Thursday, February 12, 2009

We are not Home Yet

"To all the travelers, who are journeying to a place called home..." Steven Curtis Chapman - We are not Home Yet

We are making our way down the interstate from Nellore to Chennai. It has been a long two weeks but a great Harvest for the Kingdom. In our days here in India we have ministered directly to over 2400 children and adults. Visited the Leper Colony as well as presented a program for the Leper-Beggar community and provided a 20 lb bag of rice for each family.

We learned much about the harvest, both in the physical sense (how rice grows) to the spiritual sense (there were 6 churches planted from the children's ministry I participated in last May.

Please don't stop praying now. Not just for the logistics of time and travel - but for the workers here in India. Their passion to reach the lost is humbling and keeps us coming back.

Our bags are packed, we're ready to go - And go again

Flying home smiling at the service!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Naked

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulations, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness....?" Romans 8:35

The farther we drive down the back roadways of Nellore, we see more and more nakedness. We have grown accustomed to the sight of children lingering near edge of the street with nothing on except perhaps a string tied around their waist. Inside the villages they run freely, unashamed and "untethered" by clothing.

While the base cause of their lack may be poverty, I am reminded of something I have heard often by those who grew up with little material goods, "we didn't know we were poor." I know these children do not KNOW they are poor. They are simply living, running around, playing with siblings, and naked. We take no offense or embarrassment - this is just part of their life and living out one day at a time.

With so much material need confronting us each and every day, we could easily lose focus - but we don't. We came to India to share the love of Christ and the Message of salvation. For us that includes our faith in the verse found in Romans 8. There is nothing that can separate THEM or US from the love of Christ. Paul goes on to say just two chapters later "how can they call on Him whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they be sent?

Today, you sent two pair of beautiful feet into an isolated church amidst a Muslim community, a schoolhouse run by a Hindu school master sympathetic to the Christian cause, and at the end of the day, our feet walked into a Leper-Beggar community of 19 families. This is the third time I have met with these people and the older women smiled, bowed with folded hands and thanked us for returning again. We gathered them all together and presented a short version of our program.

When it came time to make the "Good News" bracelets, there were those in the crowd whose diseased hands could not thread the beads. I knelt down beside a deaf and mute leper and as he held out his hand, I tenderly took the beads and said the meaning of each of the colors. "Yellow is for Heaven where the streets are paved with gold. Black is for the sin that separates us from God. Red is for the shed blood of Christ who took the punishment for our sin. White is for being made pure and righteous, and Green is for new life growing in Christ. Although I spoke a language he would not have understood even if his hearing was not impaired - I illustrated something he could understand, the love of Christ, who comes and sits and eats with the lepers. Who treats them with dignity and humanity and grace. Can leprosy separate them from His love? No. Can nakedness or poverty? No.

The only thing that separates them is no one going in His place - no one telling them, no one showing them - no one willing to clothe them with His grace and mercy.

There in the dust, in front of their thatch huts tied together with whatever materials they can scrounge out of the trash heaps - we tied Gospel bracelets around their wrists.

They called upon His Name today
They have believed in the One they heard of
They heard the preachers because you have sent.

"When saw we Thee a stranger and took thee in? Or naked and clothed thee? Or when saw thee sick, or in prison and came to thee? And the King shall answer...". Matt 25:38-40

Waiting for the voice
Until then in His service

Monday, February 09, 2009

Blood and Guts

"...who made us a Kingdom, Priests for His Father". Rev 1:6

LEVITICUS

It is one of those hard chapters in the Old Testament to get through. All the laws, rites and rituals - what must be done in payment for sin. The offering for accidents versus intentional crimes. It is VERY detailed. Today as I was laboring through the technicalities of the Israelite nation, and mummering "I'm glad I live under grace" another thought came to me. The structure for law and order was not just detailed it was BLOODY!

The third chapter outlines the details of the entrails, the liver, the fat portion, the blood wiped on the altar. GUTS!

In 21st century America we are very far removed from the "blood" of our food source. For most, our meat comes cellophane wrapped, cut in nice neat portions, and underneath the flesh of our animal of choice lies a small absorbent square to improve the eye appeal of the packaging so no "blood" pools around it.

While we might not be gutting the fish we eat, or plucking the chickens we broil, or heaven help us slaughter the cows that dominate our diet - we are (in every century since the resurrection) a "priesthood" of believers.

The Priests serving in the Temple had a dirty, and you can bet smelly job. How did we become so sanitary in our approach to faith? Frankly, although some of the experiences I have had in the field have not been the most pleasant at times (bed bugs, roaches, rats, unfamiliar food and uncomfortable travel) I would take that any day over slinging blood on a gathered crowd of worshipers!

These "priests" in the Harvest of India visited two village churches today. When the program was over and the beaded bracelets were all tied together our interpreter (Pastor Haripaul) presented the Gospel to the children and gave them a chance to accept Jesus as the One true God. At the first church several of the older girls wept during the repentance prayer. It was beautiful to witness. The Blood of the Lamb shed once for all!

Late this afternoon we returned to the Leper Colony where our pilot project Sewing Center was built. The ten women trained wanted to thank us for the life-changing opportunity this has given them. They are now praying for more sewing machines so more women in the colony can be trained and have this experience.

No one wants to sew clothing for the lepers, they had a very difficult time acquiring even the basics needed to cover themselves. Now, they have not only learned to make clothes for themselves and their children - but they also brought out beautiful embroidered clothes and saris with sequined beaded designs. You could see the pride as they unfolded their handiwork. They are "owners" of the machines and "seamstresses" of dignity.

One of the duties of the Priests was to pronounce "lepers" cleansed so they could participate in worship. I was searching for the verse covering this "service" and strikingly found the verse regarding where Jesus was when the alabaster box of oil was poured over His head.

He was in the house of a leper (Simon).

In the 21st century, there IS medicine available to cure leprosy. But there is only love to cure "shame".

Two "priests" from America sat in the presence of the lepers today. We shook their hands, we kissed their children, we rejoiced with them knowing we are covered by the Blood - and so are they!

No gore!
But washed in the Blood

Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Who wants to be a "slumdog"?

Two questions with very obvious and quick answers. We would all like to be millionaires - and not one would chose the life of a "slumdog". If you have yet to see the movie, let me explain that a slumdog is a child whose existence is no more than a dog rooting through the trash heaps in the slum to survive.

"...in heaven their angels always behold the face of My Father which is in heaven.". Matt 18:10

Unfortunately, there are few millionaires and hundreds of thousands of children living in India without much hope for more than the moniker of "slumdog". The story may be Oscar winning - but it will do little to alter the fate of those who live the reality of being orphaned in a cruel world too big for them to change.

But fate has changed for twenty children living here at the Jane's House orphanage who are "slumdogs" no more. They are children of the King. Their past circumstances are difficult to hear, hard to fathom and unbelievable to understand. Several were found living at the train station and taken in. Each has a story - each child is part of His-story bearing truth to the promise found in Jeremiah 29:11.

He had a plan for the small girl who witnessed her own mother beat her baby brother to death and then turn her hand to kill her. His plan included her running away from that past and into His future for her among believers who would love and nurture her.

We saw His hope in the smiles and laughter of the children today as we told stories, played games and created unique crosses for them. Their past sadness may linger - but the present joy is undeniable.

For those who trust in Christ, no game show grand prize can compete with what He has prepared for us. We might never become slumdogs but we are guaranteed to be more than millionaires!

"Where your treasure is there your heart will be also"

Banking daily

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Calcutta, Chaos, but no Catastrophe

"I have set My angels charge over you, to keep you from stumbling.". Psalm 91:11

I would also have to add to that verse - "to keep you from missing your connections.". We arrived at the airport in Dibrugarh in time enough to put us first in line when the ticket counter opened (exactly when we like to be there). It was a good thing today - because while the counter was open the computer systems were not quite. The agents were having trouble with every aspect from printing baggage labels to boarding passes - and we were finally told to take a seat when they could not print our continuing boarding pass to Chennai.

The line grew behind us, the computers slowed to molasses (or perhaps a thick Indian dahl) and the airline employees were becoming increasingly frantic. We were assured we would receive our boarding passes in Calcutta - BUT we only had 40 minutes between flights and now we were late! Oh well!?

It really was out of our control (as much as we hate that) and Vicki with her airline background muttered, "can't they just hand write them the way we used to have to do?"

I typed out a quick email to be ready to fly across time zones as soon as we touched down in Calcutta. We were going to need prayer and some extra pull to get us (and our luggage) to the next flight. One of the bonus side effects from a downed system - they were not able to charge us for the excess baggage.

We sat on the 5th row from the exit which would make deboarding faster. One and a half hours later - touchdown, up, out, standing in the aisle ready to run - only to be informed over the loudspeakers, "Chennai passengers please sit down.". Ah... Could it be we were taking the same aircraft?

NO

It did mean the airline was going to assure that we got on the next flight along with our bags! You can't ask for much better than that. We stood out on the tarmac, waited to identify our bags and then - back on board. Onward and upward - to infinity and beyond - or perhaps just the next stop - Chennai.

Still smiling

Save the Best for Last

"For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. " 2 Cor 4:17

Our last day in Lakla brought one last stop. L explained we would need to leave earlier for it was farther away than we had been. Confusing, taking into consideration we felt like we had already reached "the ends of the earth" we saw the "end" was even farther (and rockier) than expected.

We set off down the usual road taking us from the school into the main town of Jagun. Once again we turned off the road onto a dirt path that cuts through several villages. We passed by one of the schools where our performance was on Wednesday - but we kept going, and going, and going.

Yesterday, our interpreter returned on his motorcycle with his pants legs wet up to his knees. He laughed and said he had to see how deep the river was before we went to the village. We really didn't understand the humor behind his statement, but he was laughing and so we laughed (mostly out of politeness).

It was not until we reached the river we understood. The only bridge was bamboo and built for bicycles not cars. He crossed the water to see if it would be too deep for the car to ford the rushing water without stalling out! We were definitely in for an adventure. My thoughts went from "how did they ever find this place" to "what happens if the car breaks down?" We passed few houses (although some of those did have DishTV, no gas stations, but thousands of acres of tea plantations.

Our backsides and our sore backs kept us from breaking out into the song, "over the river and through the woods". We were hanging on for dear life and wondering when the car trip turned simulated horseback trail would end.

After 45 minutes of bumping, grinding, gripping, and praying - we arrived at a beautiful clearing, surrounded by tea bushes as far as the eye could see. A small one room mud school house stood against the breathtaking backdrop with a few children already seated on the benches waiting.

L spoke to the headmaster and was informed more children were coming. He suggested we visit the church in the meantime. One of our team members laughed and said "get ready for the horse ride". MORE!!

We all got back in the Jeep (stallion) and headed deeper into the tea that has yet to make it into a cup.

"Horse ride" was an understatement - rather "roller coaster log ride" would have more accurately described the rocking from side to side, or the grass path cut through the over growth that was hardly wide enough for a human much less a "horse-powered" vehicle. The brambles were certainly leaving their mark on the paint job.

As soon as we stopped the car the people of the village came out to see the visitors to the New Kenya Baptist Church. Children carrying babies emerged from thatch houses and eyed us with curiosity. Lipok invited them to come to the program at the school. We thought, "well, it will help the numbers increase from the handful we left."

We loaded back into our motorized equine although a horse would probably carry us in as much comfort. By the time we arrived - not only had more children arrived - it looked like the whole village! And by the time the program was over - even those in the fields had walked the distance to see the curious strangers.

After the program, we began our relay games. All the parents and family members surrounded the lines to cheer their young ones on. If they weren't following instructions (passing a frisbee over your head then under the next one's legs) the mothers were quick to demonstrate and shout their encouragement.

It is hard to describe such a setting.

Deep into the jungle, a clearing for a school house, a field for playing games, against a backdrop of giant Banyan and palms, with the mountains rising in the distance.

The children ran, laughed, tried to figure out why we were excited - but it was all more contagious than the latest strain of the flu! Even the oldest people on the sidelines laughed and delighted in the simple fun of a childhood game.

Although their were "winners" who took first prize of a bar of soap, and the team that came in last received erasers and pencil sharpeners, this day in Lakla - they all had an unforgettable experience.

As we prepared to leave the school master approached our young interpreter. He set off on a long monologue as he surveyed the gathered villagers and the children still running around enjoying their biscuits and looking at each others gospel bracelets. When he finally stopped, he turned to look at us while K(our team member) related what he said.

First, K explained the real headmaster of the school had just died, and his replacement (the man before us) was embarrassed the village had not offered us a proper welcome or given us more suitable gifts for our visit (we each received the traditional red and white scarf of the Assam area). He explained they had never seen or heard such things we shared with them. And then finally he said, "All the people here, the children and our villagers, want you to know this is the best day of their life!"

Tears filled my eyes. What a privilege God saved for our last day in Lakla. What joy awaits us we know He really is saving the "Best" for last.

Maranatha

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Strangers

"...and they confessed they were strangers and pilgrims on earth.." Heb 11:13

Our last night at the Mount Carmel school compound we spent the evening vespers with the children that live here during the school year. It was enjoyable to hear their praise songs and have one last bit of "quality time" with the children in all probability we will never see again.

I shared the "Apple Tree" story to their great delight and ended with the moral that feeling bad about being "different" is a way the enemy keeps us from realizing who God intends us to be, and knowing the joy He has for us.

Our "strange-ness" (in looks, dress, behavior and all other-ness in between) makes an impression. For many of the children in the village, we just may be the only foreigners they will ever encounter. We make sure it is one they never forget. And while God uses the "foolish" to reach the unreached, He also rains joy down in such overflowing abundance, it will surely produce a harvest.

Yesterday, a few of the girls living in here came over to the guest house to see what we were like up close and personal. I brought out the speakers and the music and V taught them to "dance". They laughed, had a great time and saw we were still strange but perhaps not so scary. Tonight, at the end of the evening - those same girls kept motioning for us to star the "dance" time. They were happy to come up on the stage and lead the rest of the kids in the new activity.

The chairs were pushed back, space was cleared and the fun began.

"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.". Heb 13:1

In reflection over the last few days: how alien we are to the people living here, and the impact for eternity our presence makes, I thought of Dr. David Livingstone in the deep jungles of Africa. I had to laugh, he brought medicine along with the Gospel....

We brought the "Chicken Dance"!

"Do you see what this means - all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it, strip down, start running (or dancing) and never quit!". Heb 12:1 The Message

Dancing and smiling

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

God had a Better Plan

"I know what I'm doing, I have it all planned out - plans to take care of you, plans to give you the future you hope for. ". Jer 29:11 The Message

Working with orphans, lepers, untouchables and those living in unimaginable poverty makes the makes the verse a well used homily - offering a promise of hope given by and unchanging God.

"The way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think.". Is 55:9

But... It doesn't make daily life easier. It doesn't make the mission field a picnic. God does things His way - not the American way.

Sharing the love of such an amazing God with people who have nothing the world counts as valuable is a humbling experience. We go into believer's houses, climbing into the stilted dwelling, and listen to their testimony of miracle after miracle; healings, provision, barren women who conceive, lives brought back from the brink of death - and offer a prayer of hope of even greater things to come.

If you were to look around the one room serving as kitchen, bedroom, living room, dining room, closet, and pantry, you would see the worldly goods of a family of six can be counted on two hands. Yet, the requests they ask prayer for are not for "increase" of wealth, but for boldness for their testimony, their lives, the lives of their children to bring greater glory to the King and more souls to be saved.

If this is His version of a plan, how has the American plan gone so far the other way?

When we left the village, life was all around us; children were drawing water from the well, mother's walking along the path nursed their infants, older women were weaving cloth, young boys were collecting firewood for the evening meal, various livestock searched for food,, dogs trailed alongside us, and a few bathed in the open before the sun set in the western sky.

It brought to mind the testimony of the great faith hall of fame: "...homeless, friendless, powerless - the world didn't deserve them! - making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world. Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised."

The rest of the verse brings the reality of how His way is SO different from mine:

"God had a better plan for US; that THEIR faith and our faith would come to together to make ONE completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours."

Somehow, we need THEM to make us complete, they need us -

It didn't pass by Congress

It passed by the Throne.

Destitute to Destination

We pulled our Jeep off the road about ten miles from the school compound. There were no houses around, so both V and I were curious - just where the village was we were having our program.

Pastor L explained the unusual landscape as we started walking down the uneven craggy path. On one side of the road was dense jungle, where we were walking had been cleared by hand by the "Mising" tribal people who fled here after their homes were washed away during the flood season. On both sides of the path we noted trees hundreds of feet tall felled by men armed with only machetes and brute strength. Before us, a clearing with scant evidence of a former jungle, only stumps rising up from sandy areas once so dense humans could not penetrate its domain.

We walked, and walked, and walked, and walked. Deeper into a world we knew nothing about. As we approached the village, L pointed out the many houses built on stilts. "These are river people," he explained. "So even though there is no river here, they are still sticking to their old ways of living. It is only with time they develop a safe feeling and build their houses on the ground."

Our advance team arrived 30 minutes before us to gather the children at the church. We heard their singing well before we saw their faces. Because of our height and the color of our hair, they surely saw us coming up the path - before we arrived.

Gathered in front of a 10 x 30 thatch church - 20 children made hand motions to the praise songs they had learned inside. None of their words did we understand - save for one "hallelujah".

They weren't quite sure what to make of the strangers, and you won't be surprised at their answer when I asked if any of them had ever seen people that looked the way we did, as I rubbed my skin and tugged at my blonde hair. "No, No, No" along with all of their heads shaking side to side. "We have never seen anyone like you!"

After our program, the village pastor invited us to his house, and asked us to pray for the family as well as the new home he was moving to the following day. The village pastor and elder of the church asked if we had ever seen a house like this, "no, no, no" and our heads shook side to side. Especially when we saw the carved tree trunk we were going to have to climb to enter.

The men all had a good laugh as they pulled us up the post, while we were praying for balance and not to go crashing through the floor. The houses are set on beams approximately 5 feet off the ground - the fall wouldn't kill us, but the embarrassment most likely would. The floors of the houses are slats 3 to 4 inches apart with bamboo mats covering the gaps. We were instructed to walk only on the slats (think of walking through an attic). We both made sure we didn't pick the same slat at the same time for fear our combined American weight would wind us up under the house instead of in it!

After the men stopped laughing long enough to tell us we should sit down - we gained a bit more comfort. There in the 20 x 20 house the pastor, his wife and seven children - lived, ate, slept and praised God for the miracles they experienced.

As the pastor shared, he told us 3 years ago he was so sick, his family had already built his coffin. But believers prayed for him and here he sits today - still preaching the Word and leading others to the Living God. These "Mising" (pronounced missing) people were once lost - but now they are found. These refugees from the floods, now have an eternal destination to look forward to - without fear and filled with hope!

No fear in falling

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

SOUND

"And there was silence in heaven..." Revelation 8:1

Things are very different here in Assam. For one, we are staying on the school compound in the guest house instead of our usual quarters of a local hotel. Lakla is more like a village than a town; which is why even the satellites here are silent with no Blackberry service. It is also close to three international borders so the military controls the transmissions.

The most notable difference (pleasant surprise) is the sound, or more appropriately stated, lack there of. In the city, the din of daily life, close to 24 hour traffic with horns blaring well past our jet-lag bedtime, is a constant. But here, as I write in the dark with the aid if my booklight - I hear crickets. In the distance the occasional unintelligible conversations of the workers and children can be heard, but mostly, the singing wings of the crickets is this night's symphony.

Another surprise is the cold. This is the farthest north we have been in India, ans for a Texan, when you "read" a temperature like 50 for the nighttime low - that doesn't sound too cool. But... in the semi-warmth under 4 blankets, long johns AND my fleece jacket, when I READ the actual temperature of the room (61) I know - THAT IS cold when you are not used to it. There is the sound coming from an old body trying to turn over in the night without exposing any body parts and thinking my teeth chattering will be the next sound I hear, other than the echo of the groan I just made.

Laughter...

What a great sound that is! One that needs no interpretation. Today our program here at the school for over 200 kids, generated plenty of that. Whether it was from my exaggerated antics seeing their friends dressed as kings and queens, chasing each other playing "duck, duck, goose", or learning to "Limbo" - the children were laughing.

Crying...

We don't like it, we try hard to avoid it, but we have come to expect it. At the village outreach - many of the children were very young. Those under 4, generally stay close to their siblings and eye us with caution at best, downright fear at worse. When we spot a potential "crier" (quivering lip, retreating steps, and then finally the inevitable "waaaaaaah" - we look away, avoid drawing any more attention to the situation - and try to regain the attention of the other children who are by this time making that favorite noise -

Laughter -

But the best sound of all is the one we are not privileged to hear. The sound of the angels rejoicing in heaven as the lost are found, the sinners redeemed, and the Chosen respond to the Shepherd's voice.

When I look out at the faces of children praying, the "inner ears" of my soul perk up. Like a dog hearing the inaudible whistle of his master and starts running - so my heart starts rejoicing. And them even the sound of my heart beating keeps heavenly time to the

SOUND!

"All God's children singing glory, glory, hallelujah HE reigns, He reigns."

Listening and smiling