Tuesday – Travel Day/Reflections

Tuesday – Travel Day/Reflections:
Tuesday marked the end of our visit to the enchanting country of India.  I don’t think I’ll quite be able to ever put into words what this trip did in me and what God did in me while I was there.  This trip really brought me back to a simplistic place of appreciation for God’s Word, His Presence, and His people.  One of the primary things I will take away from the whole experience is just having that mental picture of people on the opposite side of the world in tiny, obscure villages who are chasing God with their whole hearts.  They are so hungry for His Word and they display the meaning of reverence in how they conduct themselves.  We may never hear of them or see them on the front page of Charisma Magazine, but they are risking their lives and their families by living a counter cultural life of following Jesus.

On Tuesday we did a little more souvenir shopping then made our way to the International airport.  As we maneuvered through the security check points my heart was heavy knowing that it could be a long time before I get to return to India.  Spending so much time out where people really live and seeing the way most Indians survive made me feel so connected to the people and the country.  My appreciation for their culture doubled in the few short days we spent with the people.

I wanted to make sure I recorded all of these things here for myself.  If no one ever reads them but myself, it will serve as a point of reference for me.  I want this trip to represent a new beginning for me and my walk with God.  I never want to be the same as I was before.  I want to make sure that I am not simply laying up treasures for myself here on earth, but that I am laying up treasures for eternity and living a life that would make my Father in heaven smile.  I have a long way to go, but thank God I’m not where I was.  I just want to keep moving closer to Him, whatever that entails.

Monday – Orphanage/School Visit and Shopping

Monday – Orphanage/School Visit and Shopping:
After a massive breakfast buffet visit, some prayer and Bible reading time, and personally taking out about 3 cups of coffee, I was looking forward to the day.  The day’s number one objective was to visit our hosts’ orphanage/school and spend time with the children and staff there.  I was excited to be riding with the school’s director and founder on the way there.  She shared multiple stories and testimonies about how God supplied everything we would see on that day.  I couldn’t believe some of the stories and that they are functioning out of their own pocket books without outside support.  There are at least 100 orphans that they care for at all times and about 400 total children, many who come from the outside, to attend the school.

As we entered the front gates, the children had formed long lines on each side of the pathway leading into the compound.  They were all wearing their school uniforms, each wearing colors that appeared to identify their grades, which included blue, red, green, and yellow.  The children at the front of the lines, who would be the ones who lead us down the pathway, carried colorful flags.  After a brief meeting before walking down the vibrant pathway they had created for us, we returned to the entrance gate.  When we were finally in place, drum beats began to ring out in front of us as we made our way down the path.  At that point, I pulled out my iPhone and recorded our walk.  Each child clapped and either smiled or waved at us as we passed by them on the way to the building where we would all eventually congregate.  It was a sweet moment and a warm welcome.

After we were all in place in the building which appeared to be their sanctuary, we were treated to a variety of skits and dances that many of the children participated in.  I could tell that they had spent quite a bit of time preparing for us.  Afterward, the local staff came in and a couple of our pastors spoke some incredible words of encouragement to them.  I sensed that the words were well received and that they needed to hear it.  When we were dismissed from that meeting we had an opportunity to tour the facilities and see how they operated.  I was amazed to see how far they were able to stretch dollars (or rupees in their case).  Every aspect of what they were doing was done in excellence.  It was really phenomenal.  It made me wish they had more funding to be able to do even more.  I could tell that their ministry was good ground in every sense.

When we left there our hosts wanted to take us to a Pizza Hut for some American food.  At this point, I must admit it sounded great.  We ate until our hearts were content, then they took us out for some souvenir shopping.  While we were shopping I couldn’t help but think about how much my wife would enjoy all of the beautiful clothing and jewelry.  I did the best I could to get a few things I new she would like and a few outfits for my little Indian prince at home.  While out shopping we decided to cross the road and check out a few stores on the opposite side.  If you’ve ever been to a busy city in India you would know that crossing 10 lanes of traffic like Frogger is not for the faint of heart.  There is no crosswalk, red light, or traffic cop in most places so we just had to go for it.  I was given the following instructions before crossing: Stay together, walk at a steady pace, do not speed up or slow down, and do not make eye contact with oncoming drivers.  Just like clock work the drivers whisked past us, literally missing us by inches.  They know how to anticipate your walking speed and in my opinion are some of the greatest drivers in the world.

After wrapping up our shopping adventure we headed back to the hotel where we had a final team meeting before a few members of our team parted ways with us.  The following morning they were scheduled to fly out to another city nearby where they were to minister to the people there.  The following afternoon we were scheduled to return to the states, which would conclude our portion of the trip.  After discussing the trip (emotionally in my case) and everything that took place, we retreated to our rooms to catch up on some more sleep before making the 30 plus hour trek back home.

Sunday – Visiting Local Churches

Sunday – Visiting Local Churches:
After a decent night of sleep we packed up all of our luggage and headed downstairs to the restaurant next door for breakfast.  When we laid down for sleep on Sunday night it would be back in the major city where we started out.  After eating breakfast we split into three groups.  The idea was that we would visit and minister at three different churches that our hosts had pre-arranged for us to minister at.  The three churches we visited varied in building size and attendance.  My friend Vince and I were driven to the smallest after everyone else was dropped off at their meeting places.  We drove through the tiniest little village down narrow streets that our SUV could barely squeeze through.  The setting of the church was like something you would see on a Hollywood set.  As we exited our vehicle parked at a narrow alleyway, we followed our temporary guide who would also serve as our translator, down the short alley way.  The closer we got to the church we heard pure heartfelt singing coming from between two small buildings.  In between the two buildings was a tin roof stretching from one to the other with blue tarpaulin covering the whole area.  The result was a little meeting space where 17 people were coming together to worship, pray, and learn the Word of God.  I was so thankful that God allowed us to be there.  As Vince delivered the Word to these precious people I couldn’t help but think about the simplicity of it all.  In the U.S. some churches are so concerned about building massive facilities as if they are in some sort of arms race.  We make sure we have the latest and greatest in projection equipment, microphones, and lighting, but here, somewhere close to nowhere, 17 people are sitting here with nothing but each other, a shade, a Bible, and a desire to hear from God.  I believe God sent me all the way to this obscure part of India to show me this.

After Vince shared a great message that I believe was well received, he concluded in prayer.  I’ll never forget what happened next.  As he began his prayer, the Muslim call to worship began to ring out across the village from across the city.  He continued in prayer unfazed and I opened my eyes slightly to see what the people were doing.  It brought tears to my eyes yet again to see the women and little girls, with covered heads, on their knees, lifting their hands with honest sincerity.  Some of the young men were in the same position, while others were laying on their faces.  This was probably the highlight of the trip for me.  It was just a surreal God moment.  It had nothing to do with us being there, it had nothing to do with the message, and it certainly had nothing to do with the music that wasn’t being played.  It was just pure prayer and worship.  As we concluded, we took time to pray for every one of them then took several pictures so that we would never forget them.

We then got back into the SUV where we were returned to one of the other churches that our other group ministered to.  As we walked in, the local Pastor and his wife brought us back into their kitchen and fed us.  We ate something similar to a home maid McDonalds Egg McMuffin, a short bread type pastry, and fresh sliced papaya.  We were already on our way to eat lunch together at a local restaurant afterward, but there is no way we would have turned down their hospitality.  In India, it is customary for them to prepare food for you to show you appreciation and hospitality.  Fortunately, their food is almost always very good.  They always give you their very best and this makes you appreciate it even more.

As we finished up, the Pastor really wanted us to walk down the street to an open field where they were in the process of constructing a new church building.  It was a beautiful place for a church.  As we got closer I noticed that the people of the church were there working!  They left church after it concluded, walked down the street, then started moving dirt from the outside to the inside.  The women had formed a sort of assembly line and as they passed buckets of dirt all the way down the line from the outside to the inside, the final lady would pile it up.  After the buckets reached their final destination, the little boys would grab the bucket and run it back to the front of the line.  This was amazing to see.  They weren’t concerned about going home for lunch or changing clothes.  They went to put in some time constructing the new church building.

From there we returned to our vehicles and headed toward the restaurant downtown for lunch.  Unfortunately, because we were so far into this village we needed a little guidance making our way out.  So our driver asked the father of a little boy on the side of the road if he and his buddy could ride with us until we made it to the main road.  They were happy to do this and jumped right in.  As they lead us out, I decided I would give them each a quarter (or more specifically, an “American Coin”), especially since they were going to have to walk all the way back.  When I handed it to them their face lit up and when we drove off they waved in appreciation then started leaping into the air in jubilation.  It was so cute.  We then joined the rest of the team at the local downtown restaurant and ate a great Indian lunch even though we were still somewhat full.

The next stop on the way back to the major city was to visit a tribal village who had recently converted to Christianity.  As we drove into the direction of the tribal village, we drove and we drove and we drove.  The only problem was that the roads we drove on should not have been called roads.  They were so bad that it would have taken us a full 12 hours to get there.  We would have run out of gas before we ever made it.  Large cement trucks and animal herds crowded the roads and both apparently contributed to to road’s demise.  As a result, we decided to forgo the visit and just make our way to our new hotel room to grab some rest.  It turned out to be a great move as we got the best night of sleep since we had been there.  The hotel was very nice and had Wi-Fi which allowed me to Skype my sweet family for the first time.  This was a great pick me up but made me really miss them even more.

Pastor’s Conference Day 2 of 2

Saturday – Pastor’s Conference Day 2 of 2:
Saturday started out with a delicious Indian style breakfast and included an authentic Chai which provided a nice little pep after another short nights sleep.  For day two of the pastor’s conference, we split the group up.  Everyone who spoke the day before went ahead of us directly to the village where they enjoyed being with the people all day.  They played cricket with the kids, visited families homes, and just fellowshipped with the precious people.  The other group (four of us) including myself went back to the conference where we were all scheduled to speak to the people.

After the time of worship and transition I had the honor of God allowing me to speak something into the lives of the pastors.  Speaking in front of a large group of people is out of my comfort zone, but I knew this had nothing to do with me and everything to do with equipping them so that they could then teach their congregations and spread the gospel throughout their country by making disciples.  In the U.S. we take for granted the fact that we can go to the bookstore and pick up a book on any topic.  We have instant information at our fingertips.  As we spoke, I could tell that they were soaking in our words like a dry sponge.  We were sharing basic truths to them and it was as if they were hearing them for the first time.  Our hosts had prepped us and informed us that this would be the case.  We were informed that many of these pastors have grown weary in their efforts and they needed to be reminded of exactly what the purpose of the church is and what they must focus on.  We taught and encouraged them.  I reminded them that this is their country and that we could never effectively impact their individual communities the way they can.  I reminded them that God strategically placed them right where they are because He wants to use them to impact their communities for the Kingdom of God.

Once the conference concluded, it ended the same as the day before, with people gathering around each of us.  This time they just wanted to shake our hands and ask that we would remember them in prayer when we return home.  I told them that I would never forget them or forget to pray for them every day.  Most of them asked that we please come back and teach them some more which humbled me to the core.  I know the ultimate goal is to continually send teams over on a regular basis but I didn’t want to tell them that because I didn’t know when that would happen next.

Two young teenagers became my shadow until I finally made my way to the car to leave.  They were full of questions, including, “Is Obama an American?  If so, why is he black?” As if there are no black Americans.  I held back my laughter as I tried to explain that I was told he was born in Hawaii (not knowing for sure of course).  One of them had the same name as my son’s middle name which thrilled him.  As I got into the car they both handed me a gift.  One of them gave me a small card with a calendar on the back and the other gave me a 2 rupee coin.  It was precious because I’m sure it was all they had in their pockets.  I gave a U.S. coin to each of them and they stared at them and smiled widely.

After we left, we headed back toward the village and stopped along the way at a busy little intersection to pick up some bottled Sprite.  We were standing around and chatting as we drank our Sprite and a crowd of curious bystanders began to surround us so we took the liberty of photographing them.  Then of course everyone wanted their picture made.  People were seemingly coming from out of nowhere until there was so many pressing up against us that we felt that we should go ahead and conclude our visit.  When we finally arrived at the village I was asked to tag team with two of our other team members and share a short 10 or 15 minute message with the people.  I really didn’t know what to speak about until a few minutes later when I saw my friend Paul walking around surrounded by about 30 children.  I knew immediately that I was supposed to speak to them about the heart of a child and becoming like a little child as Jesus instructed the disciples in Matthew 18:1-5.  I was asked to speak second and as I looked out at all the beautiful children I decided to bring one of them up as I spoke.  I asked my interpreter to get this little girl who was in a red dress that appeared to be really calm.  This proved to be a good move because as I brought her up to stand next to me I immediately had the attention of the people and I saw smiles throughout the crowd of women up front.  As I introduced what I wanted to talk to them about and read the scripture I planned to teach from, I told the little sweetheart next to me that she could go back and sit down if she wanted to.  Then, she told the interpreter something and he told me she wanted to stay up there with me.  I said, of course she can!  I was just afraid she might be too shy and want to return to her seat.  It was so cute and it really helped me to have her up there with me.  At the end of the service the children performed more dances for us and before they concluded we were whisked off through the village to the cute little local church where our hosts’ cook had once again prepared dinner for us which we ate with our fingers.  Thankfully we had our hand sanitizer on hand.  Upon conclusion, we returned to our vehicles and braced ourselves for a long rough ride back to the hotel.  However, I very much enjoyed this time as we shared stories and laughed until we hurt.  This team I was so fortunate to travel with is full of wisdom and have so many great stories to share.  I gleaned from them as much as I possibly could.  Once again we returned to the hotel after midnight and slept hard.

Pastor’s Conference Day 1 of 2

Friday – Pastor’s Conference Day 1of 2:
After a short sleep we piled into the hotel room our hosts were staying in where they had compiled a basic breakfast for us.  Their efforts in making sure we were well fed were above and beyond from day one until the day we left.  I don’t think I ever felt hungry the whole trip because they never let us get to that point.  We then jumped in the cars with our backpacks and took off.  Along the way we made a stop in a tiny village where we visited a family’s home and took pictures of the village and the people living there.  We prayed blessings over his family, his home, his finances, etc.  Then we carried on to the site of the Pastor’s Conference.

Upon arrival you could here the worship music blasting out from the open air, tin-roof covered meeting space.  As we entered into the area and to our seats we were immediately placed onto the stage in chairs which appears to be customary.  After the time of worship we were introduced and we each greeted the people.  They then presented each of us with an ornate garland or lei.  This also appears to be customary because I think we were presented with three of them throughout the trip.  Four different speakers spoke and in between we broke for lunch which was prepared for us by our hosts’ cook who traveled with us for that purpose.  It was amazing to see the food we were presented with.  I couldn’t believe he prepared that in such a short time with just an open fire.  As we were preparing to leave I couldn’t believe how every person came up to us and wanted us to spend time praying for them.  I sensed they were desperate for God to impart something into them.  I now know more about the difficulties a Christian pastor faces in a non-Christian country.  This is not a game to them and you can see the weight of that in their eyes.

After the first day of the pastor’s conference was complete we drove out further into the back country to a small and beautiful little village where there was probably a minimum of 600-800 people who just showed up all of a sudden.  They were summoned by the loudest sound system my ears have ever had the privilege/pain to hear.  We again introduced ourselves and were presented with a garland.  We were also presented with an oversized type scarf which I utilized as a blanket on the cold airplanes while traveling home.  I watched as the people received every message and then prayed at the end with so much sincerity that it brought tears to my eyes.  When we finished, the children had prepared dances for us.  First the small girls, then the preteens.  They were completely decked out in the finest dresses they could find.  It was beautiful to see.  During one of the dances, the power went out.  It was completely dark and suddenly the women and children started singing an uptempo worship song in their native tongue.  I recorded the audio of them singing and have plans to make it my new ringtone.  After the power returned and the service concluded, we shook hands with almost everyone there and they all wanted us to pray for them individually.  The children were once again thrilled to see themselves in pictures and kept requesting to have their pictures made with us.  If you took a picture of one you’d suddenly be surrounded by 50.

As we drove back it seemed like hours due to the gnarly road conditions and the fact that one of the guys with us had to stop about 5 times to throw up.  I believe maybe it was just something he ate but I felt so bad for him.  He was miserable.  When we finally made it back to our lovely abode it was after 1:00 AM and we fell straight to sleep.

Home for Widows and Children’s Visit

Since I was unable to record the events of the trip in real-time due to time restraints and a lack of internet connectivity I have decided to take some time while on the plane to gather my thoughts, summarize the trip, and hit a few highlights.

Let me first say that I have been forever changed on this trip to India.  I really don’t think it is possible to remove yourself from everything you know, dedicate a whole week to getting after it for God and your brothers and sisters on the other side of the world and not be impacted.  Weeks prior to actually leaving on the trip my prayer for the time there became that I desired for God to speak to me however he desired and that he would use me however he desired.  God did that this week and he used His people in India to do more for me than I could have ever done for them.

Thursday – Home for Widows & Children’s Visit:
After arriving in India and getting to bed at around 2:00 AM local time we crashed hard after all the travel.  We slept until about 8:00 AM then took care of some breakfast handily.  After returning to the room and gathering our things we met downstairs and waited for our local hosts to arrive to greet us and give us instruction.  Our mission while there was to submit ourselves to their authority while we were there and serve them in what they are trying to accomplish for God in India.

After our agendas were finalized we jumped into the vehicles and drove about 20-30 km’s outside of the major city to a picturesque piece of property set between two small mountains right between a couple of low cast villages.  This is the setting where a visionary’s dream is becoming a reality.  Our hosts (name protected) are some of the greatest visionaries I’ve ever been around.  They have two small buildings.  One of the buildings is finished and is housing about 100 orphaned boys and girls.  The other building is a work in progress but will be where poor widowed women will be able to stay and learn a trade.  The engraved dedication stone in the front of the building quotes James 1:27 which says, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress.”  This is exactly what they are doing and seeing it in action absolutely rejuvenated me from my jet lag.  I kept finding myself trying not to show any emotion but my heart was jumping out of my chest at the sight of this work.

After touring the facilities and grounds we went inside to see the children who had prepared a welcome program for us.  They ranged in age from mostly 3-12 years and they were all stunning.  Excitement radiated from their faces as we took our places in chairs.  They sang songs and danced while we snapped pictures as fast as we could.  As I looked at their faces, I didn’t see hopelessness, sadness, or sickness.  What I saw was children filled with Jesus, full of life, and as healthy as any child you would see in the U.S.  I knew at that moment that these visionaries weren’t just visionaries.  They weren’t holding their hands out to us in hopes that we would empty our pockets to them in the future.  They were being busy doing what they could do in excellence until God supplies everything they need to complete the work there.  I was fully impressed at that point.

We each took turns greeting the children through our interpreter.  There were also several widows from the nearby village that joined the event as well.  Pastor DN then shared a quick story about David in the Bible then we had time at the end to walk around and pray for all the children.  At the end we presented to all the widows a really nice blanket for each one of them.  This time of the year the nights can be chilly for them so they all were unbelievably grateful.  I presented one to a precious lady probably in her fifties.  As I handed over the blanket, she grabbed my hand, looked down in appreciation, and I saw tears running down her face.  It was as if I’d handed her a million dollars.  I fought back tears of my own as I went back to my chair while the presentation continued.  I couldn’t help but think about how I lay down in a house with central heating and air and how I have all the blankets I would ever need, but many people do not.

After this time together all the children swarmed us and every single one of them wanted to shake our hands and talk to us.  They called most of the guys uncle which was cute.  I then discovered the ice breaker of all ice breakers…It’s called, take a picture with my iPhone, then show them what they look like after I take it.  Not only did this ice breaker work here with these children but it worked with every person I ran into, no matter the age!  We may not have been able to communicate with everyone but this made everyone relax and laugh so I used it like crazy (although if you did it too much you might get mobbed depending on the number of people in the area).

Afterward our hosts’ cook had prepared a delicious meal for us to enjoy together in the courtyard area of one of the buildings.  My plate was so full that by the end it looked like I had barely scratched the surface.  We were later told that their cook was actually an orphan who grew up in one of the other children’s homes that they oversee.  We applauded the meal as he grinned and looked shyly at the floor not knowing how to react.  As we prepared the leave the children wanted to interact more, we hugged on them some more as we left.

After leaving we made our way to a really small town in the middle of what seemed to be nowhere that would be pretty close to the site of the Pastor’s Conference we would be speaking at on Friday and Saturday.  Upon arrival our spoiled mentality was immediately challenged.  This was a rougher (not dangerous, just no frills like toilet paper or shower, I think the mattress was formed out of concrete, and it was pretty dirty) little hotel than what any of us would ever typically stay in, however, no one complained one bit.  It was the “best” hotel in the town.  Everyone just made the best of it.  My roommate Paul helped combat the situation with humor which he proved to be quite effective at.  I spent quite a bit of time laughing my face off at his one liners.  We then hit the sack fully dressed and covered with Off and got about 4 hours of sleep.

Time for Liftoff

Here on the eve of a return trip to my son’s homeland I am filled with great anticipation.  There is so much anticipation about what God is going to do; not just in the lives of people we encounter along the way, but in my life as well.

In October I posted about “Reflections on Turning 30, Am I Just Living Safely”.  The answer to that question up to this point was a resounding YES.  In the last paragraph I said the following:  “The first 30 years of my life was riddled with instances of living life carefully and with self-imposed limitations.  My desire today is to trust less in my abilities, my false strength, and my limited plan for my life.  I want the next 30 years to look less like me and much more like God.  After all, is it really that big of a risk to follow God when we know He is in complete control?”.

For the past month, the enemy has given me a thousand reasons why I shouldn’t go on this trip.  This only confirms that I am in the will of God on this.  The moment I heard that this trip was being planned I felt that I was supposed to go.  I refuse to let another year of my life go by while I operate inside a safe routine that hardly impacts anyone else.

I really didn’t know who else would also be going on this trip until recently and I can not put into words how excited I am to be going with this group.  Some of these people are not just heroes of the the faith, but they are some of my heroes.

As I get ready to board the plane in a few short hours, the words of Dr. David Platt ring in my head…”We are here for a vapor, a mist.  God has left us here for the sake of others in this world. The only reason we are here right now instead of with Him, is for their sake. Which world are we going to live for?”

Time to invest in eternity.