A Note about the situation in India:
Orissa has one of the worst records for violence against Christians, due in part to the activities of a religious fundamentalist group. Many churches have been destroyed and Christian workers continue to be attacked. There is a law prohibiting conversion and, since 2000, baptism requires the permission of the government. About a year ago, Hindu radicals went on a “bloody rampage that left 50,000 Christians fleeing for their lives into the state’s forests.” (GFA, 2009). – Cornerstone Church
This afternoon, I watched this video of the brutal persecution of our brothers and sisters in India. I was moved to tears, just as I had been similarly moved to tears five years ago when I taught in India. My hope is that you are also moved, but I hope that we are moved to more than tears. I hope we are moved to prayer, moved to action in our churches, and moved to assist churches in India and around the globe.
Five years ago, I had the privilege of teaching a History of Doctrine course to a group of 43 graduate students in India. As I taught these young students, my heart was jolted by their commitment to Christ. In the course of 18 days, I preached, taught for 5-6 hours per day, graded work late into the night, met with students in my makeshift office, and shared tea and meals with these remarkable students. During this time, I had the chance to be both teacher and student.
What the Teacher Learned
I had planned my last lecture especially well. In closing, I would give them the charge that they now carried the message of Christ to the world–what had been passed from Jesus to the disciples to the church planters of Acts to the elders of churches throughout the globe now came to them. It was their task to carry that same message into the world.
I barely made it through the lecture as I fought through my tears. I had learned something of the hardship they faced and the enormity of their task, and it was more than I could handle. Knowing that these 23 or 24 year old young men would likely take the message of Christ into a heavily overcrowded and poverty-stricken region where very few Christians lived was daunting. That they would most likely set up their churches in an 8 x 10 ft storefront made of cinder blocks seemed impossible. Yet, there was also hope.
I was humbled as I watched G–, a student with a learning disability who had once been rejected by his family as a failure, give up cricket games to study my notes (I was told he had to read them three times in order to understand). G– scored 98% in the course (much better than I had done as a student!). One employee at the school was a wonderful fifteen year old young lady that had recently been rescued from human-trafficking as a bride-for-sale. Another student said he dreamed of turning his tribal people from head-hunters to soul-hunters, and I’m certain that he was being serious. When I witnessed the ridiculous levels of poverty in Delhi, I was undone. It honestly took me six weeks to recover (meaning that it took six weeks to become somewhat numb again to the hardship).
Sharing in the Sufferings of Jesus
One connection that gripped me was a student I’ll call M–. M– is from China, although his father is Burmese. After pastoring 4 years as a teenager, he snuck across the border from China to Myanmar (Burma) and then into India en route to bible college and seminary. Without any stops, that was a ten-day journey on busses and trains. He acknowledged that he shouldn’t be in India because China wouldn’t give a visa for this, but this was the only way he would become trained as a pastor. He had not seen his mother, father, brothers or sisters in five years. His father died while he was away, and he received a brief phone call from a relative. He planned to return to China and pastor a house church along the China-Myanmar border amongst his people.
In an email to my wife, I wrote, “It is good to be here to learn from as well as to teach and encourage these young men. They truly are young men, which means that I am getting older, but it also means that the task of leading churches in these harsh areas has been left to the young, and that is a little overwhelming for me, as I think of what they will face and the fact that many of them will be forced to face it alone in a village of people hostile to all that they stand for. Gives my prayers a new sense of urgency.” I still feel that way.
A Prayer and Plea
I leave you with an excerpt from my last journal entry from India 5 years ago. May we in our luxury and comfort and silly church battles become broken for those around the world who face such difficulty in being Jesus’ disciples. May our prayers sustain them as we lift them up to our Heavenly Father. May their devotion to our Rescuer spur us on to greater love and faith and ministry.
M–, my new friend from China who travelled 10 days journey illegally to be here, came to see me today. We talked for a few minutes about ministry and he wanted some information that I will email to him. We talked for a few more minutes before I had to turn to some work that needed to get to the copier before close of work today. As our conversation ended, he looked at me and said, “You leave Friday. Tomorrow will be busy day for you. We may not talk again.” I truly thought he was going to cry. I told him that we would eat lunch together tomorrow. I can tell that it feels good to him to know that someone outside of his people knows of his plight. He loves to talk about his people and the ministry he hopes to have among his people. All of the students love to talk about the plight of their people.
Another student gave me a book today, one that was privately printed by a secret group (he seemed nervous about giving it to me and wanted me to read it “privately” in case someone was offended by the book). It’s over 500 pages long. I leave in less than 48 hours. When in the world am I going to read that? But in a note on one of his assignments, he had mentioned that he hoped to turn his people from head-hunters to soul-hunters. I included a note that I would pray for his people later that day. Two days later, he asks me if I could read this book. I could make no promises there, but it is at my bedside tonight. The students have a great burden for “their people.” There isn’t much national pride for India, but they all dearly love “their people.” And for most, that results in sadness and spiritual burden due to the hardness of the people to the gospel.
Clearly, there will be some sorrow for me in leaving these friends, brothers and sisters. There is much work to do here, and they bear an inordinate burden for the Church. But I will be happy to be home, to be with Nan, to be with the boys. I thought today about being with my church family and longed to be a part of worshipping with them. Going home will be good, but this too has been good.
May God be lifted up in His Church, both here and there.