29 October 2007

Jump first. Fear later?

Hope & I are reading/studying a wonderful book called Dangerous Wonder by Mike Yaconelli. It's quite apt for this time in our lives -- taking "the adventure of childlike faith". I think it's easy to become 'too comfortable' in America. I'm thankful that I've been given this opportunity to be astonished & amazed by traveling in an unpredictable world and learning to trust in a "not so tame" Jesus. In his book, Mike Yaconelli reminded me of C.S. Lewis' analogous relationship between Christ and Aslan, the Lion of Narnia. After rising from death, Aslan played with the children, but they weren't sure "whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten." Mike Yaconelli asks:

What happened to radical Christianity, the un-nice brand of Christianity that turned the world upside-down? What happened to the category-smashing, life-threatening, anti-institutional gospel that spread through the first century like wildfire and was considered (by those in power) dangerous?
What happened to the kind of Christians whose hearts were on fire, who had no fear, who spoke the truth no matter what the consequence, who make the world uncomfortable, who were willing to follow Jesus wherever he went? What happened to the kind of Christians who were filled with passion and gratitude, and who every day were unable to get over the grace of God? (p. 25-26)

I've met many of these "radical" Christians all over the world and will continue to meet them, I'm sure, even in America (although they seem to much more rare). The most exciting part is that God is molding me into a radical follower of Christ. I'm learning that "the Christian life is more than finding Jesus -- it is following Jesus... a daily act of fearlessness that takes us through the most frightening and rugged terrain to a place of peace, joy, and abandon." (p. 62)

So I'm sorry for taking 2 long weeks to post... Although, I'm not really sure who reads this besides my family who we've talked to regularly, thanks to skype. I'm feeling a lot better these days thanks to prayer, some nurturing and a bit of down time. We actually got a chance to get away from the crowds of India... which I didn't know was possible!

I left off the last post mentioning Manoj "strong man" Chopra. He's actually considered the strongest man in India! So, even though Indians are generally not very big or tall, Manoj is. He's actually about to take the last phase of WWF training to become the first Indian pro-wrestler. He travels all over the world sharing his testimony through 'amazing feats' like tearing a phone book in half and bending crow bars... a good person to have on your side.

However, Manoj's greatest strength is his family: his obedient children--his gorgeous, 16-year-old daughter Pooja, his strong, 13-year-old son Ashok and his faithful, prayer-filled wife Ragini, who is a self-less, humble disciple and servant leader. Most of our time in Bangalore we spent encouraging, learning from, and praying with our new sisters of faith.
We also visited the beautiful Lalbagh Botanical Gardens, relaxed at the Century Club, and even spent a day visiting historic city of Mysore. One afternoon (my favorite) while staying with the Chopras, we spent with some of Ragini's prayer fellowship group hearing the incredible testimonies of Jean, Poornima and Jayanthi. These women are all incredible prayer warriors.

During our last morning in south of India, we visited with Robin & Linda Paul at Break Through and then a short time with Dr. Ken Gnanakan learning about ACTS. I really wish we had spent a lot more time with these 2 innovative ministries -- both exactly my "cup of chai". You can look at the links to learn more, but hearing Robin & Linda's story really inspired me. Americans are pretty familiar with the idea of using of ropes courses and non-traditional games to facilitate teaching values and team-play, but it's quite a novel idea here in India... a much-needed novel idea. This culture emphasizes individual success, ambition and drive -- not team-play & innovation. Similarly, we learned that ACTS is also non-traditional in that, "rather than mere theoretical knowledge, ACTS aims at imparting practical skills and life changing attitudes for personal and community transformation." Dr. Gnanakan aims to "prepare people to face contemporary challenges" of health, environment, technology, business and commerce... with a very holistic approach.

Now, we have spent the last 10 days in north India, specifically New Delhi, Mussoorie & Dehradun, and once again God has blessed us with incredible hosts: David, Sue & Mary Hudson and Scott & Tim Smith (unfortunately Melanie & Hillary Smith were on a school trip so we didn't get to meet them this time). The Hudson's are new to India having moved to Delhi at the end of June, but, hailing from Southern Pines, they opened their home in true NC-style -- with open arms. Come to find out they know our close family-friend, Jim Morgan, from Sue's time at Wake Forest, Brad & Laura Long from missionary orientation back in 1980, and the Somerville's from their time in Korea... the world continues to grow smaller and smaller.

Highlights of our time in north India include spending time with the youth fellowship of Free Church, attending the second annual "A Cross Reverb" at Free Church (a Gospel musical, youth concert with 4 bands: Blessed Horizon, Fountain Floor, Delhi Bible Fellowship, and Kingdom International), traveling to Mussoorie (the foothills of the Himalayas), hiking up to Flag Hill in Mussoorie, relaxing on the Smith's back porch in Mussoorie, fellowshipping with Margaret Thomas & some British missionaries in Dehradun, leading a recreation ministry workshop for 20 youth workers in Dehradun (set up by Scott Smith & hosted by Sam Thomas at Bethel Christian Fellowship), visiting the Qutb Minar complex in Delhi with Sue & Mary,
and worshipping with & learning from Koko, Heather & Peter (part of an outreach ministry to the collegiate community of University of Delhi) and John, Matt, Anne & Craig (a visiting mission team from Faith Bible Church in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA). We got connected with this outreach through Paul Moses, because Koko is part of the the sports ministry team of India and attended ISLS in South Africa last year (2006). I'm thankful that we were able to sit in on one of their programs, especially the one called "Focal Point": a series of discussion about various topics hosted by this outreach ministry. This week's discussion was very interesting to hear from an Indian point of view -- "masculinity & femininity" from a Biblical perspective versus a societal one.

So, obviously, our cup continues to be filled and to overflow here in north India. We fly to Calcutta on Wednesday to spend time with another sports ministry colleagues of Paul Moses' in Calcutta and with the sister diocese to one of our supporting churches (Cathedral of All Souls from the WNC Episcopal Diocese) in Durgapur (NW of Calcutta). Then we're off to SE Asia! I can't believe our time in India is coming to a close. I hope it's God's will for me to re-visit India some day... a beautiful and very unique part of God's creation!

17 October 2007

next phase of India

I find I’m getting used to India… the crowds, crazy driving, unique customs, and inquisitive culture. (Check Hope's blog for more details.) This country is growing on me. I say ‘country’ but it seems like many countries. Each state has a unique culture, a different language, many specific customs, and special foods. Someone told us that there are 1026 languages/dialects in India. We’re saturated with so many cultures, and we still haven’t even been to the North yet -- a whole different subculture of India.

We spent 6 days in the state of Kerala on the SW coast of India, thanks to an old family friend, Rev. Julie Walkup Bird. She served as an associate pastor at the CSI (Church of South India) Immanuel Church in Kochi a few years ago… quite a feat to lead a church as a woman in this culture. Immanuel Church embraced us during our short stay by inviting us to join their weekly feeding of the poor and their Saturday night prayer fellowship, and by inviting me to speak at their women’s fellowship, Sunday school, a youth gathering, and the Sunday evening worship. Several members of the congregation opened their homes to us including the Mathews, Dr. & Mrs. Jacob, Molly & her daughter Karin, and the families of Rev. Jacob & Rev. James. Another highlight was our visit to Karunalayam, a CSI boarding school for the mentally handicapped where Julie & Adriane volunteered regularly. The youth performed several songs for us and even roped us into singing for them (quite entertaining).

We actually had a chance to see some sights thanks to Thomas Mathew and Mary Mohan James… the Dutch Palace, the Chinese fishing nets, St. Francis Church (Vasco de Gama's original resting place), and even a peaceful boat trip into the Backwaters, Kerala’s most well-known sight-seeing attraction.

We took an adventure into rural Kerala to visit Pastor Jose’s (from Mumbai) brother -- Francis & his family. They live in the "pineapple capital" of India, Vazhakulum. Our adventure involved taking a wild, packed bus ride 50 km (1 ½ hours) out of the city where God provided a friendly, Catholic, guardian angel, Rose, to show us the way. The next day, Francis’ son (Joseph), daughter (Krupa), & niece (Rani) led us on a hike up to Chakki Para. We were so thankful to get out of the city to see such a magnificent view, especially in such good company.

This rural visit also included a meeting of pastors (Pentecostal, Assembly of God, & Baptist Brethren) on Friday night. I learned so much about the Catholic Church in India as well as the division between Protestant Churches. These pastors are seeking unity, but it seems like coming together as the Body of Christ can be quite a challenge here in India. I know the Church all over the world has this challenge but the judgments seem pretty extreme in India. These pastors weren’t even sure how to begin to facilitate fellowship (time to just be together), let alone a dialogue between church leaders. They pointed out that this issue is one of the biggest challenges to spreading the Gospel in India. I would love to go into more detail about this meeting because it gave me so much perspective on Christianity in India, but I could probably write a whole paper on it.

We just left Chennai where we were visiting with Paul & Grace Moses. It was such a blessing to reconnect with these friends, and we are grateful for all the provisions they have made to facilitate a ‘program’ for us... they kept us very busy. As the Director of the International Sports Coalition for India, Paul is invited to speak all over the place -- nationally and internationally. In fact, we joined Paul soon after our arrival for one of his leadership classes at Maranatha Bible College where I facilitated a short introduction to recreation ministry to 1st year students.

They took us out to their newly-gifted, 11-acre property outside of Chennai where they plan to build an unique campus to facilitate sports ministry & to relocate their orphanage (from another village nearby). They have already built a pavilion on the land where they minister to widows once a month. Widows have a great plight in India as they are seen as a burden to families, so Paul & Grace’s organization (the Sangita Charitable Trust) provides food bags for the widows to give to their families. They had 185 widows attend the program on Wednesday where they shared the Gospel, and we helped to hand out food bags.

Afterwards, they took us to the Sangita Home in the village of Padapai where they house 65 orphans ages 2-5. I’m amazed by the servant hearts of the staff there whom live & work with these children… 24/7. (These women’s dedication put a shame to the 40-hour-a-week work ethic of Americans!) We stayed the night at Sangita home, played with the kids, taught the children a couple songs, led a fellowship time with the staff, and helped prepare the 5-year-olds for their first day of preschool, which was especially unique because it marked the opening of the Krupa Preshchool. We participated in a opening ceremony and met some incredible people.

Some other highlights of our time in Chennai include: leading talks at a soccer outreach as well as a prayer fellowship group for sports minitry, visiting the India Fellowship for the Visually Handicapped, learning what the International Justice Mission is doing in Chennai, worshipping with the Sports Ministry Fellowship, riding around the city on motorcycles with Reejan, Thomas, Sennai, & David, sharing dinner & hearing the testimony of our new sister Hepzibah, and fellowshipping & being encouraged by Anand & John. We met so many amazing people who are a part Paul Moses' community of sports ministry. Chennai was a full week, and now we're in Bangalore visiting with Manoj "Strong Man" Chopra & his family... That will be in the next post.

In the meantime, please keep us in your prayers as we work through the "storming period" of our mission year abroad -- the constant traveling, adjusting & adapting; the profound patience & gratitude we must always maintain; and the need for physical healing & strength. (I am still fighting some stomach pain and now a bit of a sinus cold.)

03 October 2007

Working through the culture shock...

Someone recently described Indian culture as being the most opposite to American culture therefore creating culture shock more intensely. I knew in my mind that this was probably true but experience has now proved it.

Some of you may remember our dear friend, Paul Moses who we will visit in Chennai in a couple weeks. He taught “cultural studies” at ISLS in South Africa. During his training he spoke about the inevitability of culture shock and that one goes through 4 stages: romance, reaction, recognition, & resolution. I think that our experience of traveling the past 3 months has broken us into culture shock pushing us through the romance stage rather quickly.

In the first week of this new segment of our mission adventure we spent in Kalyan, a suburb of Mumbai (Bombay). We experienced several of the components to the second stage of culture shock, the “reaction” stage, according to Paul Moses: growing sensitivity, daily activities seeming to be huge obstacles, and even a bit of a desire to cling to our own cultural comforts. It has made me even more thankful to be sharing this experience with Hope. Instead of harboring irritation or avoiding the obstacles, we encourage and support each other to stay positive. Once again we seem to balance each other.

The food, on the other hand, hasn’t been a shock but a welcomed change with it’s abundance of spices. We’re especially the home cooking of our host mother Gracey and our new friends Margaret Auntie and Gracey Auntie, Manju’s aunts.

We had an 18 hour lay over in Jo’burg on Sunday (23rd) which we spent with Hope’s Rotary exchange friend Tammy & her family. Tammy insisted on throwing us a traditional braai in celebration of our leaving and of Heritage Day – a South African public holiday. The next day Tammy joined us for a quick visit with Cecile, Andries, Anelia, Marisje and Cecile’s mom. It was a truly wonderful way to end our time in Africa.

We flew into Mumbai just after 1:00am early Tuesday morning, and thankfully we were greeted by Pastor Jose, his wife Gracey, and his 24-year-old daughter, Anitha. We only received confirmation about this on Saturday night, about 48 hours before. God’s lessons of trust continue. Since Mumbai is India’s second most congested city with 120 million, it took us almost 1 ½ hours to drive to Kalyan. Even at night time on fairly desolate roads, our hired driver had to dodge the occasional truck, motorized rickshaw taxi, cow or dog (the later 2 considered deities and freely roaming everywhere). Needless to say, exhaustion overwhelmed us.

Over the next 6 days, the Jose family graciously hosted us. Some of the highlights of the week, beyond Gracey’s incredible cooking, included visiting Pastor Joy & his family in Geetanagar (one of Mumbai’s slums), taking the local public transportation (trains, buses, & rickshaws), picking out salvar cummis (traditional outfits) in order to blend even just slightly, traveling to Pimpri (outside Pune) with a variety of new youth-worker friends for evangelism and fellowship, stopping by St. Mary’s (a type of mountain retreat) at the Lonavala “hill station” and Tiger Valley at the Khandala “hill station” on the way back from Pune, worshiping with Pastor Jose’s “prayer fellowship” church (which meets in a very small apartment where he preaches in the doorway between 2 rooms), leading recreational ministry with their youth group, and sharing 3 very special fellowship meals with our newly adopted family and sisters & brothers of faith (Manju’s family).

After a 28-hour train ride in the second class sleeper “bogie” (coach), we arrived in Kochi (Cochin) on Tuesday, October 2nd, Gandhi’s birthday—a public holiday. We are exhausted but relieved to be safe, sound, and hosted by new friends and members of God’s family.

Once again we’ve been pleasantly amazed at how God has prepared the way for us… this time by designing our first, independent train ride in India. We began with our hosts (Pastor Jose & nephew Josh) personally escorting us to our train’s platform. Then “God-incidently” we shared a compartment with 3 wonderful ladies, 1 of which just happened to be traveling to our same destination. After keeping us and our stuff safe through the night, God set up a divine appointment for us to be welcomed by a second-degree colleague of our old friend, Julie Walkup Bird — Rev. Sunder Jacob, Associate Pastor of Church of South India Immanuel.

I wonder how long it will take me to learn to trust that He will provide as we continue to seek His will.