Nov 13

No money? No problem!

This past week in a surprise move on the evening of Tuesday, Nov 8, the Indian government announced that the 500 and 1000 rupee notes (worth about $7.50 and $15, respectively) would no longer legal tender after midnight that night. These were the two highest notes in Indian currency. This move rendered at least 80% of the money in circulation no longer valid.

The public has until Dec. 30 to deposit the old notes into bank accounts. One can also exchange them (up to a max of 4000 per day – about $60) for the new 500 and 2000 rupee bills. The purpose of this action was render counterfeit 500 and 1000 notes worthless overnight and force those who have undeclared (i.e. untaxed) stockpiles of cash to deposit them and be taxed on them.

part of the long line at a local ATM

part of the long line at a local ATM

Indian society runs mainly on cash. This demonetization has resulted in long lines at banks and ATMs, as people try to get in to deposit and exchange money or get money from ATMs. In a nation of almost 1.3 billion, there are only about 200,000 ATMs, at least half of which are still not working, because they have not been reprogrammed to dispense the new 2000 rupee notes or with the 20002500*/day limit (about $38). The ATMs that are working quickly run out of cash. This has left most people without any usable money which means they cannot buy food or even bus tickets. This has resulted in anger, scuffles, and even a couple of deaths. You can read about the situation herehere, and this one has some good pictures.

This has created problems here for our brothers and sisters as well. For example, pastors are left with no money to buy transportation so they have been unable to come to monthly training meetings, or even food from the local market.

Jesus tells us not to worry about what we will eat or drink because our heavenly Father knows that we need these things and will provide for us (Matthew 6:23-32). Jesus tells us:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33 ESV)

We often chase after the things of this world, as that is our day-to-day life. Putting Jesus’ words into practice is difficult when one’s cupboard and pocketbook is bare, but remember God has provided something far more important than earthly food: He has given us free forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with Him through Jesus’ death and resurrection. He gives us free access to His kingdom by giving us His perfect righteousness in the place of our sinfulness.

We are poor before God. We have nothing with which to buy the forgiveness of our sins. We have nothing to offer God. But Jesus has taken care of that!

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV)

We are now rich toward God with the perfect obedience and righteousness of Jesus that is credited (deposited) in our account. Because God has given us His own Son, we can be confident He will give us everything else we need in this life:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32 ESV)

So God calls us to believe and receive this salvation He has given us in Jesus for free:

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. (Isaiah 55:1-3 ESV)

* On Nov. 14 the ATM withdrawal limit was raised from 2000 to 2500 rupees per day.

May 28

Aliens and Strangers

I really like India! When I first arrived, I felt like I was home. Since my arrival, however, a number of things have dampened that feeling.

When you check into a hotel, you have to fill out a form giving your passport information, date you arrived in India, purpose of your visit, and other personal information. The hotel also is required to make a copy of your passport and visa. This information is submitted to government/police so they are aware of your movements. At one hotel, a policeman came by on the last day of our stay to enquire about our exact purpose and to get a letter detailing our itinerary.

As I am obviously not of Indian descent, I am frequently asked “Why are you here?” This question must be wisely and discreetly answered to avoid any problems (Matthew 10:16-18).

There are more and more news reports of persecution and violence against Christians in India. If native Christians are facing such things, what can I expect as a foreigner without (many) legal rights? None of the Christians in our affiliated churches have experience such violence so far. Please pray that this will continue to be true.

All these things add up to make me feel less “at home” and less welcome. But is that a bad thing?

Neither India nor the US is really my home:

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Philippians 3:20-21

We are really foreigners in this world. We should not get too comfortable or feel too at home here. We were created for a far better and eternal home with God.

Let us be like the “heroes of faith” in Hebrews 11:12-15 and seek the kingdom God has prepared for us:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

Through Jesus’ death to pay for our sins and His resurrection from the dead, we now have an eternal inheritance that can never fade away:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you… 1 Peter 1:3-4

May 21

Jayalalithaa’s fans win her enough fans

The election count is over; it is now safe to move around the state.  Jayalathaa, the incumbent, bucked a 32-year-old trend where the incumbent is replaced every 5 years (usually to return in the next election) and won a consecutive second term.

When I left for the pastoral training in the Puttur district yesterday, I noticed that my apartment building’s security guard had one of her fans. It has her face on it and campaign messages on the box.

IMG_3370 IMG_3371


BTW almost a week after the elections, Martin, my Telugu tutor, still has the voting strip painted on his left index finger. Whatever they use does not come off easily. See Laying Low for the Election.

May 15

Laying Low for the Election

Tomorrow (May 16) is election day in Tamil Nadu (where I am staying). The Chief Minister and the Legislative Assembly will be voted on. You can read more here.

J Jayalalithaa is the incumbent Chief Minister. She is a former actress and has served as prime minister of Tamil Nadu for a number of years (from 1991 to 1996, in 2001, from 2002 to 2006, and from 2011 to present, according to Wikipedia). I actually saw here drive by in a motorcade in February.

Since the poll date was announced several months ago, all billboards and walls painted with Jayalalithaa’s face and popular name “amma” (mother), had to be painted over (they were everywhere). In addition, one could not carry more than 50,000 rupees (about $760) without having proof of origin (e.g. ATM slips, etc). This was supposed to cut down on the buying of votes. As a part of this, police stops were increased (our vehicle has been stopped twice).

In order to curry favor with the voters, Jayalalithaa has provided bicycles and laptops to all students (i.e. the new voters), as has given a fan, a grinder and a food mixer to all those who qualify for that level of rations (there are different ration/id cards based on one’s annual income).

My landlord told me that often these “gifts” are usually not as nice as they may seem, as the companies who supply them don’t provide as high a quality of good as promised and often they are DOA.

As tomorrow is the polling date, I have been told by the head of the BELC and also by my driver that I should not leave my apartment. Rival parties have been known to get into scuffles and even throw rocks at one other.

The results will be announced this Thursday, May 19. My driver told me that I should especially stay inside on that day, as the loosing party supporters often express their displeasure after the results are announced.

Please pray for the government leaders of India, and the states of
Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, that they will continue to allow the work here to be done unhindered so that the pastors and members of the BELC and CLCI can share the good news of the salvation we have through Jesus Christ.

Update: When you vote in India, they mark your right index finger with ink to show that you have voted (and so you can’t vote more than once. That explains all the signs I’ve seen with a line on that finger, or a miniature image of India or Tamil Nadu. Martin, my Telugu tutor was just here and explained the mark on his finger, as he voted earlier today

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.