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.

 

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.

Mar 20

To Bengaluru and Back

Bengaluru

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At the end of March I went to Bengaluru (Bangalore) for a two-day training with some 26 new pastors. Missionary Matthew Ude flew into Bengaluru the evening after the first day, returning from his furlough in the States, and taught the second day of the meeting.

IMG_1245These pastors have been gathering in Bengaluru each month for several months now to see if they agree with what we and the Bible teach so that they can join the Berea Evangelical Lutheran Church (BELC) in fellowship. We have been going through My Church and Others byJohn Theodore Mueller.

As we drove back to Chennai (our home base), we stopped and taught in three other districts along the way:

Vanyambadi

IMG_1257Here 44 pastors attended. This is an “older” district and these pastors are part of the BELC. It was an honor to encourage them with God’s word.

After teaching we drove to the next district, Ambur. The hotel at which we would have stayed was under renovation, so we tried IMG_1259to get rooms at another hotel in Ambur. That hotel was all booked up (probably because the other hotel was under renovation). We could have gone back to the first hotel, but their restaurant was closed due to the renovations and there was no other nearby restaurant (at least not one that was proven “safe” for us foreigners), so we decided to drive the hour or so and stay in the next district, Vellore. We would have to drive back to Ambur in the morning for the meeting there, but better safe than hungry (or sick).

Ambur

IMG_1278IMG_1277Amur is also a new district. We are using Luther’s Small Catechism as a framework to go through the teachings of the Bible to determine if we are in doctrinal agreement. We meet in a room in the top of a hotel lined with 4 cots. The room was full with the 15 men who attended.

IMG_1276Missionary Matthew Ude told me that on a previous visit he was sitting outside the room on the flat roof (deck) while the other missionary (I don’t know if it was Ed Starkey or David Koenig) was teaching.  He had put the sealed bottle of Coca Cola that the men in Ambur had given him down on the cement next to his chair. After a bit, a monkey ran up, stole the bottle, and then proceeded to chewed off the top to get to the Coke! Hopefully the caffeine didn’t keep the monkey up too late that night (or make him too rowdy)!

Vellore

IMG_1295Vellore is also a new district where the 35 pastors are coming to hear what we and the Bible teach to see if they agree and can join the BELC in fellowship. I taught a lesson justification, focusing on how God has declared the whole world “not guilty” because of Jesus’ death and resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:19Romans 5:18-19Romans 3:23-25). This declaration was accomplished almost 2000 years ago and is freely given to you through faith in Jesus.


What a blessing and honor it was to meet with and share God’s word with these 120 pastors! Please pray for them as they minister and spread the Gospel here in India.

Feb 26

Extreme Culture Shock

Culture Shock is something one can experience when visiting a foreign country. Often there are different expectations, different ways of communicating, different ways of doing things, different levels of comfort, and different levels cleanliness and hygiene. These differences can lead to feelings of unease, discomfort, even anxiety and frustration.

When driving on the dusty, bouncy, dirt roads of India, I miss the clean, paved roadways of the States. When my feet are devoured by mosquitos and gnats and I worry about malaria, chikungunya, and dengue fever, I begin to think that the mosquitos of Minnesota really weren’t that bad.

But the occasional and minor discomforts I may experience here do not compare to what our Lord and Savior Jesus experienced. Think of what He did! Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:6-8

Although Jesus was God, He left the glory of heaven to become flesh and dwell among us in this dirty, smelly, sin-corrupted world. We cannot even begin to understand how great Jesus’ humiliation was. We cannot comprehend the difference between heaven and here. Talk about culture shock!

But Jesus not only left the comforts of heaven to live here among us sinful people, but He humbled Himself to the point of experiencing something completely foreign to the eternal Son of God: death. And He suffered an ignominious death as a common criminal on a cross.

Jesus did this all for you and for me. He came to live the perfect life of obedience to God the Father than none of us have lived, and He took all of our failures to keep God’s law — all our sins — upon Himself when He died on the cross. By His death and resurrection from the dead, Jesus has taken away your sins and reconciled you to God, so that you have an eternal home in heaven and His perfect life here on earth is credited to your account.

This is why Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Rejoice in the salvation that Jesus has accomplished for you at such great cost and suffering.