him with a rousing “Oooooooooh Yesssssss!” The ability of Prasad to reach right in and grab the attention of everyone while he introduced himself and also give a message about keeping the Law of God to these students was awe inspiring to watch – and I hardly understood any of it! The attentive eyes and happy faces while Prasad spoke assured me that I was witness to what God could do WITHOUT any training or theological degree from the institutions of men that bear God’s Name.
After the worship service, Prasad and I were privileged to serve the children their lunch, which was quite late due to our arrival. Large steaming pots of rice, curry and sambar soup were lifted up on the steps of the dormitory. The children formed neat and orderly lines and the pastors and leaders obtained quiet and respect. Then the girls all came forward from youngest to oldest and were served rice, I dished out a generous scoop of chicken curry and Prasad followed with sambar and a crisp. The boys followed after the girls in the same order of age, and soon they sat in neat rows, gave thanks to God and enjoyed a meal together.
The orphans here are some of the most well-behaved children I have had the pleasure to meet, thanks in no small part to the biblical instruction and devotion taught to the children each and every day. Their day opens in prayer and the bible, and ends the same way. What is more, they are taught the true Gospel in Christ and instructed in God’s Feasts and Commandments. Sagar Jalli and Hebron Home are sowing seed and watering a crop of brethren God is raising up in this place, for the increase of these efforts I have been witness to, and it is nothing short of amazing.
After feeding the children, Sagar took Prasad and I back to the guesthouse where a sumptuous lunch was served for us and we dined with Sagar’s father-in-law and discussed a great many topics about Hebron Home, the church in the USA and what is happening in the world around us. I learned much more about Hebron Home and the powerful way in which Sagar and his staff preach the Gospel from this place.
Hebron has it’s own printing facilities on the premises with desktop publishing capabilities and Sagar and Hebron print and distribute in Telugu, books, magazines and other materials related to preaching the Gospel and God’s Laws and Commandments. Not only this, but Sagar also hosts a half hour television presentation that he pays for to preach the Gospel in Telugu on the local networks. I was flabbergasted. I could not help but ask if Sagar had any connections with the churches of God back in the USA or Europe, and was stunned to learn Sagar had only a passing knowledge that they existed, but knew nothing of them. Fitting, as we knew nothing of him and their decade’s long efforts of preaching and printing the truth from this place. Just another affirmation that God can and will use whomever He deems to do His Will and Work, and there are many others that none of us know of doing likewise.
After our own lunch later that afternoon, was playtime. And one did not have to ask me to be a kid twice. While Prasad was more reserved on the grounds – I dove right into being myself – about twelve years old mentally. The younger children and girls snagged Prasad and I both to join them in a ‘dancing game’ that is akin to duck-duck-goose with singing and pointing to choose the next ‘it’ person.
After being grabbed to join in various games and pictures with the orphans, Prasad and I watched the girls play a match of ‘Kubatii”, which is the official game of Andrha Pradesh, where teams each send someone across a line in the sand to tag another and get across the line before they are tackled by the rest of the team to score a point.
Back towards the boys dormitory, the larger fields had badminton and volleyball court with a cricket field further back. After a quick match of badminton, I jumped into a game of volleyball, which – next to soccer is my favorite. I played with these boys for over an hour, working up a good sweat in all the dust. Wow! Can these boys play volleyball! I daresay if these kids could make it to an indoor match at the Lexington Winter Weekend – they might haul the prize for winning every game! I have never seen a three-foot eight human being spike a ball over the net without touching the net. Last weekend, I not only saw it, I almost wore the ball on my face!
As evening drew on we served the children dinner and afterwards they gathered outside for what I could only describe as a “drive-In-movie experience” without being in a car. Large white sheets were hung and a movie was projected for everyone to watch.
After a long day, it was good to retire to a plush room and sleep in great comfort.
The following morning I was greeted with a terrific surprise as Sagar had Cynthia Saladin on the phone to speak to me. It was so nice to talk with her for the first time, and be able to speak my normal American rate of talking without being super conscious of my speech. I was very happy to be able to visit this ministry that her congregation serves. Not only was I treated to talking with Cynthia, Keith Kleeshulte just so happened to be visiting with the Saladins and I was able to gush about my experience to him and thank him profusely for opening this bridge of fellowship together with Kardias, the congregations in the USA and in two ministries in Andrha Pradesh, India.
Our final day at Hebron Home afforded us time to video much of the campus and tour the facilities for a DVD I will create just for Hebron Home for use in sharing the ministry that is truly an oasis out here in India. After interviewing Sagar for the DVD, Prasad and I had one further blessing in store for us.
At the Worship Hall, Prasad and I were introduced to the pastors of thirty of the sabbatarian congregations in four districts of over 1,000 brethren in the surrounding area. On behalf of Kardias and all of you brethren in the USA, I was privileged to speak and encourage them from the scriptures. Prasad also addressed them and was able to talk a little bit about his own youth ministry that is growing rapidly in the port city of Kakinada.
My heart swelled at this moment, to see pastors of congregations who share our faith and doctrinal understandings, yet have never crossed paths until now. How Great is our God to show us the bridge He has made to enable brethren to dwell together in unity. And also what a relief for the Gampalas to know, they are not alone in this place, but that God is doing a major work here that we are all blessed to be a part of.
Hebron Home has showed me what is possible here in India if the persecution others face here was held back by a hedge of protection as God has afforded Sagar and Hebron Home. While the blessings of the Lord have indeed served the children, the ministry and education center here, Hebron Home is suffering a trial with consequences from an unexpected source, that Sagar is prayerfully trying to navigate through.
The global push for secularism has been visited on the campus here, and it was and is a trial that I believe Sagar is passing with much character.
Sagar was given an ultimatum by corporate sponsors who after Richard Swannell’s death, objected strongly when it was learned he was teaching biblical studies and truths to the orphans, and it was demanded he cease teaching Christianity to the orphans or lose his corporate funding. Sagar refused to compromise what he understood God placed in his stewardship. True to their warning over his refusal to capitulate, Hebron lost most of it’s former corporate sponsors and funding. Hebron Home is now hanging on by the love and support from several congregations in the U.S. like the Seventh Day Church of God in Caldwell, Idaho that helps support some of the pastors in the 4 districts they serve; and Faith Fellowship church in Missouri that helps sponsor aid for the orphans. All of those blessings of course by the countenance of Sagar’s wise use of resources to keep Hebron open and running.
I am praying for Hebron Home and the Jalli family in the hopes that there are reasons for our paths crossing than just a wonderful visit. Jesus asked us to pray for more Laborers to come into His Harvest – and indeed, I have seen the fields being sown here around Palakol Town, and with my Gampala family in the slums of East Godavari District. More laborers are needed for this harvest here in India!
The hospitality and love shown to us during our first visit here is a memory I will forever treasure. Sagar has invited the Gampalas and I to the great meal on Passover here at Hebron, and Prasad and I are working with the Kardias Mission Team to prepare for their arrival to conduct a bible camp for the orphans in May.
Leaving the children and saying goodbye was with the shout and promise that we would return and that the mission team is just as excited to see them in May as they are to see the mission team. As Prasad and I drove away, it was as if a stadium of fans had erupted in cheers for us as they all frantically waved us by.
At Hebron, I have seen what is possible even in this backwards place if only the walls of caste and radical intolerance were lowered. Hebron Home works to accomplish just that, and has had some success. Amidst the thorns of Satan’s playground that quickly work to choke off any seeds of the Gospel from taking root in this soil, Hebron Home is an example of a shining oasis amidst the arid desert of darkness.
A Missed Opportunity
It all began with a chicken.
An eruption of shouts and angry yelling captured my attention while drying off from a morning bucket shower.
Yelling and shouting is a normal course of sounds of everyday life here in the slums of India. I was getting somewhat used to the random frequency of everything from parents yelling at disobedient children, to vendors on bicycles laden with wares exclaiming what they were selling.
But these yells and shouts were different. They were angry, bitter and defiant. In a short amount of time they grew from what sounded like an angry dispute into a serious confrontation of some kind. The shouts were of fury, and they became as screams. Many voices began joining in all this commotion and nearly all of them were shouts in anger, though I could not understand what was being argued about. A cacophony of rage and hostility being fired from one mouth to another was all that was reaching my ears.
I hastily dressed myself in camo shorts and a tee shirt, as I suddenly worried some mob had come to the gate to challenge or persecute the Gampala family or myself. As I was pulling my shirt down over my head and exiting my front door onto the balcony, I turned in the direction of all the noise just down to my left, and saw a small crowd engaged in an argument.
One man was holding a chicken by the feet that hung upside down and a small trail of blood was falling from the bird. Others were coming up to him yelling and reaching for the chicken, and he pulled it away from them, shouting back with furious finger pointing. Another angry man stormed up, his bellicose voice was of a fury and agitation that told me in no uncertain terms that the man with the chicken was in serious trouble. The two began to struggle for the chicken and the bellicose man managed to yank the chicken from the other man’s hands and shove him furiously to the ground. With that, roars erupted and the man who was shoved to the ground sprang up and rushed the man who shoved him, going for the chicken and then the man himself.
Suddenly as if the bleachers at a sports game rose up after a score, the entire village seemed to shout aloud. Persons flew off porches and from rickety stalls selling vegetables and recycled goods to get directly involved in the squabble.
The man who had first held the chicken was now being punched and slapped in the face by a cadre of persons, including one woman. Angry shouts and cursings of some kind flew from angry faces. The man shoved back one who was poking him hard in the chest and another roar of the mob erupted as they encircled the combatants out in the middle of the street.
The shouts and fighting were now loud enough to draw the attention of just about everyone in this slum village of Rajupalem. Villagers stood on their roofs or in the street to watch the spectacle unfolding just a few yards down the dusty road. Even Prasad and Pastor John were venturing outside the gate to gander at all the commotion to see what was going on.
“Some kind of fight” I exclaimed to them from my perch on the balcony above. Prasad smiled and acknowledged my presence. They did not seem at all alarmed, and it was almost of an aura that this kind of thing happens often, they were just curious over what it was that was causing the conflict.
The shouting was being replaced with more shoving and slapping which resulted in more loud screams of rage. The bellicose man trumpeted a stern rebuke of some kind, tossing the chicken to the ground but holding onto a cloth the other man had attempted to wrap the bird in. The chicken offender circled around the bellicose antagonist, yelling and cursing while hitting himself upon his breast. When he got to where the chicken lie on the ground, he stomped on the carcass while screaming aloud, tearing his shirt from his body in some kind of display of defiance or remorse. It is probably the closest thing I could see to a Caiphas-esque moment of rending garments.
I was mildly amused at the almost juvenile schoolyard aspect to this conflict up to this point. A town surrounding several brigands spoiling for a fight. But as soon as the man stomped on the chicken carcass and tore his shirt off, the incident turned from mild amusement to serious consternation on my part. The rage escalated.
Now there was much shoving and punching. The man who stomped on the chicken was flung to the ground and kicked. He stood up while two women were screaming at him and another man was inserting himself in between the bellicose man and the chicken offender. The bellicose man shouted again and charged the chicken offender and beat him with fists upon his head. A different man ran up to the bellicose man and made the praying greeting to his face and tried to embrace him. The bellicose man would have none of it and shoved him forcefully aside and charged the shirtless man again.
Prasad and Pastor John were standing outside the gate in the street, arms folded across their chests, watching this spectacle.
“Is it over a chicken?” I yelled down at them.
“Yes Daddy” Prasad replied, “That man is drunk and he tried to take the other man’s chicken and put it into a sack. He was seen doing the stealing and would not return it, so he cut the throat so they could not have it back, so he could keep it”.
I suddenly began to understand the nature of the conflict.
“ I guess the eighth Commandment is not well known here in Rajupalem” I exclaimed.
Prasad laughed in agreement, “Yes Daddy” he said.
John and Prasad laughed and exchanged a few words together. John shook his head in a display of disgust, he suddenly turned and walked back through the gate and into the courtyard. He looked up at me gave me a large toothy smile and said in perfect English, “Fighting over chicken”, then he cackled aloud a laugh that sounded like a cross between Snidely Whiplash and Porky Pig, which always makes me giggle inside.
Beeps and horns sounded from traffic that was backing up behind the melee on the street by auto Rickshaws, cars and trucks wanting to pass. But the crowd only shifted slightly to force the traffic to go around as best as it could, and the mob began yelling at those wanting to pass.
I turned back inside my own room for a time. A man had stolen a chicken and killed it, and he was suffering the wrath of those he had wronged, and everything was now a spectacle that was affecting everyone.
“Welcome to India” I said to myself.
We had power and I wanted to check my e-mails and any messages from family and friends. I could still hear the fighting outside that would rise and fall in stanzas of angry words.
I tried to ignore the conflict outside and was slightly successful for about fifteen minutes. I kept shaking my head to myself and wondering how long will such an argument go on? What was there left to argue about if someone was caught stealing? Do Indians simply love to argue for the sake of argument and fighting?
Then there came another voice – deeper, authoritative, and known to me. I went back to the balcony to look back at the mobs of people, and sure enough there he was, striding towards the crowd – the self-appointed Caste leader of this village who would make himself Pharoah over everyone.
“That’s just great” I said aloud in a sense of despair.
In my time here I was beginning to see how Satan was using this tool of a man to wreak division and discord among anyone and everyone to bring more power to himself. He would often sit in his white plastic chair on his porch while nearly everyone with a problem would come to him and bow and bring whatever issues before him they wanted settled. Then, like a puppet master he would pit one person against another, sometimes being able to turn others against simple passers-by, and sit back with a big grin on his face and watch the argument for his amusement.
“Nothing good is going to come of that!” I said below to Prasad motioning to the Pharoah as he strode to the center of conflict, shouting his own decrees.
“No Daddy” Prasad agreed. “It is his relative who belonged the chicken”.
Ahh. That would explain the hasty strides and terse words of Pharoah to the crowd. Sure enough as I suspected, like gasoline being poured on an already smoldering fire, the Pharoah’s words brought the mob to an eruption of full flame in shouts, cursing and further beatings of the chicken thief and two other people who appeared to be either relatives or friends of the thief, or those unfortunate enough to plead mercy for him.
The chicken thief yelled aloud, blood streaming down his face while he slapped himself and beat his own chest. Whatever he said enraged the crowd further and other men ran up to slap and punch him in the face.
Of course the Pharoah stood there admiring his handiwork and would toss in a sentence or two to keep the agitation of the mob up. The screaming, shouting and fighting continued as now by twos and threes men were getting physical with the thief. Off to the side, Pharoah was yelling at another younger man, barely in his teens – and two men rushed over to beat the teen as well. Now other women were screaming at one another and pushing one another over the beating of the teen.
This was now full blown madness to my eyes, having gone on for well over thirty minutes, and it took every fiber of my being from going down there to try and stop it.
As I watched this insanity before me, I suddenly thought of a scripture in my mind:
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Matthew 5:9
But what can I do? I thought to myself. It’s a mob scene down there. I yelled down to Prasad: “Can no one stop this? Can someone call 9-11 or the police to settle this without more violence?”
“No Daddy, it cannot”. Prasad replied. “If police come, they will demand bribes from everyone, and the one who can give more will get the judgment.”
I shook my head in disbelief, muttering to myself at the absolute barbarity and lunacy of how this country handles itself. There is no proportional justice here I thought to myself. In fact, there is no justice at all if you are poor or of a lower caste.
As the fighting continued and the shouting rose and fell, I felt helpless. Another person was shoved to the dusty ground.
I yelled out to Prasad once again; “So they will continue fighting like this until when? They know who took the chicken, so why are they now fighting with many?”
Prasad answered matter-of-fact while continuing to watch the melee in front of him. “The family whose chicken it was demand two-thousand rupees as payment penalty for the chicken. The man does not have, so they now attack his family to pay, and they cannot pay the amount, so there will remain fighting until they pay and those others are satisfied.”
I shook my head in disgust and suddenly the verse in Matthew 5:9 about peacemakers again erupted in my mind. Looking at the mob of angry combatants, I could not see how anyone could bring peace to that situation. Least of all me.
Then it hit me. Oh me of little faith.
I was witness to powerful things the Lord was doing in this place that I have never seen before in my life and I was doubting over a matter that God could handle instantly. Fear was overriding my faith, and I began to recognize it. In my head I was silently repenting of being faithless and untrusting of Our Lord who allowed me to be in this place for HIS purpose.
HIS Purpose for my being here in India. Not my own purpose.
On that thought, it was as if my mind was injected with an entire plan wirelessly. Several Gospel examples flooded my mind and I suddenly had a plan and course of action that I knew I should undertake. There was a purpose to this, and I was about to have bold faith to do what I suddenly understood to be an incredible opportunity, gift wrapped for me from Heaven above for the Lord’s Glory and witness in this place.
I quickly changed clothes into white pants and the new white shirt that the Gampalas had tailored for me. I reached up to where my passport and billfold were hidden and reached inside to pull out two 1,000 Rupee notes. I folded them down into my hand and strode out of my room.
I now had a determination as I marched down the stairs and found my sandals to put on my feet.
Pastor John sat up in the chair he was resting in noticing my change of apparel. Anusha also seemed surprise to see me in ‘preaching clothes’.
I called Prasad from the street to come to me.
“Prasad, take me to the man who has stolen the chicken” I said.
“Daddy?” he asked bewildered.
“Take me to the man who has stolen the chicken” I repeated.
“No Daddy, you should not go out. We should not get involved in such arguments that do not concern us. It is much dangerous”.
“I do not care about the danger Prasad, take me to the man who stole the chicken, the Gospel must be preached.” I said with authority.
Prasad’s eyes grew wide and he was suddenly struck with terror. “You should not Daddy, their anger will be much against you for interfering”.
John asked a question in Telugu and Prasad nervously told them what I wanted.
John grabbed my arm and said in English “Veddy dangerous” and I could tell by his countenance he was giving me a warning.
“You should not go Uncle” came a female voice behind me. It was Anusha, Prasad’s wife who wore alarm on her face as clearly as her husband and father-in-law were. “It is much too dangerous, they will turn their anger on you as a Christian and beat you. The whole mob will be glad to beat you instead of the man who did the crime”.
“Do you think I will let them beat me?” I asked.
“There are too many Daddy” Prasad pleaded, “You cannot fight all those people and that man is there and would have an excuse to have you arrested”.
“I am not going to fight Prasad. Do any of you even know what I am planning to do?” I asked defiantly.
“Yes” Prasad replied, “You want the fighting to stop, but they will only use their anger to fight you instead”.
“Blessed are the peacemakers Prasad, and I can preach the Gospel at the same time”.
“You cannot stop them Uncle, you will only make them angry on you” Anusha was insisting.
“Can we not trust in the Lord and follow His lead or should we be afraid every time opportunity is given to us?”
Anusha replied affirmatively, “Yes Uncle, we should trust the Lord – but the Hindus will not accept our involvement in their caste fighting”.
“I do not care about their caste, neither does God.” I said boldly. “The first will be last and the last shall be first, why should I fear what men can do?”
Prasad was now begging me not to go out of the gate as Ruth and the widows were gathering around while John and Anusha were explaining what I was wanting to do. In seconds Amma Ruth was pleading with me In Telegu, her hand signals clearly telling me that it was unwise for me to insert myself in what was going on on the street.
“I am not here to do my own thing, but whatever God wants me to do, and I think this is something He is wanting me to do” I said.
“Daddy, they will not accept us to involve ourselves in their argument to make peace. Let them solve it themselves”.
“And then the Gospel will not be preached by the example I wish to give” I said flatly.
“You will make them angry only Daddy” Prasad insisted.
I knew enough of the risks the Gampala family takes on a daily basis to be faithful to the Gospel and to preach when ordered not to preach in their church. So I was a little taken aback by the amount of fear all of them were displaying. This seemed out of character for them when they have endured beatings and arrests in the past. I paused to consider their fear, reminding myself that I do not know the customs, or what would result of immersing myself in the midst of so many angry and fighting Hindus being agitated by the one who would be Pharoah.
I thought I should tell them of what my intent was, to see if they could see and understand what I believed God was inspiring me to do.
“Do you know why I am asking you to take me to the man who had stolen the chicken?” I ask.
“No.” Prasad answered, “What will you say to an unbeliever that has already done wrong?”
I explain that I want to be taken to the man who committed the crime of theft so I can pay his two thousand rupee debt for his sin against Pharoah’s family.
At this, the Gampala family erupted in disapproval, saying “No! Do not do such a thing! If you do this then many chickens will be taken and everyone will expect you to do the same for them in order to get the money! You will cause much trouble for yourself”.
Prasad insisted that he will go to the man later that night and do as I ask if that is what I wanted.
I suddenly realized that the fear I was seeing in the Gampalas was not fear of doing good or preaching, but fear for any harm or trouble coming to me. I recognized this love, but even that could be a hindrance to the things The Lord wants me to accomplish here in this place.
“Look” I said, answering the latest worry, “I will make it very clear this thing I will do, is a one-time deal. I am only doing it this once to demonstrate the Gospel to those who hate you”.
“They will not understand and only see what you do as a way to get more money from you” Anusha affirmed. “Then they will do more like this and then demand you give them money. They will not understand the message you want to give”.
“You are not all thinking as God does” I asserted, “Can God not use this situation for His Glory and to be a witness to them all?”
“Yes Uncle, but the Hindus will not see it that way, and they will not understand the message”.
“What better example to show what Jesus did for all of us?” I ask. “Answer me this, what will happen to this man if he is unable to pay the amount they are all demanding of him?”
“They will beat him and put him in prison Uncle” Anusha replied.
“And this man has no ability to pay the cost of his crime?”
“No” she and Prasad stated.
“When you and I sinned, what was our penalty from God?”
“Yes” Anusha replied, “You have been preaching that death is payment for sin, but the Hindus do not believe that”.
“I do not care what they do or do not believe.” I stated defiantly, “They will have had a witness explain to them today, the very thing that can save them from that very death I have talked about”.
“They will not agree with you Uncle”.
“That will be between them and God.” I said. “But they will have no excuse in the Day of Judgment that no one gave them the truth. “
I went on to explain to them that the man had broken the law by stealing. He had stolen even from the man who would make himself a lord over them. If I go to the man and ask him if he understands what he did wrong; that stealing is wrong and sinful, and he agrees. One of the Laws of God is proclaimed. When I tell him that I am going to pay his penalty to the family he has wronged, HIS penalty that he has no ability to pay, he will be justified before those who demand payment for his wrongdoing. Then I can say before all who are watching, that this is what Jesus Christ has done for each one of us for the penalty we have earned for our sins. None of us have any ability to repay the debt, same as this chicken thief, but Jesus stepped in for us when we did not know Him, and He paid our penalty of eternal death for us.
All that is required, is if we believe and accept what was done for us and go and sin no more – following Him who redeemed us from death.
“Christ died for us while we were still yet sinners, meaning we could reject this gift” I expounded. “The Hindus there can reject this gift I am ready to give also, but at least the truth of the Gospel will have been told to them in this example”.
There was silence after I spoke. The gravity of what I said sinking in.
“We proclaim the same message at our Gospel Meetings and Sabbath worship Daddy” Prasad said.
“Is the Gospel preached only at Gospel meetings? Can it not be preached in any circumstance we find ourselves? What about the woman at the well? Did Jesus only preach the Gospel at the Temple or at meetings with crowds? Did he not use personal examples and small situations to explain the Gospel?” I ask, not from myself.
“But the Hindus will not accept or hear even our plain words to them” is the reply.
I nodded in agreement that it is possible that the thief may reject my gift or it may be refused by the others also. That is a risk. But as I thought about it, it was a risk that Christ Himself bore for us.
As everyone was thinking deeply about what was just said, there was suddenly the realization that there was no more yelling and screaming out in the street. As I looked over in the direction where the fighting was, people were disbanding and walking away.
“It has ended” Prasad noted. “They have reached agreement, so there is not a need to do this now unless you want me to do as I said I would do later tonight”.
I nodded a bit blindly. My mind was suddenly reeling with the thought that I missed the opportunity given to me. I worried that I might have failed to do what the Holy Spirit was prompting me to do by letting the fear in both myself and the Gampalas hinder me from following through with what I saw in my mind as a clear direction.
Did I fail a test of faith? Was God displeased with my slowness to respond to an idea I firmly believe He put in my mind? In the days that followed the incident, I could not help but feel remorse for what I saw as a missed opportunity.
However, as a few days went by and the incident replayed itself in my mind and how I responded, something Prasad said to me stuck out in my mind; “We proclaim the same message at our Gospel Meetings and Sabbath worship Daddy”. There, perhaps was the one thing that helped me to think that the chicken incident was not as missed an opportunity as I assumed it was.
My initial hesitation was borne from the fact that the situation was out of my own comfort zone. I too was of a mindset that preaching the Gospel was limited to events, schedules and specific times when it would be seen as an appropriate time to do so. Even back home, it is a common saying nowadays that “God should be kept at church”; “You might offend someone by preaching to them an understanding they do not share”, etc. etc.
The missed opportunities to do Matthew 28:19-20 happen to us every single day. That does not mean to stand on a street corner with a sign and bullhorn or to beat people over the head with the bible. Assuredly, doing such a thing here in India will get you killed.
But how many opportunities where we might be prompted by the Spirit to share a concept of Salvation or God’s Commandments or Ways to a troubled person do we pass up out of fear of offending them or out of our own fear of inadequacy?
Jesus took advantage of many small opportunities to illustrate God’s Kingdom and the Salvation He was bringing. He did not leave the Gospel preaching to the Temple only. There were sick lepers He healed; a woman at the well; a Roman Centurion; an adulteress about to be stoned; and a weeping woman at His feet in whom opportunities to share the Gospel were made.
Even the First century church had many examples of opportunities to illustrate the Kingdom of God and the redemption we have in Jesus Christ. From eunuchs to prison guards, individual situations might be opportunities for us to go boldly with God’s help to do that which we have become afraid or nervous about doing.
It sobers me that even on a mission trip to serve the Lord and the Gospel here in India, I can miss an opportunity to illustrate or showcase the truth to people who have never heard of Christ’s redemption, and whom desperately need at minimum, to have a witness presented to them.
I am learning that even among ardent and faithful brethren who do preach the Gospel more abundantly than I have ever seen or experienced, human nature tends to limit those opportunities to when they are scheduled, controlled and comfortable.
The ministry of Jesus Himself and the Acts of the Apostles give us many examples that often the most successful opportunities to reach the unconverted, are not at open preaching venues or meetings, but personal situations, even conflicts that present an opportunity to present the Good News to a people lost to this world and themselves.
I am taking advantage of this opportunity, to preach a truth that I have learned, and that I will remember to have more faith and trust to walk boldly into the service God brought me here to do in the first place.
I pray Our Lord will help you all do the same, while we still have a little daylight left in which to work.
From Tears To Joy & Laughter At The House of God
I’ve never experienced persecution of my faith or status from either a first-hand or even second-hand basis before. We were so blessed as a people and nation to enjoy the liberty to follow our faith as we were led to celebrate it without fear of government and political intrusion and abolishment.
Of course things even in our country are changing rapidly, but most of us are able to still fellowship, serve the needy, and worship in our churches and homes without suffering for it. At least for now.
This is not the case in India, where persecution of Christians is not only routine, but institutionalized. It is even worse for Christian widows, as Hindu Caste society scorns widows as ‘cursed creatures’ and imposes strict rules of disdain upon them; including forbidding them sweets; limiting them to a single meal a day; requiring them to cover their faces; and embracing misery as a penance for a vain hope in a better reincarnation in the next life. No kindness is to be shown a widow in India, for she is to suffer for her past lives sins and the sin of her husband dying before she in accordance with Hindu tradition and defacto law.
The Gampala family ministry here in the slums of rural Andrha Pradesh, follows the biblical mandate of James 1:27, and they serve the widows in their congregation and whom are willing to come to them for help, thus going against both Indian tradition and the Hindu laws to serve them. Widows are in distress constantly here in India, and most of them willingly allow themselves to be mistreated and regarded as garbage and refuse by which most of Indian society regards them.
The Gampalas care for 39 widows directly, through your kind support and love via Kardias – funds are sent each month for the Gampalas to purchase enough rice, oil and dhal to distribute in order to keep these widows alive. In addition, because of the generosity of many brethren in the USA who help sponsor an Adopt-a-Widows program, the Gampalas have adopted seven of these widows in their congregation as family members. They are provided shelter at the House of God, meals, clothing toiletries and medical expenses. They all became as part of the family commune at the House of God.
I first saw many of them in pictures and videos from when my two daughters served them during the mission trip in 2008. I was blessed to meet them all in person in 2010, having felt like I came to know them through the service and testimony of my daughters. It was the rarest privilege to be able to actually perform what James 1 says is perfect religion, because I had never done such a thing before for women whom are so downtrodden and abused. The House of God and the Gampala ministry was truly a beacon of light, hope and joy for many of these precious brethren.
So imagine my shock of receiving a desperate phone call after midnight last November. It was Chitti who called my home phone, and his voice was in sheer panic. I almost could not understand him, and there was desperate fear in his voice. “They are coming to force us to comply with them” he said. I tried hard to get him to calm down enough to explain what was going on. “I need the Body of Christ USA to pray now for our persecution coming.” He said. He explained he would write an e-mail to me later and said that the Hindu leader was at their house demanding they stop or they will shut down their church and make them all lose their home. I heard yelling in the background and angry shouts from several people I did not recognize in voice. Chitti said he had to hang up, and in tears, he said ‘Pray for me now brother”, and then the line went silent.
I stood in numb horror in my downstairs office for a moment, letting his words replay in my mind. I was gripped with terror for my adopted Indian family and was not sure exactly what was going on, except I recalled Chitti telling Brian and I during the mission trip in 2010 that “The enemy may come at any time, and no one can save you, only Our Father can”.
I burst into tears, a mixture of horror and grief I never felt before. What was happening to my brothers and sisters in Christ whom I loved? I cried out to God to aid and protect them and shield them from whatever this persecution was that had arrived. Suddenly I felt the pain of persecution, something I never had felt before.
I went upstairs to wake up and let my wife know what was happening, she sat bewildered for a moment, seeing my own anguish which she suddenly felt as well. After prayer and an urgent e-mail to brethren in the U.S.A., I was awake most of the night, worried and scared for whatever was transpiring on the other side of the world.
In the morning, I did receive an e-mail from Chitti explaining what had happened.
The ambitious self-proclaimed Caste leader in the village of Rajupalem, who hates the Gampala family and the church with an unbridled passion, was watching the brethren care for the widows and allowing them to live here at the church. This outraged the man who would be Pharaoh, and he involved several prominent Hindu political leaders, and together they called Pastors, John, Chitti, Anonda and Prasad to his home for questioning. They demanded to know who gave them the right to do good things to the ‘cursed creatures’, and allow them to live at a church that they did not give permission for them to build. The Gampalas showed them where the bible instructs them to care for widows and orphans, and this simply enraged the tyrant further. He was also outraged that they dare to hang a banner on the building that said ‘Church of God Ministries”. He demanded they pay him over one thousand dollars U.S. to his political campaign for president, or be forced from their church and home.
The Gampalas and the elders of the church pleaded with them for understanding, explaining that they were poor and had no such funds. Of course Pharaoh was hoping they would beg the church in the USA to send the funds, but the Gampalas were wise enough to know that if they paid such an extortion, it would only invite more in the future.
At Pharaoh’s behest, the Indian government gave the Gampala’s an ultimatum: tear down the sign and publicly expel the six widows from the House of God to the streets for the angry Hindus to put them back in their place, or lose their church and home and all would be forced into the street.
They dropped to their knees and kissed the tyrant’s feet and begged for mercy, but he would have none of it. It only emboldened his wrath against them further. Sadly, they were forced to comply – and the Widows were evicted publicly from the church on the Sabbath after Thanksgiving in the U.S.
Some of the families and friends of these widows begged the Gampalas not to abandon them to death on the street as the Pharaoh decreed, and we admonished Chitti to follow the biblical example that they ought to obey God rather than men, and continue to provide for them, even if they have to do so in secret.
Be wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove.
In the time since, much sadness descended on the House of God and the congregations it serves. Quietly, the widows were told to come at night, and they would be fed and cared for before having to let them return to whatever meager living environs they were able to attain for themselves.
Since God was already opening the door by the generosity of the brethren and congregations in the U.S. for me to come to India for a multi-month stay and service at the House of God, I wanted to make comforting these widows and the congregations one of my main mission goals. I had asked Chitti if the widows could come back to the House of God while I was there, as I would hopefully be a shield of protection for them.
The day of my arrival in January at the House of God, the Gampalas had a surprise waiting for me, as these six widows descended the steps from the sanctuary at the House of God to greet me. In tears of thanksgiving, they greeted me.
In the weeks since, I have had much fun and enjoyment breaking the caste and cultural rules to illustrate the supremacy of Christ’s love, care and respect for our elders and fragile members. Even the widows themselves were at first in shock that I would rise from my seat at services to help a limping widow to her seat, for this culture teaches that men and those of status should not trouble themselves with the affairs concerning women, and these cultural rules are in place, even in the church. It has been a joy to show a different set of cultural rules as we are governed in our country, and I have reminded everyone that Jesus taught that if we would be great in the Kingdom, we should become low as servants. Men should trouble themselves in the affairs of those who are the weaker vessels despite the fact that Chivalry has never been a part of Indian culture.
Sharing such joy is infectious, and those that have never received such love are certainly enjoying the love and attention I am able to share with them. The six widows come to my room each afternoon and evening, where following the biblical admonition in 1 Corinthians 16:20, I greet each of them with a hug and kiss from all of the brethren whom enabled me to be here to comfort them. The happiness in their eyes and their smiles seemed to have helped to melt the sorrows that have plagued them in recent months. I have no better way to describe the blessing of being able to share God’s Love, and your love for them.
I have been eager to break yet another cultural protocol and have a meal in honor of these widows, and on Thursday March 8th – that desire became a reality.
We began the afternoon with the monthly food distribution that Kardias funds for all 39 widows. Large bags of rice were opened on the porch floor and a large bucket of rice is scooped up and poured into empty sacks for each widow and then a packet of cooking oil and a package of dhal is placed in each bag. It is enough starch and lentils to make a rudimentary protein that when mixed with a vegetable and chilies make the portion of food the very poor in India have on a daily basis.
That anyone cares enough to even supply them with such vital foodstuffs without demanding favors and bribes in return, is an act that surprises many who eventually want to learn more about why the Gampala’s are so different than all the other priests, temples, gods and other Christian groups in India.
As a result, serving the widows has become a large part of the ministry efforts of the Gampalas, and it consumes much of the time and efforts spent in the service of the brethren.
It is a wonderful example of a kind of selfless service that is rare in this world today, and despite the risks and hardships involved in doing this service for them, the Church of God in these villages make every effort to provide as God would expect the family of God to do for one another.
But our afternoon was just getting started. After distributing the monthly foodstuffs, the six widows who were evicted from the House of God, joined the entire family upstairs in the House of God for a luncheon in their honor at the behest of myself for the brethren in the U.S. A. who love and support them through Kardias.
Sister Ruth and Mercy prepared a sumptuous feast for everyone, and I donned traditional Indian longhi and sat in a circle on the floor in a ‘common meal’ service. Generous portions of aromatic biryani rice and chicken were served. Two wonderful curries were offered as well as sambar soup and a banana.
I opened with prayer and gave God thanks and then the feast of food and fun began. Truly a very high point for me during my mission trip here to this point.
To sit with the entire family and eat together is indeed a rare treat in India and is often reserved for special occasions. We were able to enjoy a terrific lunch with much laughter and teasing as I told the widows how Chitti keeps trying to sneak green ‘cobras’ into my food.
To eat a good meal together at mid-day was indeed a special treat for these women who often greet me with love and affection that absolutely melts your heart in joy and laughter. As everyone laughed at my expense over my difficulty understanding and speaking their language of Telugu, and once the food was all consumed and our bellies were full, we offered sister Ruth and Mercy our ‘dhanyvadalamoo’ or thanks, and we made our way down the stairs. To my delight each widow was able to express their own gratitude for the wonderful occasion performed for them.
It is not easy to describe the emotions of being able to lift up and help bring laughter and joy to brethren who not long ago were in tears of anguish and despair. Awesome and incredible are the only words I can think of to approximate the feeling of seeing the happiness and joy on their leather-worn faces.
Thanks to our Great God and all of you who have been able to send me here on your behalf, I have been blessed to share your love and joy with the least of these, the brethren of Our Bridegroom Jesus Christ. In a small way, I felt as though I received a preview of the scripture in Revelation 21:4:
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
Suffering, The Children To Come Unto HIM
She stands there about seventy feet from me, not a stitch of clothing on her. From this distance I can count nearly every rib on her emaciated little body. It is difficult to ascertain age in India due malnutrition, but I guess her about nine or ten. As she cries, she squats and defecates, having no care to the public, the traffic and the many adults that walk on by her as if she were a roadside dog. Another child approaches, younger. Also emaciated. He has on a soiled pair of shorts. As I watch, he goes over to where the girl just stood, and begins to dig through her fecal matter looking for something, and my mind does not want to know what for.
I turn away nauseous.
I see a girl in a government school uniform, her pale green chemise and yellow scarf draped over her shoulders, standing atop an embankment of garbage and stinking refuse. She skips down the endless pile of trash uncaring, calf-deep in litter, hunting for any interesting plaything she can find amidst the rotting filth.
Three preteen boys stride arm and arm abreast down the dusty road. They are best pals. They stop every so often to hold out their hands to adults walking by, desiring a blessing of money. They are mostly chided and ignored, but they are undaunted in this activity. There is no shame in begging.
Children are a dichotomy in India. On one hand they are prized and celebrated. Birthdays for children are often grand affairs with fireworks and feasting. . The large groups of children in uniforms coming home from school is a sight of colors and smiling faces. Many shop stalls cater Chinese junk trinkets of plastic that eager eyes and faces often gaze with wonderment while fathers gladly buy a young heart’s desire. Indian sweet shops are always buzzing with children happily dreaming of sugar-dripped ladoos or syrupy kasha.
Indian culture espouses the virtue of children as the blessed fruits of marriage. Sons are the most desired in the patriarchal system in India. Girls are less so, especially in the slum villages where they are an instant burden due to the cultural practice of dowry. A barren womb is grounds for divorce and every marriage is a hope of more children. I have prayed for several newlyweds and some brides here during my visits in the rural slums in the delta of Andrha Pradesh, who have asked for a blessing from God for sons.
On the other hand, children are often regarded as a burden, a curse and they are often discarded, abandoned or ejected from the home. They can be blamed for bad luck, an evil omen or simply seen as an economic weight on the family. Epidemic here is an alcoholic father spending all his earnings on himself, leaving none for the family and the child is forced from the home to fend for themselves.
For many of the children in these slum villages in rural Southeast India, life is hard. Even when time may afford them play and laughter –they are consigned to the bleak future that awaits them. Due caste and religious superstitions most of these children I see will be relegated to slave labor in the rice fields, sweating in smoldering pits as brick makers, or tenders of the beasts of burden for the higher castes.
I am told that slavery of children to beg for street lords and serve as sex slaves for pimps is a fate that many abandoned children find themselves, as the rest of society ignores them.
The Limits of Government Schooling and Technology
A government education affords no hope for the low caste children. Caste does not allow advancement into prosperity from the lower castes, even with an education. Benefits, opportunities are reserved only for those born at the top of the cultural food chain in India. School is an indoctrination center for Hinduism, where caste and superstition are taught right alongside reading, writing and ‘rithmatic. The imposition of caste and everyone’s permanent station is drilled into young minds and demanded to be followed by the culture. Low caste children are taught their place is permanent servitude demanded by the gods, and society. Their minds and souls are enslaved to this backwardness, and it is a system three millennia old that the higher castes that control India, have no desire or allowance for the ability to change it.
Only a few things are able to open the doors of this closed cultural mindset; technology, business with the West and of course, the Gospel. I have seen all three at work here in India.
The first two are easily seen in the urban cities, where caste is less enforced and most of the upper crust live and do business with the West. Cellphones are an everyday accessory by even some of the lower castes as technology catches up with India. Business with the West due outsourcing of network call centers and computer-related industries is having an impact on social norms in the urban areas.
But none of that is able to free the minds of the people beholden to their much vaunted pagan superstitions and faith. The cities are adorned with temples and shrines every bit as numerous as in the rural villages. True liberty and hope for the children here is limited to what the information age and communication itself offers in conjunction with millennia of Hindu tradition.
In the rural slums and villages, technology is utilized for family social contact only. The thought that such technology and communication can lift these children from their prescribed fate, is a near futile dream for most.
It is what the Gospel of the Kingdom of God offers that attracts the low castes to Jesus Christ; freedom from self-imposed mental slavery with vain hope of an uncertain future, into a guaranteed future into Life everlasting with the hope and help the Lord provides in this life.
A Better Hope
It is the children in the slum villages here in Andrha Pradesh that are being planted, watered and nourished in the Word of God by the ministry efforts of Prasad and his wife Anusha that I have seen hope and understanding in the eyes of the children. It is nothing short of amazing to witness the rapid growth, eagerness and excitement these two servants of the Gospel generate among the youth here in the delta villages of Andrha Pradesh. It is also a daunting task that has encountered obstacles being put in place by Hindu leaders and by other envious Chrisitan groups that threaten to uproot the crop being raised in the love and care of my adopted son and his wife.
Prasad has a boyish charm that endear children to him. He is not afraid to laugh, and looks for every opportunity to do so, which in Indian culture is not a virtue. He is also an excellent teacher and is quickly able to grasp new ideas, concepts and technology in order to work those things into preaching the Gospel and training up these children in the way they should go.
He maried his wife Anusha last July, and their relationship was also not of the norm for Indian society. For they met and fell in love at college and thwarted the intent for the arranged marriage that both families preferred for them.
Anusha herself, is from the Indian state of Bihar far to the North and a 3 day train trip from Andrha Pradesah. Anusha is fluent in six languages, including English and her gift of tongues is a blessing to both the Gampala family and the missionaries from the U.S.A. Anusha seemed to be the catalyst to jump-start Prasad’s youth ministry into overdrive. Since their marriage, Prasad and Anusha have raised up youth groups in 4 different locations besides the House of God at Rajupalem, and church congregations in one village and in the city of Kakinada. They are nearly always active in preparing lessons for the children and traveling several times a week to meet with them in the evenings.
Rajaro Peta is a village of what we might call ‘middle class’ Indians. Higher caste Sudrhas and other labor castes live here which for a Christian group to be allowed into at all, is a miracle unto itself. The youth group in Rajaro Peta began with just a handful of children that swelled to over forty in just two weeks. A couple of parents of the children were so impressed at the teaching, they had asked Prasad and Anusha to come on the Sabbath to conduct worship services for them. By the time I arrived in India in January, this group was continuing to grow. On my third week in India, Prasad had set up a five hour church camp in which I was a guest speaker and the children from the congregation at the House of God were brought to meet and fellowship with in song, praise and worship.
Muggapeta is a slum village about halfway between Rajupalem and Kakinada. As in Rajaro Peta, what began with a few children in the first weeks of Prasad’s ministry has grown to over two dozen regulars and often ten to twelve friends of the regulars that come for the instruction and fun. Prasad brings a battery-powered P.A. system and plays music from his cell phone to excited children. Prasad will soon bring a laptop PC gifted to him from the brethren in the USA with Powerpoint and video capability that will become a major tool in instruction. As Prasad learns to use the software, the kids at the House of God have sat in wonderment during bible story time as pictures help bring the stories in the bible to life.
Golipapeta is another slum village on the outskirts of the city of Kakinada. It boasts of two dozen regular children that are eager to hear the Gospel and the instruction Prasad and Anusha happily share with them each week. Both groups in Muggapeta and Golipapeta are filled with children of low caste and often from broken homes and in abusive conditions. The ministry Prasad is able to share with them is giving them something they eagerly look forward to each time he and Anusha are able to come.
Kakinada is a port city on the Indian ocean. Here a handful of children of two church members have grown to over sixty children that regularly attend the Sabbath school and worship each Saturday afternoon and evening. Songs, praise, prayers and worship are taught the children on the roof of the home of one of the members. Prasad entertains by acting out the scriptures and performing puppet shows and voice drama to enthrall the youngsters. Anusha teaches classical Indian dances to the children of Telugu worship songs that help tell the story as often songs do in Indian culture. So eager are the children to begin the Sabbath and worship, often if Prasad is running late – his cell phone will ring with pleas that he come quickly as the children anxiously await them.
Prasad is eager to get bibles in Telugu into the hands of his eager students along with many other exciting methods of being able to teach the Gospel. Some brethren in the USA provided a new PC laptop for Prasad’s ministry and it has been loaded with all kinds of new software to enable Prasad to create exciting visuals and videos to be able to preach and teach bible stories and God’s Laws and Commandments.
Another wonderful development is that CEM, Allie and Ron Dart’s ministry has generously donated their YEA lessons from grades K- senior teen to us for the purpose of translating the lessons into Telugu for the kids ministry here. There is a ton of work to be done to enable that to happen, but Prasad and Anusha are jumping up and down like children themselves at having such wonderful tools now in their hands. Prasad not only plans to print these workbooks for the ministry once we have translated them – he plans to convert some of the lessons into moving Powerpoint presentations so he can teach the lesson in a visual way that captivates the children and adults here in India. I have never been so proud to know that the desire of CEM to equip the Saints for the work of ministry is being fulfilled here in the slum villages of rural India. It excites me to think about all these children being exposed to the Gospel and God’s Way of life, and how that crop may indeed change the culture here, for the betterment of everyone in India.
Worrisome Obstacles and the Spectre of Persecution
Despite the sunny blessings we are counting, there are storm clouds always gathering as Satan is having a hissy fit that we have invaded this playground of his here in India.
I imagine every ministry has troubles and obstacles to overcome that make such endeavors a source of frustration and time consuming worry. In the USA, one youth pastor I know has endured one set of frustrations after another. Sadly these were not from his students in whom he expected such things, but from other pastors and congregations that either saw his ministry as inferior or competitive.
While such things can be maddening and demoralizing, they do not compare to the kinds of obstacles and troubles that plague Christians in India trying to feed the sheep the Lord has delivered into their hands. Aside from obstacles being placed in their path by other Christian church denominations to thwart the ministry of Prasad and Anusha, there is always the specter of persecution being wrought upon them by Hindu and Caste leaders opposed to the Gospel in India. Worse is that sometimes, such persecution is visited upon the children Prasad and Anusha are teaching, and many times the concern for their safety and the children’s is raising the possiblility of suspending the ministry in one area or another.
Some of the children in Muggapeta are sneaking to the Gospel services quietly as to avoid being punished at home by their parents for attending. When discussing that Prasad and Anusha were hoping to bring bibles to distribute to the children, one teen girl begged Anusha that if they do bring bibles, that Anusha should keep hers, as the girl explained that if she was disovered with a bible at home, she would be horribly beaten. Prasad and Anusha walk a very fine line of tolerance in the 3 villages they serve. While the Hindu leaders may not mind any ‘moral lessons’ taught the children, the specific introduction of Jesus Christ and the God of all Creation is always a risk that may bring about the swift end of their ministry in those villages. It is one of the major reasons I have not been brought to meet the children and preach at Muggapeta or Golipapeta, as the Hindus are ever watching, waiting for any excuse to forbid their ministry. Prasad and Anusha are truly being wise as serpents, while remaining harmless as doves.
Another obstacle comes from a place that it should not, by another Christian group that is forbidding Prasad and Anusha to come and provide Sabbath services to the brethren in Rajaro Peta. Luke 9:49-50 specifically lays out this admonition from Jesus;
John said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.” – Luke 9:49-50
Competition and jealousy are part and parcel of Indian culture and Christianity has not expunged it from amongst themselves. The pastor of a large Evangelical/Baptist church with ties to upper caste Hindu leadership in the villages has warned the parents of the children against sending them to learn from Prasad and Anusha, and has offered ‘gifts’ for them all to return to his congregation. At the same time by his influence the village leaders are telling Prasad and Anusha to stop coming to the village to preach and serve their members.
I remember a widow named Sayari I had met during a house visit that had attended this same large congregation. She said to me that she left Christianity because this church did not ‘feed her’ anything that Hinduism was not offering as well, and that bribes and gifts to fill the seats was all they were concerned about. I had prayed for her faith to be renewed and repentance to come to her. I have seen her several times now at our gospel meetings and services in Lanka.
Prasad was distraught about the demand he cease coming to Rajaro Peta and came to talk with me about what he should do. I advised him that as a pastor, this is the first test of God to see how he will handle this obstacle. Will he give up this flock God delivered into his stewardship, or fight for it? Prasad was worried about the conflict that could come by defying the request to stop coming. I asked him plainly, “Is it better to obey God, or men? Should you fear God or what men can do?” It was a rhetorical question and I had no business of my own in asking it of myself. But I was not acting of myself – I was remembering scripture. Prasad is a man who willingly endured a beating and jail for doing nothing more than worshipping and praising God at church and preaching the truth. He and his family have endured injustice and persecution for years on end.
I knew the answer he would give, but he was not thinking of himself, he was thinking of all the kids and the adults who were of his ministry there.
I continued: “Should the kids and the members bear any less risk in following Jesus than you do? What does Matthew 24 say? You have talked of this to them, yes?” Prasad nodded and hung his head in deep thought. I told him to go quietly to the village and ask each member whether or not they want Prasad and Anusha to keep coming regardless of the demand they stay away.
While the adults were a bit hesitant, it was the children of the village who were pleading with them to continue coming, regardless of the warnings. Anusha said the children were building in them courage by stating they would endure what their parents and leaders would afflict them with. Out of the mouth of babes came the words that Prasad needed to hear “You are teaching us the truth, do not stop because men do not like the truth”.
Given the depravity, neglect and abuse I have seen among some of the discarded children here in India, and even the daily treatment of kids fortunate to have a thatched roof over their heads, I am not surprised at the response the children have towards Prasad and Anusha’s ministry. They have tasted the care, concern and truth of God’s way of Life. They are hearing and learning about a new way of thinking that differs from the traditions and empty promises of men that they clearly see and are unafraid to point out. What they are learning is a precious blessing they do not want to let go of, and they are hungry for more, as they are concepts and ideas totally different from what they live in and endure moment to moment.
When I pause to consider how the children of the slum villages reacted to efforts to prohibit and stop what Prasad and Anusha are preaching and doing, I feel shame. Shame that in a nation founded on the bible, in a country that once considered itself a Christian nation, little Hindu children hearing the Word of God are more stalwart to risk themselves to defend their new faith and beliefs than those of us warming a seat in a pew will. India has never afforded Christians the kind of liberty to worship as America afforded, and yet the news on a daily basis coming out of my country is how anyone standing up for truth in the USA cowers under the pressure from secularists and the wicked when standing up for righteousness and willingly lets the unGodly triumph. Meanwhile, the majority of Christians just shrug their shoulders or pile on with the secular criticisms themselves.
What a travesty in comparison what I see before my own eyes. Out of the mouth of babes, and their willingness to risk and suffer physical punishment from village leaders and parents in order to come to Jesus Christ and stand up for that faith! Hindu children not even yet baptized showcase the shortcomings of the church in America; the lukewarm tepidness we have become in comparison to the fire and zeal I am witness to here in India and what we read about in the third world where the church is persecuted.
Maybe Ron Dart was correct in a message he gave back in 2007 that I was blessed to hear; maybe a little persecution on the church would be a good thing to wake us up out of our stupor.
But I have my doubts given the fruits I am reading about back home. A majority of Christians back home seem willing and eager to ignore attacks on the faith or join the chorus of the secular wicked and hedonists to shut down and prohibit anyone standing up for the truth. Should we not be willing to risk that which little Hindu children are willing to risk, just to HEAR the Word of God explained to them??
They are willing to celebrate and even suffer if they must to come to Jesus. How much I am learning of my own shallow faith while here serving in these fields of the Lord’s Harvest. I need to repent of my own cowardice and indifference to those who risk everything to simply learn about God’s Way of Life.
A Message of Faith After Answered Prayer
Gave a message to the youth tonight: Having Faith to Move Mountains – using my own miraculous healing overnight from a horrible affliction with super high fever and stomach pain to make the point about our ability to do all things in Christ. The faith of all who were praying for me and my own belief in being healed of the affliction made the difference.
For if we had the faith as a mustard seed, we could move mountains, or even walk on water if our eyes are fixed on Christ.
In each case of miraculous healing in Christ’s ministry, it was the faith in Christ of those who believed who were healed. As I repeat often here to the Hindus who come to me to pray for them, my faith and prayer cannot help you – it is your own faith in the Living God and His Son that can provide what you ask.
As with all worship at The House of God, we praise Christ in song. This one is a favorite hymn of the brethren at the House of God.
Meet the Adopted Widows of The House of God
She glides along silently
A vision of despair
Her head covered
Her face is worn from tears
Loneliness is her companion
Amidst scorn she must beg
For she is a cursed creature
And comfort never nears.
The plight of Widows in India are a tragedy. The family of a widow considers them a burden and often tosses them into the streets. Sons are especially brutal on their widowed mothers, sometimes blaming them for the loss of a father. A Patriarchal society makes sons the sole arbiters of decisions for the household after the father dies. Most often, sons, having no regard for the woman that bore them, casts them out so they are absolved the burden of caring for them. The culture itself then despises widows as cursed.
Last week, I reported about the adopted widows at the House of God recounting their journey from tears to joy and laughter. Since then, several have asked to learn a little bit more about each adopted widow. Where they are staying and how they are faring since being evicted by force from the House of God by the Hindu and political leaders last November.
While they are prohibited by the Hindu leaders to live at the House of God as they were before, my arrival in January has been as a shield, and the widows are coming early and staying much of the day here. The $35 per month that the brethren in the USA provide through Kardias for each widow, continues to provision for their daily meals, clothing care and medical supplies/treatment. At this time, six of them are being denied a permanent home at the House of God, and are in tentative dwellings with relatives that have made their situations tenuous. One is able to stay at Chitti’s home in Lanka. Persevere they do, having some refuge at the House of God that the Hindu leaders would prohibit even the meager service provided for them, if God allowed.
We are pleased to introduce each of the widows of the Church of God Rajupalem, India that are adopted as family here by the Gampalas. They, whom despite the demand from the Hindus that they leave the widows to die in the streets, are continuing to provide what they are able for their lives and sustenance abiding by what James 1:27 says is perfect religion and obeying God rather than men.
Santhama lost her husband 10 years ago and they had no children. Childless and without any family, the Church became her home. She is blessed to live with and serve at Chitti Gampala’s small home in Lanka, where she helps Esther with preparing meals and caring for Chitti’s ailing and aged mother.
Chittemma’s husband abandoned her ten years ago after she became sick with a fever that deprived her of her eyesight. Totally blind and unable to care for her family, her husband abandoned her and married another woman. Her son, blamed her Christianity for her ‘curse’, and he disowned her. Chittemma lived at the House of God until the Hindu leader forced her and five others from the church last November. Chittemma has members of the congregation go to her home to pick her up and bring her to the House of God for her meals and for worship.
Meerabi is a widow in the classic sense having lost her husband years ago. She has no children of her own and has been a member of the congregation for 7 years. There are no living relatives to care for her. A man she adopted as a son, does not want to care for her, and after her expulsion from the church, built her a feeble shack that she lives in at the edge of the dusty road coming into Rajupalem.
She often smells of exhaust and is mistreated by those who pass her by, but we show her the love of Christ and she is most happy at the church.
Kamalamma’s husband died in the rice fields when bitten by a cobra 9 years ago. She has one son who is a drunkard and despised her Christianity and often physically kicks her out of her own home. She was living at the House of God up until she was evicted. Her son would not permit her to live with him and made her a shack to stay in out by the goats. She is fed and cared for the by the church and usually the first one to greet me in the morning when she comes for prayer.
Appayamma’s husband died over a dozen years ago by being struck down and killed in a hailstorm while out in the rice fields. A long time member of the congregation, she was again left to a drunkard son who refuses to feed her or care for her due her Christianity. Like the others, she is forced to stay in a shack, while the church feeds and cares for her as best as it can.
Karunamma’s died from an acute case of Diphtheria over 13 years ago. Her two sons abandoned her to fend for herself as they sought to find work in Hyderabad due to the ongoing drought and famine in this area. Left alone and helpless the Gampala family has been looking after her, adopting her into the church family.
Annamma is a newly adopted widow of the Gampala family ministry. Her husband died recently from Tuberculosis while her sons abandoned her due to her Christianity and especially, her Sabbatarian beliefs. She is a welcome addition to the family of God’s widows that are adopted and cared for by the generosity of the brethren in the USA.
The widows and the Gampala family wish to express their thanks and ‘dhanyvadamulu’ to all of you whom share your love and support to them through Kardias. Your prayers and help to them make a miserable situation that face all widows in India, a comfort and relief.
The widows are daily upon their faces in prayer of thanksgiving for all of you and pray for you fervently. These Sisters in Christ are the fiercest prayer warriors I have ever seen.
Preaching of Hope, to a Troubled People
One focus of missionaries is to preach the Gospel to those whom have never heard of Jesus Christ, thereby planting seeds that the Lord may one day raise into His increase. In India, Christ is either completely unknown, or seen as just another god among three hundred million others. At the same time, the challenge to keep brethren in the Faith once delivered is a constant battle as forces both outside and INSIDE Christianity often causes many to fall away easily from a path that in India, is an uphill rock climb.
The first problem for Christians in India, is that they worship a God who exists outside of Creation, Whom in fact CREATED all things. This is a form of blasphemy to most Hindus who WORSHIP the creation. They often engender persecution on Christians by simple majority sentiment and the government is accommodating in acting against those who are Christians in India, actually overseeing an injust system of institutionalized persecution.
Radicalism of both Muslims and Hindus in India is increasing in response to one another. Often they will team up to attack Christians, and there are nearly daily calls by Hindu leaders for the civil government to mandate regulation of Christian faith in India. This adds fuel to an already existing pool of gasoline under the feet of almost all brethren in the faith here in India.
For a member in Christ, especially a new babe, the risk to follow Jesus is immediately frought with persecution from family, and caste leadership. Often a convert loses their job, and family members often divorce and disown a Christian. Hindu husbands often turn the sons and daughters against a mother, and sometimes she is cast out of her home for following Christ.
The challenges of each member here is something I am becoming familiar with.
One of the major mission goals I had for my multi-month stay with the brethren in rural Andrha Pradesh, India, was to provide encouragement and instruction to a people who have been routinely beaten down with trials and persecution. Persecution and injustice of a sort that is mind-numbingly acceptable by almost all, and often perpetrated first by family members who hate that their relatives are Believers in Christ.
The Gampala ministry in India focuses much of their worship and preaching to church members, in instructions in Righteousness, teaching the Commandments and encouraging the brethren to eschew their former Hindu ways, which are thrust upon them daily by everything that surrounds them, including family.
Opportunity to preach the Gospel happens several times a week here in the rural slum villages of Rajupalem and Lanka. Cottage meetings afford the time to conduct a worship service on the roof or porch of a church member, where loudspeakers are set up and and the word of God is blasted out into the night amidst all the Hindu and Muslim temple worship that is also going on.
It was a pleasant opportunity therefore last evening, to have an audience of just brethren and some curious Hindus who are not hostile to the Word of God, to give some words of comfort from Romans 12:12. It was a delight to instruct them in an aspect of our faith they had not heard about before; that we HOPE in the glory that the Father revealed in His Son, that one day will be revealed in us; that tribulations and suffering works Godly patience and character in us; and therefore we should always be instant in prayer – for the Holy of Holies is in the Spirit where our prayers are lifted up before our Father’s throne.
To be excited about this hope that no other people on earth have, is contagious – and especially to a people who have never heard it said in the manner God blessed me to share.
It is the look on the faces of brethren whose eyes grow wide from grasping a new concept of our faith, that is absolutely addictive, and I am glad I have another two months in which to do such things that the brethren in the USA have made possible.
God’s Word does not return void, and neither do your prayers and support that is benefiting the brethren here.
Doing Matthew 28:19-20 in a Pagan Land
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. – Matthew 28:19-20
There was a time not long ago, where these two verses meant something completely different to me than they do now. I had spent most of my Christian life in churches that held to the teaching that those verses applied only to ordained ministers, or trained evangelists. Preaching was done via church literature, tracts, magazines and television programs as the tools that God used in the modern age to fulfill those verses. It was explained to me that for a lay person, preaching the Gospel was fulfilled when we sent our tithes and offerings to the church who would preach the Gospel for us.
While I cannot argue that the last example can be achieved if the persons, church or group are indeed doing a living work of the Lord, but throwing money at televangelists or church organizations to peddle their doctrinal literature is hardly fulfilling Matthew 28:19-20.
I am learning that much of the two-thirds world that does not know who Jesus Christ is, and never heard of the Living God of Creation, are illiterate peoples. Literature means nothing to a people who cannot read because their life is consignment to slaving in rice fields or dung pits. It’s a losing battle to proclaim the Gospel by such means when thousands of priests and self-proclaimed holy men can turn ears to fables and superstitions that satisfy the flesh. If they are to hear the Gospel, then it must be by the feet of those who bring it to them personally. For this reason I will be forever thankful to those brethren whom made it possible for me to be those feet.
In testimony from several brethren here in India, seeds are often sown by the preaching of the Gospel, sometimes by missionaries like myself passing through, or by events such as miracles of healing testified about at Gospel meetings where the message of redemption and forgiveness of sins is heard for the first time. This calls the many claims of the pagan beliefs of Hinduism into question and the Believer begins to look into their former traditions in comparison to the Truth of Salvation in Jesus Christ.
Confirmed for me during my time in India these few months, is that converts to Christianity are almost always because of a relationship established with those who are in the Body of Christ. Once a seed is planted, it needs to be watered. Unfortunately, many protestant denominations that have sent missionaries to preach and share the Gospel here in Southeast India have been unable to maintain nurturing congregations among the local population to help shelter and teach a new babe in Christ. Many of them have fallen prey to charlatans or doctrines contrary to the bible that assuage their old and familiar traditions and eventually the convert or the whole congregation falls back into Hinduism.
Thankfully that is not the case with the congregations Our God has blessed us to serve here in Southeast India. The church here is growing as the message of redemption and salvation through Christ is appealing to the lowest castes and downtrodden in India who are learning they do not have to suffer a life of misery in the vain hope of a better reincarnation. They can have the assurance of Life Everlasting without doubt or fear if they would just believe in Whom The Father Has sent to Redeem them.
This is good news, and is in fact the core of the Gospel – of Christ and Him crucified, eternal Life in Him for those who believe, are baptized and live a new life in Him. It is the message that I have seen God gird the Gampala family ministry and Sagar Jalli’s ministry at Hebron Home with, and it works.
The fact is, preaching such a message in India is dangerous, and often the message is rejected and even sometimes instigates protests and violence by devout Hindus and their higher caste leaders who do not want their status quo rocked as they live off the backs of the low castes they subjugate.
When preaching such messages to pagans and Hindus whom have no idea what God we serve, I cannot help but think of Paul in Athens and wonder if many of the same things I am experiencing and feeling are similar or the same as it was two thousand years ago when the Apostle to the Gentiles first preached there. I am not comparing myself to Paul. I am simply wondering if the feelings I experience while serving in India, are similar to maybe what he felt, serving in pagan Greece. From dusty and dirty sandals, to preaching at village crossroads in the midst of primitive living conditions, some of Acts seems more alive to me than it was before I came here.
I am getting over my nervousness and timidity in boldly preaching the truth of Our Lord and Savior to a hopelessly lost pagan people who listen into our Gospel meetings out of curiosity of what this short white man has to say. As experienced the other evening, when preaching the truth among Hindus, the message is often greeted with hostility and anger, and I have reconciled the fact that it is the truth of God that they do not want to hear.
The agitation and anger over what I am preaching no longer concerns me, because a witness at minimum is being proclaimed, and perhaps at some point, the seed of truth will germinate within those God will call to understanding at some point in the future. We may never know this side of the Kingdom of God how many seeds of the Gospel we have sown, and which ones will take root, but we have the assurance of God that His Word never returns void and that all of us will take part in enjoying the fruits from the Harvest the Lord will reap.
For those of you who are unable to go with the Mission team in May, this is what doing Matthew 28:19-20 looks like in the slum villages amongst both brethren and mostly Hindus. This may have been what it was like two thousand years ago for brethren of the First Century to proclaim the Gospel (without the microphones and lights of course).
A two thousand year-old message that still produces fruit and has as much power as it did two millennia ago. For a witness is being presented to them that the Kingdom of God is as hand. The exhortation: to Repent and Believe.
Today is a day that marks the halfway point of my time in the rural delta of Andrha Pradesh, India – living with our persecuted and faithful poor brethren in the slum villages of Rajupalem and Lanka.
Today is also a day that marks an anniversary for me; for it was two years ago today that I first met my Thammadu (younger brother) Chitti Gampala when he met Brian and I at Vishakapatnum airport in 2010 which fully opened the door for the mission service that would lead to my temporary residence here with them now. Tomorrow marks the 2ndanniversary of the dedication and completion of the House of God here in Rajupalem, and as we hoped, it is indeed a beacon of light in this very dark place of Satan’s playground.
Four years ago, I had resisted God’s call to go serve His people in India, and even in 2010 – my own fears nearly kept me from following the Lord’s Will in my life. Thankfully God won the wrestling match, for He has opened a door to my faith that did not exist until I became obedient. I have been shown where my own religion was very short of what God expected of me, and at the same time – revealed an inexplicable joy and glory at seeing His work in these fields of harvest in India. For despite the institutionalized persecution, hardship, misery and filth that the brethren are relegated to by Hindu society, your brothers and sisters in Christ are filled with a spirit of zeal for the Gospel I have never witnessed before. Instead of shrinking congregations and scattered brethren arguing over minute points of doctrine as I am accustomed to back home, here the church is growing as the message of redemption through Christ for Eternal life is gleefully preached and sometimes accepted by the downtrodden low caste peoples of this region. An acceptance that often has a very high cost for those who become followers of Christ. A physical cost very few of us have had to endure back home.
Serving the brethren in India and sharing their testimony to the Body in the USA has become nearly a full time focus for me ever since I returned from my first trip in 2010. I sometimes regret that I did not listen to His call back in 2008, for there is so much more I could have done for the brethren in that time that is now gone. I am hoping the four and a half months I am serving here now is redeeming the time that has been lost. Even though I am currently living here day-to-day in service to the brethren and the ministry of the Gampala family, I have a wary eye on conditions in the world and in our own country.
It is not lost on me how little time we have left to do His Work while there remains some daylight in which to work in this world. That concern is one that Brian Smith prayed an impromptu prayer against in our hotel room on the last day of our time with the Gampalas in 2010. I firmly believe that was the Lord speaking to us both and it has haunted me ever since. For I know the scripture that prophesies a time when there will be a famine of the Word of God (Amos 8:11). I am praying earnestly for God to hold back the night I see rapidly enveloping the world. For being a student of history I have read of times like these before the world was plunged into tumult and death as empires and nations fell. But I am not asking for God to save me from the darkness coming upon the world, but only to hold it back long enough for us to finish our roles in preaching the Gospel, sowing seeds and watering them with the Word so the increase that the Lord brings forth will indeed earn us the praise from Our Lord that says: “Well done, good and faithful servants”.
I am privileged to be in one large field of the Lord here in the rice delta of Southeast India, and truly this harvest will be great. I have seen the work of the Lord in this place and having tasted how the Lord works outside of the institutions of men, it is a purity and power that has worked in me a desire to be where the Lord is working.
I hope through my writings, most of you are able to understand what I am experiencing here, for it is nothing short of the Glory of God. For all of you whom have held me up in prayer and with support have made this service possible. You have placed treasure in heaven and assisted with the proclamation of the Word of God, which does not return void. In less than two months, our service to the brethren will reach a high-point as the Kardias Mission team arrives to share your love and the Word of God to both the brethren here in Rajupalem, and with our newfound congregations and the orphans at Hebron Home in Palakol Town.
As I have been witness to the rice crop ripening here and being ready now to be harvested and cut, I see the analogy of the spiritual harvest also ripening here. Many laborers have been needed for these fields and I am grateful you have all sent your help and prayers to equip and enable the saints here to reap the harvest of the Lord.
Dhanyvadamalu! (With much thanksgiving).