Monday, January 23, 2023
I am writing this travel post while enroute to Tanzania. After a three-hour flight delay last night in Bhubaneswar, I had to run at a pretty good clip for about a mile down the concourse to make my flight connection in Delhi to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I proudly refer to it as the miracle mile because I didn’t have a heart attack. However, I did not escape completely unscathed. About halfway through the miler my chicken tikka sandwich started talking back to me. Nevertheless, I made it on board. I will arrive in Kilimanjaro Monday afternoon where I’ll spend the day, get on another airplane tonight to Dar es Salaam, spend the night in the airport on a layover, and then arrive in Mwanza on Tuesday morning where we will begin training a new group of pastors.
However, I wanted to wrap up the India trip with a few reflections. We concluded our training on Friday, which I think was probably the best day. There was a palpable energy in the room as we spent the morning talking about preaching and interpreting the Bible accurately. One of the pastors testified that for the first time in his ministry he felt as if he had been given a framework that would enable him to interpret the Bible accurately. Our host also told the pastors in attendance that they had just received the equivalent of a Bachelor of Divinity degree for free. To say the least, we were encouraged by the response. Not only were the pastors attentive and interactive during the training, but they were also zealous about spreading these teachings throughout Odisha. Add in the fact that while there I have received several other invitations to bring ITEM to other parts of India. It seems as if there is a wide-open door for ITEM in India.
Our training is needed because the pastors in India are facing several significant challenges. First, the churches have a broken ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) and missiology (doctrine of mission) that manifests in numerous harmful practices and attitudes. Additionally, the churches tend to be legalistic. In fact, one of the pastors told us that it was forbidden for him to even stand in front of a movie theatre since someone in his congregation might see him standing there and think he was entering to see a worldly movie. After all, you never when Jesus is coming and if He catches you in the movie theater you are toast.
Another challenge is the expectation for preaching in the churches. When we taught on the importance of systematic exposition of Scripture as the bread and butter of the church, one pastor told us his church would not go for it. He must announce what homes he will visit from the pulpit on Sunday and then the various families he visits that week will tell him their problems and he is expected to preach on the solutions to the problems they are experiencing. Unfortunately, I did not ask him what happens when families have differing problems.
But the greatest challenge for Christian leaders in India is the rampant idolatry (Hinduism). On Friday night, our hosts wanted to take us to Dominos because they had never had pizza and thought what better opportunity to try pizza then when Americans come to town. Against my better judgment and passive aggressive protestations, we found ourselves at Dominos. Unfortunately, the delightful experience we had at KFC was not to be repeated at Dominos. After ordering an assortment of various pizzas, our intuitions were correct, as our hosts didn’t care for any of them. It is such a travesty that now they will forever remember Dominos when they think of pizza. On the bright side, it seems that the Dominos in India issues lots of freebies whenever you purchase a large order, so everyone was given breadsticks and chocolate lava cake. However, it was Dominos so there really wasn’t a bright side.
The surprise of the night came when driving into the main shopping district. Greeting us were two massive images of Hindu gods. Hanuman stood guard in the main center square and the great warrior Shiva sat in the middle of a lake in a beautifully manicured park. I was reminded of the apostle Paul’s message on Mars Hill in which he remarked on the prevalence of gods among the Athenians. The gods are visible everywhere in India rising like spiers in cities and villages establishing their hegemony over this nation which will soon be the most populous on earth. Of course, we know that these grotesque images are false gods. They have ears but cannot hear and mouths but cannot speak. They are impotent and worthless. Those who worship these images are worshiping the demonic powers which inspire them.
After dinner, we decided to go down to the park to get a closer look at the grand image of Shiva sitting peacefully in the middle of the lake. We were about to get more than we bargained for. Unbeknownst to us, we were just in time for a sound and light show celebrating Shiva. As the show began, the “om” (chanting) grew louder and louder over the speakers until it felt as if the earth was shaking. The lights flashed and the narrator’s baritone voice reached a fevered pitch as he recounted the great victories of Shiva. Simultaneously, the image was awash in alternating hues of purple, red, white, and blue. Occasionally the lighting fell in such a way as to produce a terrifying image of Shiva. While technically impressive, it was undoubtedly one of the eeriest experiences of my life, as the presence of the dark powers was undeniable. Nevertheless, hundreds of people sat on the banks of the lake with enraptured faces worshiping their god in ignorance.
This brings us back full circle to why ITEM exists, which is to train and equip pastors to advance the gospel through healthy and vibrant churches. May our Lord use ITEM to help bring transformation to the churches in India so the gospel can be advanced and those held captive by the dark powers will become sons and daughters of light.
That’s all for now. Good day from somewhere in the skies of Africa!