After almost 40 hours of travel, we finally arrived in Bhubaneswar, which is known as the “City of Temples.” While we made it unscathed, I cannot say the same for my brand-new luggage, which suffered significant damage to one of the wheel rollers making it difficult to roll. But despite this minor annoyance, it was good to just be on the ground and leaving the airport. Having met our host pastor for the week, we were taken to a hotel where we could freshen up and grab a couple of hours of sleep before the next part of our journey began. I don’t know that I can adequately describe how good it feels to stretch out completely horizontal in a bed after hours and hours of being in an airplane seat.
After a delicious lunch of chicken curry, chapati bread, and diet coke (a sign of God’s good and gracious providence), we piled into a car and began a five-hour drive to our next stop. It was a fascinating drive as we passed verdant fields silhouetted against mountain vistas, colorful temples, and towns and villages teeming with people selling and shopping. It was in one of these towns that it happened.
As Caleb and I discussed the chaotic traffic scene unfolding before us of rickshaws, scooters, trucks, and cars playing chicken, I remarked on how amazing it is that more crashes don’t happen. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, we heard a loud thud and felt the car shake. A man on a scooter trying to squeeze in front of us clipped the front bumper almost tearing it off. Fortunately, he did not seem to be injured as he made a rather hasty retreat into the crowd. Unfazed we continued toward our destination for the night occasionally stopping to try to reattach the bumper.
A full night’s sleep, a couple of cups of coffee, some bananas and papaya and we were ready to head out for the day to our first ministry stop. When we arrived at the small village, which is the location of our host pastor’s church, we were greeted in grand Indian style with drums beating and people cheering. The entire village had come to meet us. Garlands made of bright flowers were ceremoniously placed around our necks while the villagers shook our hands and bowed and touched our feet. It is always awkward to be received in such manner as it is so foreign to American cultural etiquette. Nevertheless, the joy on the faces of these precious people welcoming us into their village supplanted any remaining awkwardness on my part.
We were then led in a celebratory procession to the village church. As we came upon the non-descript church building, I noticed it had a small entrance door which necessitated ducking to enter through. Thinking I had ducked low enough, I entered the doorway confidently only to bang my head pretty good on the overhang. While I caused a small panic among the villagers, I assured them I was fine, and that this kind of thing was normal for me. I suppose that being hardheaded is an advantage sometimes.
The knot on my head notwithstanding, it was a humbling and beautiful thing to worship with the villagers. As they sang with loud voices about the worth of Jesus and His coming to deliver them from the hardships of this world, joy was etched on their faces and tears streamed unashamedly down their cheeks. As their prayers echoed like thunder in the room I was struck with conviction over my own anemic and often lifeless prayers. Knowing that these believers and many others in villages across India face intense persecution from hostile Hindu neighbors, and yet they continue to follow Jesus at the cost of their property and very lives, emboldened my own faith. Our host pastor repeatedly remarked on how blessed they were to have us come so far to their village to minister to them. But the truth is that we were the ones who were really blessed.
Caleb preached a great message from 1 Corinthians 16:13–14 encouraging the saints to stand strong in the faith and be devoted to one another in love. After the meeting ended, we had a wonderful lunch of, you guessed it, chicken curry. While we talked over lunch, we asked one of the pastors how he and his congregation dealt with the constant persecution they endure. He replied, “Hard worship.” In other words, the more intense the persecution the more intensely they worship God. That is the answer to persecution, isn’t it? It is not the “woe is me” attitude that is so prevalent in American evangelicalism. It is not a reach for political power. It is to worship God with a holy abandon. Hard worship.
After some photos it was time to say goodbye to our precious new friends with whom God had knitted our hearts in such a short time. Having driven several more hours, we finally arrived at our destination, the coastal city of Gopalpur where our training will take place. Pastors from all over the region will arrive tonight and training will begin tomorrow morning. Please pray with us for much fruit over these next couple of days.
That’s all for now. Good night from India.