Reflections on my time in and around India
After a week of recuperation following my two weeks in South Asia, I finally feel as though the trip were finished. Re-entering my normal world has been jarring, as it always is after a trip like this. Thank you for all the encouragement and prayers on my behalf.
If you recall, the purpose of our trip was to train local pastors who have little or no access to sound theological education. Many of the men we trained were village pastors; men who went out into the fields and mountains after we parted.
So, in one sense, this was not a glamorous trip, nor a sightseeing trip. Our purpose was not to see the glorious sights of India and the surrounding countries. We did not see the intricate and massive Taj Mahal. We did not see Mount Everest. We spent our time in a small village and a non-descript building.
However, in another very real sense, we saw sights of such extraordinary beauty as to make anything else seem dim by comparison.
The Taj Mahal is a beautiful building of gorgeously wrought stone-work…but it’s just dead stone. We saw the temple of the living, all-powerful Creator, built with living stones! We saw Christians acting as the Church of Christ. “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house…” 1 Peter 2:5
And Everest may be an extraordinary piece of landscape; a mountain truly without equal on this earth. But more beautiful and extraordinary still are the feet of those on the mountain who bring good news (Isaiah 52:7). We saw faith that could move mountains!
As I reflected our time, several main impressions have stuck with me. I’ll share these with you mainly through stories heard from the men who were with us. What remains after sifting through our time together is the memory of these men’s faith, their steady and urgent labor, and the power of God at work in and through them.
Hebrews 11:1-2, 39-40
Faith – a certainty which remains despite not being able to see or hold what is promised. All those listed in Hebrews 11 were commended for their faith in verses 1 and 2, yet we are told in the last two verses that they did not receive the fulfillment of the promise. They died before the coming of Jesus.
We saw faith like this. We had the privilege of teaching men who have lost every earthly comfort for the sake of Jesus and the good news of salvation. Some of these men do not experience earthly blessings; comfort, family, safety, health. Yet they are certain that following Jesus is still worth it; that the promises are true even if they do not experience them today.
Shadrach had one of the most joyful faces in the crowd of pastors we were training. One couldn’t help but be drawn to him. I would’ve never known what he frequently experiences if not for one of the other men pointing him out to me and telling me a bit about his life. “Shadrach often goes to Hindu temples to preach the gospel. He has been beaten many times.” The book of Acts…the apostles being beaten for repeatedly preaching in the temple of the Jews…I couldn’t help but think of these things. Here is a man who willingly accepts beatings when he goes to preach at a temple. What would possess a man of sound mind to do such a thing!? Simply this: he is certain of the promises of God, though he does not experience earthly safety like we enjoy.
There were several young men at one of the trainings we spoke to one day. We asked what it was like to become a Christian there. They described how their families are outraged, how they become the ridicule of their mothers and brothers and fathers. “We have all always been Hindu, and it has been good enough for everyone, but now you come along. Why would you do this? Why do you want to be a Christian and dishonor our entire family history?” Many of them have been shunned by their family, and no longer have contact with them. Yet their faith remains, because they are certain of what they hope for in Jesus Christ.
One young pastor, in his early 20’s, was ministering to a group of believers in a village who came to know Christ through his evangelistic ministry. The village now denies them access to the only water source, which means the believers have to hike hours away each day just to get water. Yet, they persist in the faith.
Do you know this? What if every earthly comfort were stripped away; comfort, safety, family, health? What if you had a choice: keep your earthly blessings, or follow Jesus and lose it all? What would you choose? If there a certainty deep in your bones that Jesus is worth it?
1 Thessalonians 1:3 – “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
I felt deeply convicted by many of these brothers, who work 10-12 hours in the field each day, and then use their evenings to go to villages and share the gospel or pastor churches. I felt a unique camaraderie with them, knowing that they and I are in the same line of work: plowing fields and planting the same kind of gospel seed.
And it was an amazing reminder that God is at work in places besides America. To be reminded of this is humbling. We so easily begin to slip into a way of thinking that places ourselves and our context at the very center of God’s attention and plan. To see that God is raising up men to labor in fields out in the middle of nowhere India is…glorious. I would have never known these men. How many more are there, servants of Christ working for Him who will never be known until Heaven?
We met one young man who hikes 10 hours up a mountain through a jungle to shepherd a handful of families. (God rebuke me if I ever complain about my commute!) Why does he do this? Because he wants them to know God, and so has given himself to the steady, hard labor of shepherding people who are hard to get to.
Sundara, the man who was integral in starting the ministry in India through which we worked (Reach All Nations), came to Christ out of a Hindu family. He was shunned by his family and lost all of his inheritance because of it, but he gained a passion for evangelism and ministry. He began going to towns and villages to speak the truth about Jesus. There was one particular village he began to go to that was full of “untouchables”. If you’re familiar with the caste system in India, you know this means that these people are at the very bottom rung of the culture. They are seen as the refuse of society. The village was full of drunkenness and immorality and every kind of vice. Sundara began going to this village to tell them about Jesus…but saw no fruit in the first year. He continued going for 2 years, 3 years 4 years, until finally 7 years had passed and not a single person from this village had come to know Jesus as Lord. Then, in the 7th year, one person was saved! Seven years of labor for a single soul. Would you be willing to labor that steadily for that price? Is a single soul precious enough to you that you would labor 7 years to see one saved? In the 8th year, 9 people had been saved, and in the 9th year, 19 people had been saved through Sundara and the other new believers. We had the privilege to visit this village twice. No longer is it full of immorality and wickedness. The people welcomed us joyfully. We prayed for the sick among them. We layed our hands on these “untouchables” and lifted them up to our mutual Father in heaven. We came back and preached there one evening, and the joy in their hearts for Jesus was…extravagant and beautiful to see.
So, we saw men like this, who labor steadily and faithfully. They plow their fields with all diligence, and plant the gospel seeds. And God has blessed the growth!
In addition to steady labor, there is a great urgency to their labor as well. I remember one study which will forever be burned in my mind. Every so often, there is a massive festival at one of the holy rivers in India. Scores of people come, making it one of the largest gatherings of this sort anywhere in the world. The purpose of the festival is for people to wash themselves in the filthy river, thinking that because it it holy their sins will be washed away. Christians mostly stay away from this festival, because with such huge crowds who are so devout in their worship of Hindu gods, it can mean death by mob violence for anyone preaching Jesus. There are a some courageous Christians, however, who go, looking for opportunities to quietly share the Truth with those who might listen. One man went, and was walking along the holy river. He saw a woman sitting by herself beside the water weeping. He came and sat next to her and asked what was wrong. Through her anguish sobs she told him that she had come to be cleansed of her sins, but she was such a bad person that she knew she needed to do something special for the gods to forgive her, and so she had just thrown her infant child into the waters of the river as a sacrifice for her sins. The man began to share the truth about Jesus Christ, and freedom and forgiveness through the sacrifice of a different child, the only-begotten Son of God who came for us. As he spoke, he tears ceased. She listened intently. And the words she spoke after he finished telling her the good news pierce even my own soul. She looked him in the eye and said, “Where were you 15 minutes ago?” She believed! But it was too late to save the child.
How many people will you pass by in the next week who are just as desperate as the woman at the riverside? How many will we come into contact with this week who are in slavery to fear and superstition, who might be freed by the knowledge of the truth which we hold in our hearts? Let us learn from the labor of our brothers half a world away. One soul is worth 7 years’ steady labor; indeed, is worth far MORE than that! And the call is urgent. The fields are white for harvest! The world cries out with the woman at the riverside, “Where are you?” You who know the good news: there is a desperate, urgent need for harvesters. Where are you?
The Power of God
1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 – “For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power,with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.”
Their faith drives them to labor strenuously, and their labor is attended by God’s power. The power is not their own; it comes from the One they put their faith in. Because their labor is grounded in faith, there is a power at work through them which is more than enough to accomplish glorious things.
One of the pastors during the second week of teaching told us that he would have to miss the final day of class because he would be baptizing 9 people that day. As we rejoiced with him, he told us the story of what happened. It began with one woman, who was demon possessed. Through the efforts of the pastor and the church, the demon was cast out in the name of Christ and the woman freed from this oppression. Seeing the power of Jesus’ name, she became a Christian. When her family saw what had happened to her and heard her testimony, they also believed, along with some of the woman’s friends. The power of God was evident among them!
But perhaps the greatest story of the power of God, I heard during class one day. The small group of men were sitting before me, taking a break from our theological training session. To pass a few moments, I asked what I thought was a light-hearted question: have you seen God do anything wonderful in your church lately? I was not prepared for the story I was about to hear.
“We discovered that there was a temple near our church that every so often would do human sacrifices. When I found out I was shocked and burdened in my heart,” the brother said. It was as though the air was sucked out of the room. Human sacrifice to a pagan idol. A spark of life swallowed up in the worship of demons. We were all suddenly burdened in our hearts.
But the story took a turn of cosmic beauty. “We began praying and praying, sometimes doing the ‘Jericho prayer walking’ around the temple itself…Now, the two priests of this temple have become Christians, and they are telling people that they were wrong, and they should not do those things anymore.” Without an ounce of shame, I gladly share that I shed tears as this brother told his story. Through the ministry of this church, two men turned away from human sacrifice to the one Man who was sacrificed on our behalf – Jesus Christ. The gospel is the *power* of God unto salvation!
Before I could even catch my breath from the first story, the brother continued with the next: “God has done many miracles through us in the church – people have been healed. There is also a witch doctor near our church that people will give money to in order to be healed from their sicknesses. Sometimes, the witch doctor will give their money back, saying ‘I cannot heal you. Go to this church of Jesus.’”
The power of Jesus Christ is so evident among this church that a witch doctor sees and notices. He recognizes that the power present among the people of Jesus is greater than his own power.
God’s power through the gospel is enough to save priests of human sacrifice. God’s power through his people is greater than the demon power of witch doctors. Praise his Name!
God has not changed or diminished, friends. His power is STILL at work in this world. Perhaps the reason we do not experience it is because we do not rely upon Him in the way our brothers and sisters around the world do. Why is this the case?
We have enough money to take care of our needs. It is not dangerous to claim the name of Jesus. Nothing is lost when we do. In fact, in many families, it is expected. We do not learn to lean everything upon the Lord like so many of our brothers and sisters around the world have the privilege of doing.
Or perhaps, most alarmingly, we simply to not have the same sort of faith. Imagine if in the back room of a house in your neighborhood, a cult was periodically meeting to perform human sacrifice. What would be your reaction? Would your first thought be, “They need the gospel to be saved from this! Let us pray urgently that God would save them!”? I will hazard a guess that, if you are like me, your first thought would likely be very different. Why? Do we not believe that gospel is powerful enough to save anyone? Do we not believe that the power of God is sufficient for ANYTHING? Do we not believe that souls are valuable? Do we not believe that every soul deserves to hear the gospel?
I do not know the answers to these questions, but I cannot help but believe that God will reveal it to us as we seek his face. He will point out where we are weak. The question is: will we be willing to submit to his sanctifying hand and do whatever it takes to learn to rely on His power? Even if that means the loss of earthly comforts and safety? May the God of Heaven help us learn to rely on his power.
To all of you reading this:
Thank you for the encouragement and support you provided in order that I might go on this trip. Your prayers and financial help and encouraging words make you a part of this ministry. Because of you, around 60 men were trained to more faithfully teach and preach the Bible. Because of you, the salt-of-the-earth Christians in India and other places will be impacted by pastors who are better trained to correctly handle the Word of Truth. Thank you for your faithfulness to the Lord in sending those who feel called to go. Thank you for your brotherhood and sisterhood to me, as we serve the Lord together.
All glory to Christ our King!
His Name through all the Earth must ring!