Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Are We There Yet?

"The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand..."

There was enough time Sunday morning for me to enjoy a sermon (saved in English) on my iPod. It started my day with remembrance of all I have to be thankful for, and not the least of which is the technology I have access to wherever I find myself in the world.

The sermon focused on the Kingdom of Heaven being all around us; how in our waiting for the eternal heaven we often miss the one right before our eyes.

As I look around passing through the highways, byways and "no way is that a road" way here in India - I see the colorful beauty of the women's clothing. I can say I don't think I have ever seen two of the same color or style.

Even in the most remote areas, a bright display of hues greet me. Red's complimented by purples or black, pinks and turquoise, yellow and orange, lime green and white paisleys - it is always a burst of beauty on parade.

I realize THAT beauty, that array of color is part of what the pastor spoke of "the Kingdom of Heaven at hand". In an impoverished and despairing place, there is splendor. Though the villages are dirt paths between houses, and the floors without covering or carpet, somehow the bottom of the long flowing garments are never dirty! It is something that has fascinated me since my first trip here. Nothing seems to darken their beauty.

Our evening village program was an hour on the outskirts of town. As we exited the main highway, I noticed the houses began right at the edge of the roadway. But I also noticed up against the concrete embankment of the highway service road, people sat in chairs - right on the road!

It confused me until I looked back at their houses and saw the Western setting sun bearing down on their cinder block homes. At 105 outside, I couldn't imagine the heat generated in dwellings that convert to virtual ovens every summer evening.

We stopped the van and stepped down a makeshift stairway into a village of around 30 huts. The people quickly pulled out plastic chairs for us to sit down and be comfortable in the shade. There was a breeze - but combined with the heat it felt more like a blow dryer than a comfort bringer.

As the pastors went door to door calling out the children for the program, I thought about Philip going to Nathaniel and saying "come and see". (John 1:46)

Mats were placed under a shade tree away from the sun for the children to sit and enjoy the show. As I sat in my chair, out of habit (and not being accustomed to life outdoors), I looked carefully to see where to place my things (weary of bugs and things animals might have left behind or come looking for). I noticed the ants and tried to find a spot to avoid them.

The program began and women and mothers sat off to the side and enjoyed with great enthusiasm the antics on display for their children. Something caught my eye on the mats closest to the tree providing sanctuary from the sun - a flurry of ants whose bed had obviously been interrupted by the makeshift floor.

Thousands of tiny ants crawled around. I could see them dash up the clothes (to be brushed off) of the children. But closest to the hot seat of angry aphids was the village pastors wife. The sari she wore was a light pastel green - I watched in horror as the ants continued to race up and around her flowing garment.

She sat, not unaware of the ants, but only occasionally bothered to brush them off. She didn't seek to move or stand or disrupt the program in any way. She didn't utter a word.

"The Kingdom of Heaven at hand" is like the calm and gentle spirit of a godly woman unfazed by the onslaught of the ant bed she has found herself in. I was distracted but kept thinking of those words, "the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand". Over and over we are instructed to be unfazed by the "angry ants" in the world our life of faith disrupts. We are called to be "in" the world but not of the world.

I thought of the constant distractions that worry and distress me, things we are specifically instructed not to concern ourselves with. "Consider the lilies of the field". And yet, instead of sitting patiently at the feet of my Master at the start of my day, casually brushing aside the "ants" of emails, phone calls, bills to pay - and all else crawling ferociously around in my mind - I jump up, (in theory) hurrying to protect "my" space and get lost in the aggressive onslaught of life.

The kingdom of heaven was at hand in the village - as we left and were followed by all the children and a good portion of the adults. The main woman organizer (one of the first believers in the village) ran up beside me and grabbed me around the waist. She laughed and hugged me, burying her head on my shoulder while we walked together back to the awaiting van (Indians RARELY show this type of affection).

The kingdom of Heaven at hand sometimes with the Father showing His great pleasure in the joy of those we share His love with!

Pray for our programs Tuesday. We will be visiting a Leper colony and doing a program for over 100 of the children there. We will also meet with 25 young woman to discuss a funding a sewing program for them as no one will make clothes for lepers.

Pray also for our evening program. We will be traveling over two hours deep into the forest surrounding Nellore to minister to tribal people there. It will be a long day AND hot!

Pray as always for boldness to proclaim the Gospel and that it be understood clearly.

Sowing in the morning, sowing in the evening, smiling and rejoicing bringing in the sheaves!