Apr 24

Dealing with the Tower of Babel

One of the things that makes India unique is that there are 23 constitutionally recognized official languages. Each state (almost) has its own language and each language has its own writing system (script). In addition, there are many tribal languages.

The BELC works in the northern part of Tamil Nadu (a Tamil-speaking state) and the southern part of Andhra Pradesh (Telugu-speaking). They also work in Karnataka (Kannada-speaking, although most of the pastors speak Tamil), Odisha (Odia-speaking), and in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Hindi, Tamil and others). The CLCI mostly works in the northern part of Andhra Pradesh (Telugu).

While Hindi is spoken by 41% of the population, it is mostly spoken in the north. Southern India, where we work, refuses to have Hindi forced upon it, and so not many here speak it.

English has become the lingua franca (common language) of India (and a second official language for the government). Nevertheless, not all (and maybe not most) of the pastors and people with whom we work understand English. For this reason when I preach at a congregation or teach pastors at a district meeting, I preach and teach with a translator. I say a sentence in English and then the translator repeats it in Tamil or Telugu (sometimes both).

I am working on learning Telugu, the language spoken by a majority of the pastors and members. My meager efforts to say a few words in Telugu are appreciated, but teaching in English does also have its advantages. Some of the pastors and church members (especially the younger ones) can understand (at least some) English. They enjoy the opportunity to hear a native English speaker and are delighted when they can and do understand what I say. Preaching in English also often attracts people from the neighborhood/village who are curious what the foreigner has to say – people who would not normally come to the church.

Speaking through a translator has a number of challenges, however. The structure of Indian languages is very different from English (e.g. the main verb comes at the end of the sentence). For this reason one must speak a whole sentence before pausing so that the translator can put the whole thought into a structure that is essentially “flipped” from what it is in English. It can be tempting to pause in the middle of a complex sentence, thinking it would be easier to translate a smaller phrase, but this usually makes the translation more difficult,

You also do not want to say too much at once without stopping, as the translator has to remember everything you have said and then repeat it in one or more languages.

Stopping after each sentence can break up the flow of thought, but it also give you a chance to think about what you will say next so it isn’t all bad.

Another challenge is to use simple, easily translatable words and sentences. This is especially challenging when discussing more complex theological ideas. Complex sentences are more difficult to understand and translate, and erudite words are often unknown to the translators for whom English is not their first language (natives English speakers may even have trouble with some words, like “erudite”).

Working through a translator also slows things down.  At a recent Leadership Conference we were translated into Telugu, Tamil and Odia; instead of going through 4 lessons (which may have been optimist to begin with), we only were able to complete two.

Needing a translator also makes it more difficult to have an “interactive” presentation. Rhetorical questions often come across as real ones and real questions are often overlooked. It can also be taxing for the translator to “reverse gears” and translate responses from Tamil or Telugu into English.

Several of the district chairmen and leaders serve as translators and have amazing language abilities. D. Paul, for example, often translates into both Telugu and Tamil, one right after the other, and with amazing speed. Deepak works not only in Tamil but also in Odia and Hindi. In addition to translating oral presentations, D. Paul and Jyothi (in the CLC) and others translate written materials that we give to the pastors for reference.

Thank our gracious God for these men and pray that He would continue to give them the strength and ability to translate so that we may preach and teach God’s word faithfully.


Apr 19

But we have this treasure in jars of clay – P. Moses (Updated)

The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:7 that we carry “in jars of clay” the treasure of the good news that Jesus has paid for all of our sins and the sins of the whole world, reconciled us to God, and earned us a home in heaven. This fact was sadly illustrated this past Friday at the BELC district chairmen’s meeting where I learned that one of the chairmen, P. Moses, has been hospitalized and has has 3 stents and hearts valves replaced via laparoscopic surgery. He is now discharged and recuperating at home for the next 2-3 months.

In addition to serving his congregation, Moses is the chairman of 3 districts where he teaches and encourages the work of over 115 pastors. He also conducts evangelism meetings and continually invites pastors from other church bodies to come and hear the pure teaching of God’s word.

I have had the privilege of working with Moses during the Mission Helper trips I have been a part of and for past three and half months that I have been stationed here. The end of May I was in Bengaluru to teach the 30+ pastors in that district about the Means of Grace and Baptism. I was scheduled to go back the end of April and continue discussing Baptism, but due to Moses’ health problems that trip has been cancelled.

Please pray for a speedy recovery for Moses, as that Lord wills, and that God would comfort his family and many friends and coworkers.

But also pray for the other BELC chairman: Bhaskar, D. Paul, Deepak, Rajamani, Sampath, and Victor. Together with Moses they train and encourage over 700 pastors to faithfully preach the good news of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection in a land where most sit in darkness of open idolatry, whose only exposure to “Christianity” is likely to a religion that does not look very different, with statues of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus – a “Christianity” that wrongly teaches that one must do good works to pay (at least in part) for one’s sins. Into this darkness the truth that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus’ payment for our sins on the cross shines like a great light.

And pray for Jyothi, the other leaders, and the over 320 pastors in the CLCI as they shine the light of the Gospel in the villages were they live and preach.

We do indeed have this treasure in “jars of clay” – bodies subject to illness, weakness, and sin:

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 (ESV)

Do not loose heart, even though our outward self is wasting away; by God’s grace our inner self is renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16). May God continue to work in and through all of us with His surpassing power. Amen.

UPDATE (April 19) – Pastor Moses has been discharged from the hospital and will need to rest and recuperate at home for the next two or three months.

UPDATE: (May 15) – Pastor Moses is doing much better.  He still at home resting and recovering. I have also learned (and updated the above information) that he had 3 stents put in, not angioplasty, in addition to the valves.