It has been an exciting couple of days here in Gopalpur. On Thursday morning I awakened somewhat refreshed and finally feeling at full strength after the long journey to get here. After my morning hygiene routine, I fumbled through my luggage and realized I had left some toiletries and my bag of Starbucks coffee and Splenda in the last hotel we stayed in. Fortunately, the coffee has been pretty good, so crisis averted. I was also excited to see a hot water heater located in the bathroom indicating the possibility of a hot shower. However, somehow the hot water line is not connected to the shower but instead to a small faucet on the wall beside the shower. I can’t figure out the logic behind that one. But at least a bucket was provided so I could fill it up with hot water and do the old-fashioned pour-the-bucket-over-your-head bath routine, which is far more preferrable than the cold-water splash bath thing.
The food has been amazing. Typically, breakfast consists of puri, which is a kind of baked thin, flaky bread, curry, omelets, and fruits, such as bananas, and papayas. For lunch and dinner, it is some variation of rice, chicken curry, fish, dahl, vegetables, such as cauliflower or green beans, and fruit. The best part is that in Indian culture you eat with your hands instead of silverware. Is it just me or is that the coolest thing ever! Just make sure you wash your hands before you rub your eyes, or you will regret it.
Our conference location is an old Catholic retreat complete with dorm rooms, a cafeteria, and conference rooms. Our host wisely chose this location so that we can teach and fellowship in peace. As I mentioned in my last post, Christians in India are experiencing intensifying persecution. Therefore, it is good that we can meet without worrying about who is watching. The only attack we must worry about are the mosquitoes.
There are forty-four pastors attending the training who have come from all over the region. Unfortunately, twelve pastors who were scheduled to come missed their trains and due to logistics were unable to attend. Nevertheless, those who did come have been attentive and eager to learn. It’s a very impressive group.
One of the challenges of cross-cultural ministry is the various ways cultures express themselves. In Africa you can read faces and know if you are striking oil. Not so in India. The expressions are more stoic making it difficult to know if you are hitting the mark. Therefore, it was quite the jolt when at several points in the lessons, out of nowhere the pastors began to clap loudly. At the end of the first day of training one of the pastors who had been quiet the entire time stood up and remarked on how the lessons had convicted and encouraged him to place Scripture in the driver’s seat of his ministry.
In the introduction to our training, we use the illustration of a car to describe churches. In some cars the Bible is in the trunk. It’s back there if needed and occasionally it gets pulled out. But for the most part it is not visible. Other churches have the Bible in the backseat. They can reach back and get it when needed but it is often an afterthought. The backseat is better than the trunk but still not sufficient. Other churches have the Bible in the passenger seat. These churches take the Bible seriously and refer to it often but still the Bible does not drive the ministry. It is God’s will, however, for the Bible to be placed in the driver’s seat so that it steers the ministry. If we can encourage every leader to place the Bible in the driver’s seat, then ministries and churches will be transformed.
After the pastor’s testimony, our host informed the group that they would gather each night during the training at 8:00pm to pray for ITEM and for Pastor Caleb’s church. What an incredible blessing that these precious brothers would spend all day in training sessions and then give up part of their evening to pray for us.
One of the fun things we have done is to take a field trip after the training has been concluded for the day. Yesterday our host took us to the Bay of Bengal at sunset where we walked along the beach, drank black lemon tea, and watched the many crude fishing boats bob up and down on the currents.
This evening our host decided to skip dinner at the retreat and take us to a nearby town for dinner at KFC. You heard it right. I knew KFC is uber popular in Africa. In fact, it is often referred to by Africans as Kenyan Fried Chicken. However, I had no idea KFC was popular in India too. After a delicious dinner of Peri-Peri Chicken strips (a menu item you can’t find at KFC in the U.S.), it was time to head back to the retreat.
As we were riding along and joking and laughing suddenly the conversation turned serious as our host shared with us his own story of persecution. I am calling him our host because I do not want to reveal his name. This man is not only a pastor but a great evangelist and a powerful preacher. He travels about fifty miles a day into villages all over the region to share the gospel. He has been beaten many times by angry and hostile villagers. On one occasion, he was severely beaten, and his clothes were stripped from him. He then spent three days in the jungle with only a towel wrapped around his waist.
When I asked him if experiencing such beatings caused him to question his faith, he immediately shot back that his suffering had only served to embolden his faith. His beatings on behalf of Christ, in fact, have demonstrated that the one who is in him is greater than the one that is in the world.
It is so humbling and inspiring to meet incredibly brave and godly people like this brother. I came to India to teach and encourage leaders, but as so often happens in my travels, I am the one who is being taught and encouraged. May we all seek to be as steadfast in our faith whatever ill wind blows our way.
That’s all for now. Good night from India.