Saturday, May 22, 2010

India - final blog entry

Why is it that plane rides home feel so much longer than plane rides en route to mission and adventure?

I can't wait to be home. Carmel is picking me up at DTW and we'll have he whole day together before picking up the kids around 3...assuming i can remain conscious.

My last day-and-a-half in India was fun - Taj Mahal, sightseeing in Delhi, shopping - but a little too long. There were no earlier flights for me to have caught, so they were necessarily long, but (with the exception of the Taj) i would have felt just fine about skipping it all and heading stateside a little sooner.

Still, it was a very pleasant way to end the trip.

I've caught some stomach bug, though. Perhaps it was inevitable. Daniel would tell me it's a devil tummy spirit, but i think it's just all the stuff i ate and drank while waaaaay out in the villages doing ministry. It's worth it. Besides, the immunization lady gave me a great stomach-illness-kit that already seems to be taking good effect.

Such a good trip...i think i can see how to plan it so we could take a team, now that i've been. I think i've got a few good ideas about how we might reduce costs so more people could afford to go.

One idea i've been tossing around would involve a little mission, a little justice, and a little adventure. Since most of the Indian guys have no transportation of their own i've been thinking about how we might help in that regard. We can't buy cars and vans for them - it would be far too much money - but we could buy motorcycles. Brand new, a decent motorcycle costs about $2000 USD. I figure we could raise about $10K, take a small team over and buy bikes. We could use the bikes to get around while in India - going from village to village, preaching and training and praying...very "Apostle Paul"...and then gift the bikes to Suresh and his gang on our way out. The roads are a little dodgy, and we'd undoubtedly keep long days, but the vision of riding into some god-forsaken village on iron horseback to bring the gospel is a pretty compelling picture.

Plus, if we brought someone who could film and edit in the fly, we could easily document our mission reality-TV style and then create a YouTube channel and a show for iTunes.

On another note, i'm thinking and praying a lot about evangelism. Our staff at the winds have been going back and forth about the topic, about our twin dissatisfactions with (1)our lack of intentionality concerning evangelism, and (2)our frustration with any existing modalities of evangelism. Simply put, we want and need to evangelize more faithfully, but we all recognize that the methods of evangelism we once relied upon are no longer effective. The world has changed, and we just haven't caught up yet.

While with Suresh, especially, i was enraptured with the front-line nature of his ministry. It was like the best of my charismatic upbringing and my days working with Athletes in Action and Campus Crusade all rolled into one.

Here, that crusade-style juju is no longer effective, but i would love to find some other way to do those apostolic kinds of things.

There has to be a better way...

I feel very close to God, attuned, and take great confidence home with me. It was such a wonderful experience, but all good things must come to an end.

And this officially ends my time as an Apostle to India.

the stuff i preached

During the 2 days with Suresh i preached 7 times. I didn't know i was going to preach 7 times, but 7 different times he gave me a nod about 10minutes in advance and i would pray and start thumbing through my Bible and ask the Spirit to reveal what i should share. That probably sounds more mystical than it really is, but the truth is that i have notes from every sermon series from the last year written into my Bible plus all of my devotional reflections, scholarly notes, and little tidbits and ruminations i've picked up here and there.

My Bible is a very valuable asset.

Anyway, i would pray and toss a few ideas around, and then i'd notice that there was always some idea i'd come back to and that's how i knew the Spirit was drawing me back to that particular concept or scripture.

The cool part was realizing just how powerful certain topics are in a polyreligious context. India is predominantly Hindu, which means that in that religion alone there are 3 million deities and a strongly formed cosmogeny and afterlife (both of which, obviously, compete with our Christian story of how the world was made and what happens to us when we die). Furthermore, there are Hindu temples on every street and people go into those temples at all hours to make sacrifices to idols.

So, when i started preaching about how we're made in the image of God, and how that word image really means "idol," and how God detests stone idols because they devalue our humanity, hit a wholly different nerve than when we talk that way at home. People understood that the stone idols aren't just fake or demonic or whatever, but that the only true idols are people - placed on this earth to remind creation of God's authority and presence.

Preaching that message there was like controlling the power grid for an entire city, because every lightbulb over every head first got turned on and then began glowing brighter and brighter.

One of the other cool moments was teaching about Simon the Sorcerer (who tried to buy the Holy Spirit from Phillip and Peter). Again, since witchcraft is so prevalent in India, the confrontation between the power of Christ and the powers of darkness was far more relevant and meaningful than back in the States.

Likewise, telling the story of Ezekiel and the Dry Bones was super-cool because the impoverished villagers could totally relate to the feeling of being "cut off," and could totally cling to the hope that there is life to the dead and dying through the power of the Spirit.

I also enjoyed teaching about Jonah and connecting his prophetic task to the mission of Jesus. There were always kids in these meetings, so it felt great just to tell these timeless tales and watch the kids make faces and react to the fantastical bits of the stories.

My favorite message, though, had to be about Isaiah 65 and the promise of the New Earth. I like that topic anyway, but standing in a mud hut, surrounded by trash, reeking of filth and excrement and death and animals and old milk and spoiled food made the promise of something new so much sweeter.

And, as always, it got me thinking about Jackson.

Do you know that, since our final destination is here on this earth remade and infused with God's holy presence, it only stands to reason that the actual town of Jackson, Michigan will be part of heaven?

Think about that for a minute. Based on Is 65+66, Ez 40-48, Ro 8, 1 Cor 15, and Rev 21+22, we know that God will remake this world and put us into it in new bodies to once again be His stewards and shepherds of creation.

But there's nothing to say how long the (re)creation of the world will take. And, since we've got eternity, why have we always assumed this would happen in an instant? There's no scriptural support for an instantaneous re-creation...just a hunch we've all kind of had. Furthermore, both scripturally and practically, we have to acknowledge that God tends to take His time, that He values the process and the formation that comes from doing the hard work of being faithful and obedient.

Put all this together, and i can't help but think that - given eternity and a new physicality and a restored mission to tend the garden - our early task in heaven will be to perfect Jackson.

Don't call the crazy police just yet, i'm simply chasing a logical train of thought down to it's furthest conclusion.

In heaven - the place where God is in charge and things are the way He wants them to be - we will have new bodies - capable of moving at the speed of thought, immune to disease or fatigue - and will be restored to our original operating system as God's tselem - His shadows, designed to look after the world - and we will be placed in a new earth - which is not to say that this one will be destroyed, only that God's presence will be here fully and that presence will heal this world of its present corruption - and we will worship him night and day - which, it's important to remember, means we will work with Him and cooperate with Him (in Hebrew "work" and "worship" are the same word).

All of which leads me to suspect that we might spend eternity fixing up Jackson.

We'd be making New Jackson, akin to New Jerusalem.

We would be unimpeded by all of the things that hurt Jackson now - economy, bureaucracy, corruption, despair - but would have access to limitless resources as heirs of the Kingdom and would undoubtedly continue to learn, invent, and fulfill our mandate as co-creators with God.

How long would it take to clean up the pond at Cascades? To fix up Francis street? To restore our historical landmarks? To re-pave 94? To get rid of every pollution-causing industry and vehicle? To return the landscape back to its original design an meld our city with the natural beauty surrounding it in such a way God would be glorified and His creation cultivated?

More importantly, how long would it take before we fixed every single problem we've spent the last couple of thousand years creating? Ten thousand years to heal the world of our neglect and abuse? Twenty thousand?

And then what?

Then we would still have eternity left to create, to tend, to cultivate, to celebrate, to laugh, to love, to hear and know the stories of everyone who ever lived and weave those stories into creation for the glory of God.

That's quite a pipe dream, i know, but it gives me great hope for the present time because every good activity in which we are involved now is like an appetizer to the eternal entree.

What we will do then we can do now, and has great meaning as a result.

I've said it before: this is what Jesus meant when he said "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

The bad news is this: when you die, you're gonna wake up in Jackson

The good news is this: it won't be like it is now, and you'll get to help make it the way it always should have been.

That's good news for people living in the wayside villages in India, too. God wants things to be different just as badly as they do - as we do - and He will empower us to make things right in the end.

In fact, He has already begun to do just that.

India (episode 5-ish)

The day after the crazy tent meetings, i woke up with a wicked ache all over my body. I thought i'd finally caught something, you know, and started popping pills and begging God to spare me any more weird travel illnesses.

But then i went to Suresh's place and got started talking to Daniel (Suresh's older brother, an apostle and a leader in their ministry). Daniel told me some spooky stuff. He said that everytime he and his friends pray for Seikh people, demonic spirits begin to afflict them in their body.

He went on to describe the exact symptoms i was feeling...which was spooky...and the told me the only way to get rid of the symptoms was to live with them for a long time or to pray until they went away.

I didn't think too much about it (i was trying to discern how superstitious he was, and how overly-rationale i was), but as the day wore on my symptoms grew worse. It was like i began to suffer from every pain i had prayed for God to heal the previous evening. I started thinking that this must be where the myth of the sin-eaters came from (people taking the sin and sickness from another person and absorbing it into themselves).

Several hours later, i ran into Daniel again. He asked me how i was feeling and i told him i was alright. He looked sideways at me and told me that he could see i was bothered. He told me he had been praying for me ever since i left him, about four or five hours prior. He asked if he could pray for me, and i accepted.

Then he began to give me the torture prayer. He smacked me and slapped me and pulled me and pinched me. It was hilarious (and super painful), but i tried not to react because i didn't want to encourage him (i was afraid that if i said "ouch" he would think it was a demon or something...he's a little prone to spotting devils).

Anyway, he worked me over for about 15 minutes and by the end i was totally relieved that the prayer time was over.

But it worked.

I felt much better instantly, and completely better within the hour.

That night we did more ministry in the villages, prayed against dark spirits, called upon God for healing, and i felt electrified. Even after a very short sleep and a very early plane trip i feel fantastic.

This whole trip was been a massive collection of evidence for the power of prayer. The people at home are praying, my family is praying, the Christians here are praying (they told me they have prayed very hard, and fasted for a long time, so i would be protected while India...i think they were terrified that if something bad happened to me there would be *consequences).

One of the funny little details from last night concerns what one of the guys called (in very broken english) a "sexy devil spirit."

Now, the reality of an incubus or succubus is nothing to laugh at...last night there was some strange hoodoo...but i couldn't stop myself from laughing at the terminology.

That, and their mispronounciation of "witchcraft." you see, they have a hard time saying "ft," so it come out as "witch crap."

My dad used to describe it in just those terms when i was younger. God's sense of humor persists, eh?

Anyway, i had an incredible set of experiences in Aurangubad, and am now off to the Taj Mahal before heading home. I simply CANNOT wait to see Carmel and the kids.

The Apostles of India

I mentioned before that there were 12 guys who went everywhere with me while i was with Suresh in Aurangubad. Even though i'm not enough like Jesus to warrant it, i still couldn't help identifying with him while hanging around with these guys.

Some of these guys were marvelous (like Peter, James, and John) whereas some of these guys were useless, or barely saved, or not Christ-followers at all. I had to pay for them for everything, which was sometimes frustrating, and so i often laughed at myself knowing that that was exactly how Jesus must have felt with his disciples at times.

Also, most of their names were impossible to pronounce (even for them, i think, given that i'm not sure i even heard intelligible noises from 2 or 3 of them), so i took to giving them nicknames so i could tell them apart. They liked that, and we all had a good time working for the Lord (even, again, if they didn't know Him).

Suresh is great, a young leader with big vision and a hard work ethic.

Daniel is Suresh's older brother...and he's a little bit of the good crazy. People respect him very much, and he prays for hours and hours every day. I like him a lot.

Raoul is Suresh's younger brother. He is very quiet, helps very little, and wants to become a children's pastor. I am glad he has Suresh and Daniel to show him the ropes, because Raoul is raw and needs a lot of work in ministry.

Cabbie was our Hindu-Catholic taxi driver. He was a lot of fun. When things first began, he was very aloof but he was slowly drawn into the mix and became very excited about all that God as doing around and in and among us. He had a conversion of sorts while i was there, and covered up all the idols in his taxi as a way of showing he was leaving his old life behind. Don't ask me why he kept them...everyone else seemed to regard this as a marvelous first step in the faith and i'm sure i was losing some things in translation anyway.

Grouchy was the other cab driver. He hates Americans, but still found time to eagerly listen to all my teachings before going off to the local temples and making sacrifices to the Hindu deities.

Rashil was the emcee and song leader everywhere we went. He was the big smile. I got the sense that he was the catalyst that made a lot of things happen around there, but (even though he was much older) deferred to Suresh in all ministerial matters.

Drums was a young man who reminded me a lot of myself at 20. He was a great drummer, with a big heart for God, and was just getting ready to start seminary. We became good pals.

Orange never said a word. I don't even know why he came with us.

Moustache was a Seikh who came with us as a means of hearing about Christ. He had never been interested before, but Suresh promised him he would be transformed by the experience. When i left, moustache was very emotional...i think he will change teams soon if we pray hard.

Ramesh was the old salty dog of the group, a lawyer who only practiced when Christians were on trial and needed a good defense. Ramesh is one of the top lawyers (serving on some kind of high court council), but spends most of his time traveling into the villages and preaching the gospel.

Uncle was the other older man who came with us, but he stuck to the background and never said much...not sure if he really cared for me being there...who knows.

Sunil was the faithful and diligent worker. Whatever we needed, he took care of it with a spectacular smile and a beautiful spirit. He was good people.

Anyway, those are the 12 dudes with whom i prayed, preached, traveled, ate, laughed, slept, fought devils, opposed cultists, angered idolaters and adulterers, and generally irritated the dark powers of the invisible world.

May God bless them for showing up and sticking it out.

India (a short video overview of my trip)

India diary, May 16

This was a crazy day.

First: the persecutions. No, i wasn't persecuted but everyone else i met today has been. Everyone here has suffered physically for their faith. I am not exaggerating. Daniel was stoned by his father. Suresh's sister-in-law married a muslim, and when she later converted to Christianity he broke both of her wrists (she now requires two hands to lift a tea cup). Sunil's family cast him out of their city when he converted, and he cannot return upon pain of death.

Honestly, the rest of the stories blend in together...there are that many, mostly at the hands of Hindu families but with plenty Muslim blame to go around.

It's crazy.

How do we not hear more about this in the West?

Interestingly, many of the Christians here love George W Bush because he refused to trade with India unless the Prime Minister could guarantee that the government was (1) not involved in persecuting Christians and (2) was a actively attempting to protect persecuted Christians.

Since the government had been in full support (if not celebration) of much prior persecution, this was a huge catalyst for positive change.

Christians here use the term "persecution" every day. It's weird to hear them talk about it. "oh, i was persecuted badly last year, but God is good and i survived to give Him praise."


They talk about persecution like i talk about exercise: it will inevitably occur, and it's not pretty, but it is worth it.

I feel like a child in comparison to these humble adults.

Say it together with Wayne and Garth: we're not worthy

Second: the tent meetings. We had good, ole fashioned revival meetings in village tents today. It was 110 degrees and we worked and preached and prayed from 9am until 8pm. I was the first caucasion anyone had ever seen in those villages, which made it a treat for them to hear the gospel. Our hosts are smart - they knew i'd draw a circus crowd, but they also knew that even a wrongly-motivated attendee can still be affected by the Spirit.

And they were.

People slain in the Spirit.
And conversions...lots and lots of people who decided to leave Islam and Hinduism and follow Jesus.

After the last meeting i was literally mobbed. There were 3 dozen people clutching some part of me. I prayed for people in groups (because there were too many to do individually) for over an hour.

Then they followed me to the car.

They tried to break open the windows to get prayer.

Suresh kept sneaking people in through the trunk 2-by-2 so i could lay hands on those who wanted to go into ministry.

Meanwhile, our Hindu cab driver began working his way through his address book on his cel phone and asking me to pray for his friends.

So...the car is being rocked by people outside of it, trying to open the doors and windows and get prayer; and Suresh is sneaking people into the back seat so i can lay hands on them; and all the while i'm on speaker phone praying for a widow to be delivered from demons and receive healing from God.

That's different than a typical Sunday back home.

Anyway-a great day...superbly memorable. And two more villages are on the books for tomorrow. There are over 1,000 villages in this area. Suresh visits several every day, "pastoring" 200 of them with his mixed bag of ministerial has-beens and wanna-bes. He's a good man, and they are doing good work.

It was nice to be one of the super-friends for a day.

P.S. I can't get over how much pray support i feel. Nevermind that i've bee safe, traveled well, haven't gotten sick, or haven't seen any spiders...i feel super in tune with God and totally free to follow every little prompt by the Spirit. Things are coming to me while preaching and praying and training that i haven't rehearsed or prepared or previously thought through. It's been surreal.

A big thanks to everyone spending time on their knees. Prayer works. I feel the power of prayer like a cloud of possibility and protection around me. It is good.

Friday, May 21, 2010

India Day ??? (May 15)

Dad used to talk about Donovan Ing, pastor of one of the largest churches in Hong Kong. Dad met Donovan while in the UK, when Donovan was a student at an IPHC bible college and Dad was a guest lecturer. The college was small, of no repute, and Dad felt like the whole thing was likely of little kingdom value.

Until Donovan started his church and grew it to over 5,000 in just a few short years. He credits his success to Dad's week-long class on church leadership. Now, Donovan supports Dad's mandarin-speaking congregation in Canada.

I guess you never really know what kind of impact your work overseas will have.

Yesterday i spent all day with a small of group of pastors, evangelists, and missionaries teaching them about apologetics, scripture, and the way of Jesus. Afterwards, when it was already late at night and the power to the city had been lost for the third time, i went with pastor Lal and visited every single member in his church at their homes and prayed for them.

What a day.

I kept thinking "i've got to get some rest...i'm exhausted." And then we'd go to the next house, pray for the next family, and i'd think "that was worth it...these people are worth it...this is worthwhile."

I feel like i've been a good encouragement to these people. I've given a bunch of money away and a bunch of gifts away, to the missionaries and pastors...but they tell me the teaching and training i gave them was far more valuable.

I'm not sure i believe them, but it is cute to hear them refer to themselves as Peter, James, and John to my Jesus.

Lord, forgive me :)

Pastor Lal is doing a good work here. He supports 5 missionaries out of his own paycheck and has good inroads to local universities and businesses. He is well liked and well connected. Our money is well invested with him.

I'm not yet sure about whether or not we could bring a team here, though. Mostly because of the cost. He would make good use of us, and it would be a good experience for our people, but i'm not yet convinced it would be a better experience that we might have in SA or Haiti, etc.

Today i fly to Aurangubad and meet Suresh. Pastor Lal says Suresh is hardcore, and will take me waaaaay out into the middle of nowhere to minister to the villagers and country folk.

Please, God, let there be no spiders.

Anyway, i began my trip in the Radisson Hotel in Delhi, one of the nicest spots i've ever stayed in, and then went to Guwahati and am staying in a total dump. It feels like, now knowing where Suresh will take me, this trip is a slippery slope away from civilization. I think it's good for me to be so uncomfortable. I've not been this out of my comfort zone since i was 14 and in the Phillipines. India is the filthiest place you could possibly imagine, and maybe this is the best landscape for me to more wholly rely on God.

OK - now pastor andrew (the former terrorist, now rehabilitated and ordained) is knocking on my door to film a sermon for sunday. How funny! We're in the worst place on earth, but they still have video cameras and LCD projectors in church. I'll record the message today, andrew will edit it and add Hindi subtitles, and they'll show it on sunday.

I guess that's only slightly weirder than watching LA Ink in a mud hut last night while drinking Chai Tea by candlelight.

India Diary: day 2 (though, it might be day four)

I see now why people have warned me against going to India. It's a fascinating place, but the poverty is immense. Usually, even in the South African townships or the Haitian villages, there's one place where you can buy bottled water or eat packaged food. Not here. Every bottle of water has been used and resealed with a cheap glue. They get the bottles out of the trash in the bigger cities and then reuse them in the out-of-the-way places. You can't get packaged food either.

Everything just sits in some little store front until someone eventually buys it.

For all that, though, i'm feeling good and have eaten well. The Christians here are very hospitable and want to ensure i have a first rate experience. But for them i would probably be hugging a toilet bowl most of the day.

Thangklal is a good man. He's the pastor here in Guhawarti. He stated the church about three years ago and they now have about a hundred people. He and his family live meagerly. They have three rooms in their house, with cement roof + floors + walls, and its FULL of giant bugs. Last night i gave his children some gifts from the States, and as i pulled them out of my bag a giant roach came flying with them. The roach landed on the daughter, who them began to play with it while her parents ooeh. Later, some geckos ate the roach and we sat and watched.

Pastor's wife made us Chai Tea on her stove. I felt very sad watching her do that. It was a coleman stove, with only 2 pots hanging above it. There were not enough cups for here to have some tea, so only pastor and I and his brother drank. I was given the large cup as a gesture of respect.

Last night i spoke at a bible study for their church. It was about 20 college students and 10 PhD professors. Everyone was involved in mechanical/chemical/civil/biochemical engineering. It felt so strange to remind myself to speak slowly and simply (because of the language barrier) to a room full of such brilliant people.

Today i'm going to teach a half day seminar on church growth and discipleship. The indian people are so polite its hard to tell if they really benefit from my teaching or if they are just concerned about my feelings. I'll never know.

No cell service or wireless internet here. I'm cut off from the world. No coffee either. I've been drinking black tea to avoid the caffeine headaches.

Pastor Lal has been paying for everything out of his pocket, to show me honor. That is also very humbling. He deserves the honors. He is the one overcoming poverty, persecution, and a massive religious-culture war. I pray God richly bless him and his family. I will go home meekly because of his patronage.

God is good. I feel Him strongly with the Indian Christians. I want my kids to experience this stuff sooner rather than later. Christianity simply must be de-westernized in order for the promise of the kingdom to make sense.

Love Jesus more...that is what i think and feel today

india day one

After a long trip from detroit to chicago,then to new delhi i arrived at midnight in an urban cross between new york and a toilet. The smell hits you like a dirty dish rag when you get off the plane and the 115 degree heat doesn't disappear with the sunshine.

Still, it feels cool to be halfway around the world.

I'm not sure what to expect on this trip. I'm here, primarily, just to meet our missionaries and see what they're doing. I want to know if i could bring a team from the winds to India - like we did in South Africa - but the first step is seeing for myself what's happening on the ground level.

I love travel, especially new places, so i'm excited to be doing this.

I have this back-of-my-mind suspicion that God wants to show me something on this trip. So, even while watching The Wire and reading fiction, i keep ring to open myself up the the Spirit and invite Him to speak.

So far, i feel a strong sense of His pleasure, a strong sense of gratitude for this experience, and a strong (and even overwhelming) sense of being covered in prayer by the folks back home.Which is cool...i'm not sure i've ever actually felt prayed for before (even though i always knew there were people praying). This time, i can feel it.

I miss C and the kids, but its bearable thus far. We had great family time before i left, and that always helps.