Mar 06

నేను తెలుగు బాగా మాట్లాడాలి!

If you are wondering about the title of this post, it says, “I need/want to speak Telugu well” in Telugu. Telugu is one of the languages spoken in the BELC and is the language spoken in the CLCI. It is the language of the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

The other main language in the BELC (and the language of the state of Tamil Nadu where I live) is Tamil. Tamil is related to Telugu (like Spanish and French are related), but is written with a totally different writing system: நான் தமிழ் நல்லா பேசனும் (“I want/need to speak Tamil well”).

Over the past two years I have been working on learning Telugu, as that is what a majority of the men we work with speaks. My progress has been slower than expected. Staying in Chennai, where they speak Tamil, has also not helped.

I have also started to learn some Tamil (although many of the security guards at my apartment complex are from the North and speak Hindi, another completely different language – मुझे हिंदी बोलने की ज़रूरत है), but it is difficult to find time to focus on both Telugu and Tamil.

The men here try to encourage me by telling me about Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg, one of the first Lutheran Missionaries to Southern India. He came, learned Tamil, translated the Bible into Tamil and even wrote classical Tamil poetry. I guess if he could do it… although it seems like he set the bar awfully high. Thanks Ziegenbalg!

While I may not be writing poetry anytime soon, by God’s grace I have made progress (albeit slowly in my mind).  Please pray for continued progress in both Telugu and Tamil. God has already used my language abilities to help encourage and build up the men here, but I still have a longs ways to go before I can teach in Telugu or Tamil without a translator. Being able to do so would allow me to teach a lot more efficiently and cover more in the time available.

మీ ప్రర్ధనలకు వందనాలు (Thank you for your prayers)! 


Feb 14

No flowers for you!

Valentine’s Day seems to be big in India. At least is an opportunity for every business to advertise offers on special gifts, meals, trips, etc.

Missionary Todd Ohlmann asked our driver if he was going to get his wife flowers and chocolates for Valentine’s days.  His response: “No, my marriage was arranged.” That made my day!

Arranged marriages are the norm in India. According to this site, 88.4% of marriages in India are arranged. India has only a 1.2% divorce rate (although the site isn’t clear if this number is just for arranged marriages or for all marriages).

Many of the marriages in the Old Testament were arranged as well and the New Testament does not tell us what their practice normally was.

Traditionally prospects came from one’s village or were found through one’s network of real-life contacts. Now technology has gotten involved too. I constantly see ads for, like,, etc. These are not dating sites, but sites that help that help parents find prospects. This company has a whole range of websites targeting different languages, religions, and regions.

While arranged marriages may be foreign to westerners, it seems one advantage is not having to give in to “Hallmark holidays” and spend money on Valentine’s day.

Nov 04

Jan-Oct: water scarcity, Nov-Dec: water scares city

The title above was posted to the residents WhatsApp group where I live. While it is funny, it is also true. Until recently the area has been experiencing a water shortage, but now the monsoon has hit and again has brought major flooding to Chennai.  I live on the very west side of Chennai and haven’t been affected by the flooding, but D. Paul has asked me not to go into Chennai.  As you can see from the link above the situation is rather bad in places.  Here are some additional photos posted by someone from the resident’s group with a video I took from Nov 1.

This past Weds (Nov 1) I did go into Chennai to get some Bibles, in particular some Telugu New Testaments and one English from some new believers.  We had to make several stops and calls before I found someplace that had the Telugu New Testaments. After talking to them on the phone, we pulled up and the whole block was without power.  I doubted they could sell me anything without lights (as it was dark by that time). As we were debating what to do, the electricity was restored and I was able to get the New Testaments. Praise the Lord!

The flooding have resulted in several deaths. Two 8 year old girls were electrocuted when they stopped in a water containing a live power line. And storm drains are overflowing and mixing with sewage in many areas, creating unsafe conditions.

After the flood that devastated Chennai in Dec 2015, the city was supposedly prepared such rain, but residents are questing what has been does, as it doesn’t seem they have done enough.

I don’t expect the rains and flooding to impact me much. The complex where I live, while next to a major lake, is on fairly high ground and has diesel power backups in case the main electricity fails. But pray for the many, many people here who are severely impacted by these flood waters. The state has already been struggling with an outbreak of dengue fever. These rains and fetid, unclean water will certainly not improve the situation!

Knee Update: I continue to have some knee pain, even with the pain medication. The doctor said I am developing some slight arthritis. This coming week I plan to go in for a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection into the knee (they take my blood and spinning and extract the plasma and inject it). It is a controversial treatment, whose results are not proven, but I pray it will help (or at least act as its own placebo).

May 21

Health and Heat

I now can bend my knee 110º and no longer need to wear the brace, just a knee support. The surgeon said it would probably take a year before I’m fully healed; the meniscus does not have its own blood supply and takes a long time to recover. I occasionally have some pain if lie on my side and put stress on my knee, but otherwise I am recovering as expected. The doctor said I can swim now, but I haven’t had a chance to try it as I have been busy traveling. He said to try a lap and see how I do.

A heat wave is hitting southern India. Fortunately this past week I was traveling west where it was cooler and spent Friday and Saturday in Bengaluru, which is much cooler than Chennai. Coming back last night, however, was a shock. Walking into the entry way of my building was like walking into a blast furnace.

Andhra Pradesh, were most of our congregations are, has been particularly hard-hit. Jyothi said they have had record temperatures of 47º C (117.5º F). The CLCI graduation is scheduled for the 6th of June. It looks like it might cool down a bit before then, but pray for cooler weather.  Most, if not all, of our pastors and fellow believers here do not have AC, so they are particularly hard-hit by these temperatures.

Southern India has also been experiencing a drought and water shortages. This past week it did rain some and Saturday we went through some heavy rain on the way back to Chennai. Pray that the rain will continue and the water shortage will end.

They are putting a steam room into changing rooms at the gym. I have never understood the appeal of a steam room here. The recommended temperature is 40-45º C (88-113º F). It is usually that hot outside. It seems to me no steam room is needed, just step outside!

Apr 15

It’s your birthday, where are you taking me?

Yes, you read that right. It’s your birthday, what did you get me?

I just learned an interesting tidbit about Indian and Nepali culture. On your birthday, YOU are supposed to treat OTHERS, not the other way around, like in the US.

That explains why D Paul brought me treats the beginning of April for his birthday. I wanted to say, “But I should be giving you treats!”  Now I know.

It also explains the comments of a couple of people who said that when a friend says to them, “Hey, it’s your birthday” they like to play dumb and say, “Is it? Is my birthday today?”

We may downplay our birthdays in a desire to avoid any fuss or consideration of our new ages, but here feigned ignorance comes from the fact that if you admit it is your birthday you then need to treat your friend who pointed out this inconvenient fact.

I suppose it makes some sense. Rather than treating many friends through the year on their birthdays, you are on the hook only one day a year. And there is no chance of a surprise party, if you don’t like that sort of thing.

Jan 13

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

This morning I awake to a weather forecast that said “smoky”. That isn’t a mistake or another way of saying “foggy”. Chennai was actually enshrouded in smoke.

This smoke was from early morning bhogi (bonfires) for Pongal, which is tomorrow, January 14. Pongal is a big festival in Tamil Nadu celebrating the harvest and giving thanks the sun god for providing the harvest. It is also the name of the sweet (but can also savory) porridge of the same name.

Today is Bhogi, bonfire day, where people get rid of old, worn-out things by burning them in a bonfire (out with the old and in with the new). This morning as I was traveling I saw first hand the smoke from these fires the weather forecast had promised. You can also see a video from the trip is here.

I just read a news story about how several flights were diverted because of all the smoke.

Dec 17

Updated: Hurricane (Cyclone) Vardah

What a week! This past Monday Hurricane Vardah (called a cyclone in this hemisphere) made landfall just north of Chennai near Pulicat (I like the name). It caused heavy rains and winds Monday until late in the evening. See my picture feed for some videos of what I experienced.

The cyclone caused much damage in Chennai, with tens of thousand of trees being blown down, power being disrupted in most of the city, cell towers being knocked over, and much damage to buildings and homes. Still much of Chennai is without power even 5 days later. The death toll in Tamil Nadu stands at 18.

I was scheduled to go up to the CLCI to teach in the seminary and have a pre-Christmas program with the seminary students and pastors. I had planned to drive up this past Wednesday (Dec. 14), but my driver suggested I fly instead, as the national highway we would take is along the coast was partially blocked due to downed trees and fallen toll plazas.

Flights had been cancelled Monday and Tuesday. I flew up Wednesday noon, but my flight was delayed over 2 hours because of built up traffic in Chennai (I assume). When I arrived on Wednesday evening, the Guntur area also was getting some rain (I guess I brought it with me).

With the death of Jayalalitha (who was the current Chief Minister) last week, the cyclone this week, and the previous Chief Minister going into the hospital two days ago, Chennai has been rather disrupted. Yesterday, because of the previous CM’s hospitalization, may busses did not run.

I am blessed to be staying in a complex that has diesel generators, so I had power most of these days, although there was an issue with the generator for my set of towers, perhaps caused by sub-grade diesel.  I was without any power Tuesday until late evening. An attempt to share power from the other generators during the day caused a power surge that blew out my laptop charger and two multi-port phone chargers, but that is nothing compared to the hardship and damage experienced by many in the city whose thatched huts and make-shift homes were destroyed.

How our Brothers and Sisters here have been affected

More than 25 churches in the BELC have been badly damaged (in particular the sheet metal roofs), with some churches being completely destroyed. Many of the members have also had homes damaged or destroyed by the rains and winds. Pray for all those affected.

Dec 05

I request that you stay in your room, don’t go out

This morning I received a text from the president of the BELC that read “I request you to stay in your room, don’t go out, due to the C.M. being in serious and critical condition.”

Jayalalitha, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu (the state in which Chennai is located) suffered cardiac arrest last night (Sunday, Nov 4, which was Sunday morning in the US). Here is a good article with several news videos on the situation. She has been hospitalized since Sept 22 with health issues.

The WhatsApp group for the residents of the towers in which I reside had a message this morning about not going outside and recommending to stockpile extra food and water and to not travel. The person said that all school and colleges will be closed tomorrow. Another person posted recommendations based on what was sent to local police which also recommended getting extra food and avoiding going out after 9 am (did he really mean am or did he mean pm?) for 2-3 days.

I spent some time in the morning filling up water bottles and my reverse-osmosis filter tank (which holds 10 liters) so I will be sure to have water in case the complex runs out of water (the water is delivered by water trucks, which may not continue to run).

The state had elections several weeks ago. As we were driving back from a training along a road which we often take, Kumar said there had been vandalism along that road the night before because of the elections. All along a mile or two stretch there was shattered glass in the street and along the side of the road where vehicle windows had been bashed in. While we were going to the training I saw some of the glass on the road and though there had been an accident (but there seems to be a lot of glass).

Kumar, is currently at his native place (i.e. home town) with his family. He is scheduled to come back Wednesday. Pray that he and his family will make it back safelyThe one resident said that busses and trains will not be running. If not, he and his family may not be able to come back when planned.

As the pastors here are busy during this Christmas season, I do not have anything planned until next week when I go up to the CLCI for a training and pre-Christmas celebration. Where I am staying is outside the city, far away from the hospital, so I would assume any unrest would not be near here.

In any case, please pray for the situation here. Life is already difficult due to the withdrawal of 86% of the money from circulation and the scarcity of new bills. Political unrest will only compound the situation.

UPDATE: According to a press release Jayalitha passed away at 11:30pm (IST) Monday, Dec. 5). Tamil Nad has declared a state-wide 3-day school and college holiday (Dec. 6-8).

Nov 23

No tolls to decrease the toll

Since the demonetization of the 500 and 1000 rupee note, cash is scarce. The ATMs here usually say “24 Hours ATM”. They need to clarify that as most are closed 24 hours, not open.

You can tell if an ATM has money because it has a long line. No line means no cash. If a machine has cash, it would be only 100 rupee bills (worth $1.50), as the machines haven’t been adjusted to handle the new 500 and 2000 notes, which are smaller than the old 500 and 1000 notes. You are also limited to withdrawing only 2000 rupees ($30) per day, per card.

This cash crunch has taken a toll on most Indians, who conduct most transactions in cash. Because no one has any cash, the toll roads have stopped collecting any tolls.

A toll plaza (back when it was collecting tolls)

A toll plaza (back when it was collecting tolls)

Initially it was only until Nov. 20 that tolls would not be collected, but that has extended until tomorrow, Nov 24th, as the situation has not improved.

It has been nice being able to whiz through the toll plazas without having to wait in line and pay. It remains to be seen if the tolls will actually resume tomorrow or not. Tomorrow is also supposed to mark the raising of bank counter cash and ATM withdrawal limits. I don’t see how the limit can be raised as most people can’t even get to an ATM.

Nov 25 UPDATE: The tolls have been suspended through Dec. 2. From midnight on they will be collecting tolls and you will be able to pay with the old 500 notes and get change (but not the old 1000 notes).  Also India has suspended the ability to exchange notes at banks (so no more inking of fingers, see below), but one can still deposits old notes through Dec 30.

The paper last week had some good cartoons on the situation I thought I would share:


Those are all bank name acronyms


The government started requiring the anyone exchanging money have their finger marked with permanent ink (like they do when you vote). This is to limit each person to one exchange of up to 4000 rupees ($60) and prevent someone from coming multiple times to slowly exchange a large hoard of cash. The thief prevented anyone in the family from exchanging any of their money.

The government started requiring that anyone exchanging money have their finger marked with permanent ink (like they do here when you vote so you cannot vote more than once). This  move is to limit each person to one exchange of up to 4000 rupees ($60) and prevent someone from slowly exchanging a large hoard of cash by going to multiple banks multiple times. By marking the families finger, the thief prevented anyone in the family from exchanging any of their money.

The above is a rather light-heard look at this situation, but the reality is that the demonetization has taken a heavy toll on many people here. For example, I just read an article (which led me to add this postscript) about an 18 year old who committed suicide yesterday because he could not get enough money to pay for his school exams.  That same article noted that over 50 people have lost their lives so far (not all from suicide). Please pray for the people in India that God would preserve them during this difficult time and bring them to the knowledge of Jesus their Savior who gives us hope for the future and for eternal life.

Nov 18

“Q” Please

I just stood in line for an ATM. This is the first time I have tried to get money since the government demonitized the 500 ($7.50) and 1000 ($15) notes, rendering all the cash I had on hand unusable.

My ever-vigilent driver and helper, Kumar, saw that the State Bank of India ATM next to the hotel where we were staying had a short queue (line for us Americans) of about 20 people. The sign on the door said, “‘Q’ Please”. He wanted to stand in line for me and have come in 10-15 minutes and take his place. I wasn’t doing anything sitting in my hotel room, so I queued up instead and waited about 20 minutes to get 4000 rupees (about $60), while he went to check on the ICICI bank ATM nearby (which was out of money).

Each withdrawl has a limit of 2000 rupees, but I have two ATM cards (actually three but the one would not work) so I could make two withdrawls. It feels good to have $60 that I can use now. I was down to about $8 of usable cash, which was somewhat of a worry since I am on a 4-day trip to visit districts and do training.

Most hotels and nicer restaurants take credit cards, so that has allowed us to travel thus far. The problem is not everyplace that takes credit cards takes foreign credit cards, so I have been somewhat reluctant to venture out as I don’t have cash to back up a declined card.

The current hotel even allowed us to pay with the old bills, which they probably are not supposed to, but perhaps they prefered that over the credit card fees. Since the old bills can be deposited up until Dec. 30, some places are still accepting them. We stopped at one restaurant that allowed us to pay with them. We also saw an electronics store boldly advertising that they will accept the old notes. Evidently they are hoping to capitialize on the long lines at the banks and ATMs and hope people will spend the “worthless” bills instead waiting to deposit them: “Come several days in a row to stand hours in line in hopes the bank won’t run out of money or buy a new TV?”

The man I was standing behind in the queue was surpisingly in favor of the move to suddenly with draw the old notes, despite the inconveniences it has caused. I wonder what the attitude is of the majority of Indians. The news reports on how hard this move has hit the poor who do not have credit cards or even bank accounts.

The winter session of the legislature has begin with intense discussion over the demonitization and the hardships it is causing. Time will tell how soon things will return to normal and if the people will give the prime minister the 50 days he has asked for.