Mar 04

Out of commission

On Friday, Feb 24 I twisted my left knee and felt a sharp pain. It didn’t go away, so I went to the hospital to see an orthopedic surgeon. After poking and prodding, he said that I had probably torn my meniscus. As it was too late in the day to get an MRI, he told me to come back and have one in the morning. I came back in the morning for the MRI and returned in the afternoon for the results. I had torn my meniscus and would require surgery. The doctor said the sooner I could get my knee repaired, the better. I was scheduled to fly to Bengaluru the next day, Sunday. I was torn (both iterally and figuratively), but I decided it was best to cancel the trip and schedule the surgery for Monday morning. I spent the rest of Saturday afternoon have pre-op tests completed so I will be ready on Monday morning.

The surgery went well, but was involved. The meniscus was completely torn and was out of the joint so it had to be put back and secured with three sutures. Usually they only need two keyholes, but they needed a third to complete the fix.

I went home Monday evening with a full leg brace and have spent this week recovering. Today (Saturday) I went back to have for followup and now have a brace that allows me to bend my knee 45º. I also saw the physiotherapist and have more exercies to do. I will go back in a week to have the stitches removed.

Because of my limited mobility and to avoid straining my knee as it recoves, I have had to cancel my travels for the month of March. Lord willing I will be able to resume normal activities in a few weeks. Pray for a speedy recovery.

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.

Jan 09

Christmas is now a holiday in Nepal

On Christmas Eve, the Nepali government declared Christmas as a national holiday. Up to this point it was one Christians could take off, but wasn’t a holiday for everyone.

This year I was invited to spend Christmas and New Years in Nepal. On Christmas Eve, we went to the Thamel area of Kathmandu. It is a popular shopping area for tourists and Nepalis alike. There were many people there out celebrated. We wondered how many of them knew the true meaning of Christmas. Raju and Rajan thought that most Christians were home, busy preparing for Christmas day church celebrations, so most of the revelers were out just to have fun, not celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who, being God, humbled Himself and came in the likeness of sinful man and was born in Bethlehem.

We had a Christmas buffet with (mostly) traditional American food: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, banana bread, cranberry sauce, vegetables, and “sweet candied potatoes”. The cranberry sauce was spicy, which was unexpected, and the gravy had a slightly different taste. Everything else was very good (and like home) except for the “sweet candied potatoes”. The placing of the adjective “sweet” was either a mistake or very deliberate, as the interpretation was very literal: they were not “candied sweet potatoes” but normal  potatoes cubed and made sweet with sugar and other stuff (it was just WRONG). Oh what difference the placement of an adjective makes! At first I though Nepal didn’t have yams or sweet potatoes, but I’m told they do, but they are not orange like ours (I don’t know if they taste the same, but they couldn’t be worse than russets sprinkled with sugar!).

As Christmas Eve was Saturday, the normal day everyone has off and that Christians have church services, I joined the Raju, Sanju and Bishal at the satellite home church in Kathmandu. On Christmas Day we had a big celebration at the main church with a meal following.  You can see pictures starting here.

On Tuesday we went to Siddhi and hiked up a “hill” to a village at the top and celebrated Christmas at the church there. It was a good cardio workout – I think I hit 163 bpm.  It took us about 40 minutes to reach the first part of the village (I slowed them down), but then we had a more gentle climb to church.

It was a great experience! This summer a number of people will be going to Nepal to help spread the message of the Savior born in Bethlehem. Pray for the work that they will be doing and the work of the HCLCN does every day to spread the Good News that Jesus was not only born to us in Bethlehem, but lived a perfect life and died for us to save us from the condemnation our sins deserve and reconcile us to God.

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:
cartoon2

cartoon4

Those are all bank name acronyms

cartoon1cartoon5

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.

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.

Aug 21

A Famine on the Land

This past week I taught for two days at the CLCI seminary. I gave an overview of the life of Paul and four of his letters: 1 & 2 Thessalonians and 1 & 2 Corinthians.

In addition to the 48 students, 32 pastors came on Tuesday and 42 on Wednesday. The news of our teaching had spread and these pastors came of their own accord. 5 of them were independent (i.e., not affiliated with the CLCI).

I am told that these independent were very impressed with our teaching and were even interested in joining the CLCI seminary for additional training. They had not received such in-depth teaching before. Pray that the Lord will provide the funds needed to allow these pastors to join as new students.

Last month we had a similar seminar in Ongole while the mission helpers were here. 13 of the 23 pastors were not affiliated with the CLCI. These too were impressed with the depth of our teaching, and the head of the CLCI has received several queries about becoming affiliated with the CLCI for additional training in God’s word. Pray that the Lord will provide the funds to allow the CLCI to conduct additional seminars like this one.

The Lord says through the prophet Amos:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD,
“when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the LORD.” – Amos 8:11 (ESV)

There truly is a famine in this land of hearing the words of the Lord. These pastors show how much solid, Biblical teaching is needed here.

That isn’t the end of the Lord’s message through Amos, however. He continues:

“They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD,
but they shall not find it.” – Amos 8:12 (ESV)

We praise the Lord that this verse is not yet true; we still have the word of the Lord to share with people. It can still be found in our seminaries, schools and churches. Pray that the Lord will enable us by His grace to continue to faithfully teach and preach His word, especially the message that Jesus has taken away the sins of everyone in the world by His death and resurrection. To Him alone be the glory, amen.

Jul 29

The gift of faith

The mission helpers returned back to the US this past Monday night.

It was a busy two weeks! We split into two teams. I and 4 others stayed with the CLCI and visited 9 congregations. We did a VBS program for the children at each congregation that covered seven major events from the beginning of time to the end of time: Creation, Corruption (the fall into sin), Catastrophe (the world-wide flood brought on by man’s sin), Confusion (the tower of Babel, another result of man’s sin), Christ, Cross (the suffering and death of Jesus to pay for our sins and reconcile us to God), and Consummation (the return of Christ Jesus at the end of time). We shared this message of man’s sin and the salvation God provided through His Son Jesus’ death and resurrection to over 500 children (it is hard to get an accurate count when they are all sitting in a group and squirming a bit).

Jyothi reports that the pastors and members “were greatly encouraged spiritually by this wonderful trip” and “all the Sunday school teachers responded very positively and some of the new Sunday school teachers said that they have never seen anything like this before.”

Faith necklaces

Faith necklaces

At the end of the lessons we distributed some gifts to the children: New Testaments and a Bible workbook in Telugu, some stickers, a pen/pencil box and a pen, some candy and a balloon.  But by far the most popular item was a necklace with cubes forming a cross which reads “FAITH”. Everyone wanted one, including the adults.

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God tells us through the Apostle Paul:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Jesus’ payment for our sins – our salvation – is received by faith. The forgiveness of sins and our faith are both the gift of God. None of it comes from ourselves.

Pray that the children and adults who heard the message we shared will appreciate the gift of faith and salvation God has given them and may the necklace we gave them remind them of this great gift!