When we left Charleston, we didn’t know what we were getting into. We were eager to get to India and nothing seemed too hard for us. So we flew from Charleston to Detroit about two hours in the air. Then we took an eight hour flight to Amsterdam where we had a six hour layover. After the layover, we flew over seven hours to Delhi. That’s right, we were in the air and in layover mode for over 21 hours. We arrived at our hotel about 12:30, got to bed at 1:00 am and got up at 5:00 to catch a train to H., which took six hours. We were surprised at the train. There was air conditioning and good food service!
H. is a “holy” city. There is a very well known Hindu temple there where people make pilgrimages. We rode a cable car up the mountain to see it. The wait was over two hours to get on the car to go up the mountain and about an hour’s wait to come back down. The temple itself was quite a sight. It was overrun with visitors and with vendors selling everything from food to souvenirs as well as offerings to the gods. Workers in the temple and security guards kept the people moving through so that it took only a few minutes to see it unless you wanted someone to give you a special blessing. The offerings given were generally made of flowers, specially made ribbons, decorations, coconuts and other gifts that could be used to decorate a statue or used in a ritual. Incense and wood smoke were prevalent. A carnival atmosphere was the order of the day.
During the temple visit two things stood out. One was the workers (priests?). They told us to give offerings of money at least two times. In exchange they would bless us by putting brightly colored marks on our foreheads. We all refused. The second was Liz. Apparently her hair color was a tremendous attraction to the Indians. Women and girls and not a few men would stare at her and want to talk to her or touch her. Several asked if they could take her picture and did.
There is no church in H., and the best guess is that there are only a few people known to be Christians. We are seeking God’s will if this is the place we are to make connections to do the father’s work. People in India are generally open to talk about religion. On the plane from Amsterdam Ron had a long, good discussion with a young Indian about his religion and Christianity. Ron can hardly remember a time when he so fully explained the gospel to someone. God seemed to open the door wide. The young man asked good questions and listened carefully. He is studying in the states for his Ph. D. at an Ivey league school. Pray for J. that he will come to Christ one day.
Because of the scarcity of internet connections, we will not be able to send information every day. But, when we can, we’ll let you know what’s happening with us.
Five from Mt. Pleasant
India Diary, Day 2
After getting so little sleep the two previous days, we finally got to bed Friday evening at a decent hour and slept until about 8:00 am. After breakfast, we divided into three groups of two and prayer walked the city. We didn’t have a specific plan since we did not have time to cover the whole city. So, each group went where they wanted. Jo and Liz went together. A. and Carolyn and Charlie and Ron made up the other two groups. We were to meet back at the hotel at 4:00 to report.
Not knowing the city, we really didn‘t know what we were looking for. We were just trying to get to know the city, her people and her character. Perhaps we could engage some people in conversation and make friends. At the outside, we may find a “person of peace” with whom we could share the message or even perhaps someone with faith with whom we could partner. Ron and Charlie did exactly that. In their walking, they found an evangelical church, met her pastor and his wife, and visited in their home. We previously thought there was no evangelical witness or any other church in this city. We were surprised and delighted. We talked for a long time over tea and cookies. We heard the story of the pastor and the church. We found out he has a heart for evangelism and that his church is bigger that the building would indicate. We all had received good insights through the prayer walks. However, we were especially thankful for the connection with the pastor and his church. We plan to worship there tomorrow.
In the late afternoon and evening we went to the most sacred river to the Hindu faith- the Ganga (or Ganges in English). Every day in the evening there is a special celebration during which people wash/swim/dunk themselves in the river. Also people make special offerings of flowers, usually placed in a boat-like vessel make of leaves, and with a lit candle on it. They would go through a ceremony and place the offering in the water, often followed by an offering of milk poured into the river. Some did this before getting in the water, others after the water and still others instead of getting wet. The city has elaborate facilities for this occasion. There are stairways, bridges, grandstands, temples, and various vendors available to assist the worshippers. Perhaps there were 10,000 people or more present. As we talked with many people, we discovered this happens every evening all year long.
We arrived early to get good seats on the top step beside the river. People young and old, male and female were going into the water. Most of the men and boys were wearing their undershorts. The women and girls wore their dresses. Several young boys were trolling with magnets attached to a cord in order to grab coins thrown in the river as an offering. Officials kept order and kept onlookers from putting their shoes too close to the water. Others were asking for donations of various sorts. It was quite a sight. We watched the proceedings for about an hour. Then the ceremony started. It began with words from a loud speaker. Officials (priests?) lit torches on the opposite bank. At some points the people joined the loudspeaker in singing, clapping and praying. This continued about 20 minutes. Then it was over and some of the crowd began to leave. We left at this time as well.
It is really hard to describe the scene here. It is at the same time spectacular and sad. The people are so friendly and so steeped in their beliefs. They are open to talk about their beliefs but not to accepting other beliefs. That would take some time. However, we do have a contact which may be a door for us to have a continuing relationship in this city. More tomorrow about the church service.
India Diary, Day 3
After breakfast of toast and coffee, we rode a motorized rickshaw to the church we found yesterday. The service started at 9:00 am and we arrived at 8:45. A few women were there in prayerful silence. Gradually more people came, and the pastor come in and sat on the platform waiting for the service to start. All was solemn. The pastor wore a white silk-like robe with a red stole draped around his neck. He was barefooted on the platform. There was a table top pump organ and a set of 4 bongo drums. When the service started and groups of women and one young man led the singing of what seemed to be praise songs. The people stood and sang along as they clapped to the rhythm. An older man pumped and played the organ, one hand pumping and one playing. The pastor’s son played the drums. He appeared to be about 20 or 21.
The service continued with a reading of Psalm 91 in unison. Then there were songs from the hymnal, prayers, scripture reading, the sermon on Luke 17:11-19, and an offering. There was no choir and one man took the offering with a bag on the end of a short pole that he passed in front of every person present. The service was in the Hindi language. We could only pick a word or two which was in English or sounded like English. Our guide A., understands Hindi so she could understand the whole service. There were approximately 50 people present. They were cordial to us after the service, and we spoke with many of them. The pastor invited us into his home (the parsonage behind the church building) along with several others from the church including his son, his brother, a retired minister, and others. We had tea, cookies and something like Cheetos only with Indian spices.
As we talked, the pastor told us something he did not tell Charlie and Ron yesterday. He said he, his wife and son were praying in the church three days ago, as they prayed they asked God for help with their ministry. And now were were here in his living room asking what kind of help he needed! One of our team’s prayer requests was to find a place or places where we could connect with God’s people or a God-project somewhere so we could help to reach people for Christ. This pastor shared his heart to train pastors, teach the Bible to new believers and do evangelistic outreach in this city. Wow! God gave us a startling answer. We will pray for confirmation that this is where God wants us to work. Even though this church doesn’t bear our denominational name tag, it is Bible believing, gospel oriented, evangelical and missionary. This could be our India connection. Pray with us to hear God clearly.
After the visit with Pastor W. we went to the restaurant Charlie and Ron found yesterday and had a very good Indian meal. All of us ate heartily and had ice cream for dessert. The meal cost just over $30 US (tip included) for the six of us! In the afternoon we retired for naps and reflection. At 5:00 pm we visited Pastor W. again to use his internet connection to send our first three blogs. However, we could not get his modem to work. Hopefully this will come to you Sunday night, out time. At 6:30 we went to meet a young woman our friend A. knows about who is here in the city with another company than ours. She serves our Father as well. We met her at a restaurant called “Kocktails” but they didn’t serve alcohol! She also had her sister with her. The young woman is here studying language. Her sister is visiting. We had a good time getting to know each other and fellowshipping. All of us have discovered our favorite Indian foods, so far. It is an adventure to see what is on the menu next.
Tomorrow, Monday, we plan to visit another temple and talk with people. Then we will pack a leave for Delhi on the six o’clock train. Pray that our connections today will bear fruit for the kingdom.