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Blog #2 from India
A lot has happened since the first blog. Once again I find it a little difficult to put into words without it sounding like a cliche.
We traveled from Nepal to India, which is a two hour flight and a three hour drive. We arrived at 3 a.m., and after four hours sleep began the Pastors' Conference. There were about 120 pastors from all around southern India, and I spoke six times.
They were some of the most responsive people I have ever been with. Do they love Jesus! He is so real to them that their joy cannot be contained. They sang at the top of their lungs, not caring one bit what others may or may not have thought of them. I didn't matter; they were there to praise God in the midst of horrific circumstances.
There are two things that are most important to them. (1) They have been saved from their sins. Unlike all other religions that tell you that you have to do something about your sin, these men knew that God had done something for their sin. I could hardly say the name Jesus without their faces lighting up and their voices praising God. They know that no matter what happens to them, they will be with Jesus forever, and that is their joy.
(2) I also shifted my talks to spend more time on Revelation, which is one of their most important biblical books. I had heard about this from missionaries, but now I can see why this is true. They spend very little time wondering about the minutia of the prophecies as we tend to do. They hear the core message of the book: things are going to get worse, Jesus will win the battle, so we can remain faithful. They want to be assured that it is worth the battle, that some day righteousness will be rewarded and evil will be punished. They see the battle, physically and spiritually, so much clearer than most of us do, and they rejoice in God's eventual victory. Their joy cannot be expressed in words.
The Indian organization hosting the conference is our partner in India. These pastors will be the people that will especially benefit from both LAMP and our seminary classes. When the leader introduced Matt Smith and me as two of the people who were working to produce a seminary level education through BiblicalTraining that can then be translated into Hindi and perhaps other Indian languages, and that they could get a seminary education without the normal obstacles of expense and language, their cheering was so encouraging. It was reminder that we must push forward and finish the project, for the sake of these pastors if for no one else.
I don't know how much you have heard about the persecutions in Eastern India, but one of the workers who had been in the area for 28 days returned to give us the details. It is horrifying, and the pastors stayed for hours after hearing the report to pray for the persecuted church. Hundreds of Christians are being slaughtered by Hindu fundamentalists. Girls raped in front of their families, and then the parents killed in front of their children. People are fleeing into the jungles to escape, many of them spending days without food or water. The worker told of legs and knees swollen and slashed by their flight. The room was very quiet, many of the pastors knowing that these refugees where their friends and neighbors, and that in a few days they would be returning to the areas of persecution because that was where God was calling them.
But here is their joy. Persecution leads to revival. They know this. They know that historically as the Church is persecuted, God's Spirit pours out his blessing; and in the midst of great pain and trust in Jesus, people respond to the gospel call and join the family of God, only to be added to the numbers of those being slaughtered. Every believer needs to go on a short-term mission project to a third world setting; you have to see and experience this to even begin to grasp its significance.
There is much here that exhausts me. The sheer number of people, the poverty mixed with the wealth, the way they drive — all these things wear me out emotionally. When evening comes I tend to vegetate, hardly able to process the images of the day. Matt assures me that I will get some clarity after a few weeks at home. But much of how I felt in Nepal has continued here. The needs are so overwhelming that the tendency is to give up and do nothing. But I know that is not an option. Instead, we find a small goal that the Lord lays before us so that we can help some, and by God's strength we strive for that goal. And this trip has helped to clarify that goal.
We traveled from the conference to another city where we visited two amazing places. One is a children's home for baby girls that were going to be killed because they were girls. (You may know the Indian culture that lies behind this.) A person (who needs to stay unnamed) who himself is from the highest caste rescued 22 of these baby girls, adopted them, and raises them as his own. They carry his name and his caste. When they are adults, they will all go back to their villages with the saving news of Jesus Christ. I watched their father walk into the house and 22 little girls (now 4-6 years old) came running to their father screaming Papa. He set a goal to help a small group of people, but it was not small for those girls.
Next we went to a orphanage run by the same man and his wife. 36 children whose parents were beggars, many of them lepers, have been taken in, are taught and loved. I imagine all of them are Dalets, the outcasts who are outside the caste system. They would have had no hope without someone stepping in, someone with a dream that they could help them. Again, this couple can't help all the beggar children, but they can help these 36. One little girl stood before us and quoted 60 verses in English from one of the Psalms. The greatest gift these children are given is a knowledge of Jesus Christ, followed by health, love, and especially the gift of speaking English.
The next morning I spoke at the chapel of Bible school to about 50 students. And then we traveled to a major city and saw what perhaps may be the final mission of my life. Our partners are building a wonderful school. They have 20 acres, and the first building will be done in a year. They will then move their students and homes to this new school. They will also have 6 homes for orphans, where they can care for and teach 210 children. Here is their amazing vision. To graduate 350 students a year who will then plant 50,000 churches throughout India in the next 20 years. The dream is so vast that at first I wondered if it were possible, but as I toured the building I realized that this is God's desire for India and he will make it work. And by God's grace it will.
BiblicalTraining is heavily invested in this vision. We will continue to make classes available on the Net for all to use. But we are going to focus more and more on our LAMP classes, basic education that can be shared throughout the mountains and villages in Nepal and India. And then we will focus on the full seminary education for this school. The school will have its own teachers, and invite many others to come as guest lectures. But a large part of their education will come through BiblicalTraining. Our steps are to get the classes done, transcriptions written, and then everything translated into Hindi. As you continue to be a part of the work of BiblicalTraining, please understand that you are helping to train thousands of pastors who will plant thousands of churches and through whom the gospel will spread throughout India, Nepal, and beyond.
I still am struggling with God and the reality of hell. I believe in it, but I don't like it. In fact, I challenge anyone who is comfortable with the doctrine of hell to visit India. You can't go anywhere without seeing masses of people, people who are almost unanimously headed toward hell. People who have never heard of Jesus. People who have never been offered the chance to respond in faith. And almost all of them, thousands and thousands and thousands, are headed toward hell. Don't misunderstand me. I believe hell is a very real place and a place of punishment. I understand that people are sent to hell not because they haven't heard but because they have sinned. But as you are driving down the roads here, dodging oncoming trucks and sacred cows and an occasional elephant (both of whom are worshiped as gods), those subtle theological distinctions tend to fade into the background as you are overwhelmed by the needs of this place.
None of us can fix all the problems, but we can listen to the voice of the Lord and find one area in which we can have significant impact. In Matthew 25 Jesus tells us that some people will be turned away at the Final Judgment and sent to hell. What is the reason? Jesus never says their rejection is because they didn't make a profession of faith. Please read this passage carefully. They are rejected because they did not feed the poor or give them drink, they did not show hospitality or clothe the poor, they did not visit the imprisoned. I understand that the specific context of the passage is visiting brothers and sisters in these conditions, but I wonder if the principles do not spill over into a larger context.
As for me, I am headed home now convinced more than ever that BiblicalTraining is my cup of cool water, and when I stand before the throne I will hear, Well done, good and faithful servant. I will hear that because I have been justified by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. But I will also hear that because God has given me talents, bags of gold, and I will be held responsible for how I use God's wealth to advance his purposes, and by his grace we will continue to work to provide a world-class education that can be given to the poorest of the poor. But our goal is not education. Our goal is transformation. Our goal is to see the kingdom of God spread throughout the world and especially here in India.