Hey there everybody - thanks for taking the time to read this little thing and be a part of the work God is doing in India. We are coming off our first day at North River Mission Center and I have to say, it feels like we’re in a totally different country. Ok, hang on. Yes, we ARE in a totally different country - but what I mean is, it feels like we’re in a totally different country from where we were last week. Two days ago, really. Aside from the word “Mission Center” and the guy who started it all (David Rajan), the two have absolutely nothing in common. And yet, we love them both so much.
Poondanthalam was established over a decade ago and it runs like a very well-oiled machine. The people there have a system and it feels like a safe little compound where people come to worship, study God’s Word and pray. The weather is hot, but pretty nice in the shade. The children are well educated and sharp. The village is accepting of Poonthandalam.
And then there’s North River. North River is brand new and still getting its legs underneath it in terms of VBS. Last year, it was all brand new, but David and his team have made some amazing changes to the program and this year’s VBS is incredibly already. People certainly come from all over to pray, worship and study God’s Word - but does it feel safe? Not terribly. The physical threats aren’t in-your-face, but the spiritual ones? You can’t avoid them. The children are amazing as well, but they don’t all have the luxury of the instruction program at Poonthandalam. And the villages? Well, they’re getting used to the Mission Center, but it’s still not embraced. David shared that, awhile back, one of the villagers became a Christian through the Mission Center. She was rejected by the town and had to live at the Mission Center for about six months. However - and this is how God does His stuff - the town finally agreed to let her come back…and there’s now a Bible Study at her home. He is on the move here.
Today was a fairly standard VBS day, with some increased responsibilities. We led songs, skits, Grain Games, recited Bible verses in Tamil and then, following lunch, we took the kids upstairs for some energetic running around playtime. I suppose I could go into more detail, but at this point in the blog, you’re aware of what our programs look like and we’ve gone over the details of the activities. Now, since you are familiar with that, I’d like to spend more time telling stories and sharing some insights that the team is picking up.
*After re-reading the first sentence of that last paragraph, I realize it might make VBS sound trite to call it “fairly standard”. That should not be taken that way at all. The things taking place, the messages being taught and the relationships being developed are critical to the work God is doing here. I just meant that the VBS program here is going great. I suppose I could just rewrite that sentence, but that would just negate THIS paragraph that I’ve worked so hard to compose. But hey, at least I’m proofreading things. Following that terrible display of writersmanship on Saturday night, some standards for this blog are in order.*
Following VBS, a few of us went to tour one of the new villages that children are coming from. So many observations were made that were encouraging to us as a team. First, stepping outside of the Mission Centers (and here you don’t have to step out too far), you are confronted with the reality of the poverty these children live in. Even if you’ve seen it before, stepping back into it is a reminder that, while we may be “roughing” it based on American standards, we go home at the end of this week. These kids? This is their life. Their only hope for a better life is a life in Christ - and the front line of that fight is at the North River Mission Center. But when you look at these children, because of the love, peace and joy that they have found in Christ, you never see them complaining. They always seem so happy. Not one of them seemed to mind the fact that 30 of them were crammed into an 8 passenger van for a 20 minute ride home. They don’t complain about the heat. Or the lack of water. Or the lack of…everything. They have so much enthusiasm and life in them.
Which makes this next part that much harder. As we drove past fields, Hot James (Donny Caleb) pointed out that the fields were really dried-up ponds and riverbeds. The drought is so severe that the river that ran behind the Mission Center last year isn’t even there anymore. When asked what the cattle and animals are drinking, his response was, “Mud water”. Everything is dry. As we viewed this, the next thing we saw was super revealing. In the span of less than 100 yards, I counted four Hindu temples or altars right next to each other. The She-Demon from last year - the one that was enticing men away - she’s still hanging around. David showed us the church property he purchased for super cheap from the village because they said it was haunted by ghosts. Rajan just sees the provision of God making things cheaper. Today, during our freetime, Matt was a part of a group of children who all started getting very worked up as they began claiming that they were seeing ghosts. They need water, definitely. But more than that, they need spiritual rescue and repentance. This drought is spiritual.
As I reflect on all of these things, I can’t help but think about the prophet Elijah in I Kings. Read it for yourself because this quick glance is not enough for one of the greatest stories in the Bible. Basically, Elijah takes on King Ahab and, through a series of incredible miracles, communicates the power of God. I don’t want to spoil it. Go read it. But at the start of this whole experience, Elijah goes to Ahab and says, “Because of your worship of other idols, because you have embraced these false gods, there will be no rain on this land until I say so.” That kicks off a series of confrontations, but the first part of that story really struck me today. By no means am I claiming that we are Elijah. But I am suggesting that God SO hates false gods and idolatry that He will not stand by and be mocked in such a way. We see the hand of God here withholding a much needed blessing because the hearts of the people here are not for God. But right in the middle of this are a bunch of children. It almost doesn’t seem fair. I mean, here are these amazing children stuck in life situations they can’t escape, whose parents are often hurting their children through their wicked beliefs. My heart breaks for these kids. And yet, God is still faithful. He is meeting their needs and He’s doing it through and at North River. Many of the parents are Hindus. This kind of blows our mind because, if you were following a god in conflict with another message about God, why would you let your kids go to a Christian VBS?
Food. Water. Something to do.
These mission centers are offering what the parents cannot - a way to provide for their children. David Rajan’s vision is to provide for both the physical and spiritual needs of those God has given him to shepherd. And he does so well. Which leads me to my last observation from our tour. David Rajan earns my respect more and more each day. He is the driver behind all of the ministries taking place here. He is the guy who keeps the plates spinning. When something goes wrong in any of the churches or mission centers, he’s the number-one guy on speed dial. He IS the Godfather. And when he speaks, everyone listens. But the thing is this. At the end of an extremely stressful day, after a long night of worshipping and fellowshipping, and after a full week in Poonthandalam Mission Center which came immediately after a week-long mission in Sri Lanka…David was driving these kids back to their village. He’s the Godfather! Isn’t that, like, beneath him or something?
Not to David.
See, David’s heart is for these villages - for these children. Their parents will let the kids go, but they’re not going to do ANYTHING to assist with that. If these kids are going to learn about Christ, if they will hear the message that Jesus is the only way to God the Father and that there are no other gods, it’s because David Rajan took a 45 minute trip to pick them up and bring them to North River, only to take them back home again himself. I don’t say this to puff David up. He wouldn’t receive even if I was. I’m saying this to ask all of us: Do you, do we, love ___________ (Fill in the blank) enough to do this? Would we make excuses for why we weren’t able to do a task God has called us to? I’m so overwhelmed when I look at what’s going on here because, I see kids living in utter poverty filled with joy because someone thought highly enough of Jesus to obey His command and help them understand that they are worth something to God. If Rajan wanted to, he could snap his fingers or get someone on the phone to handle the task. Yet, out of love and a desire to see these kids around the throne in Heaven, David pays whatever price is necessary to do his part.
My encouragement and challenge to us today/night is to seek God and ask Him to give us this kind of desire to love others more than ourselves. To see them as He sees them and withhold nothing, knowing that whatever energy and resource we empty out God will be faithful to fill again. Pray this for us as we pray this over you as well.
And while you’re praying, please lift these things up as well:
1) Rest and renewed strength
2) The ability to remember the kid’s names. This may not seem like a big deal, but it’s huge.
3) Praise for the end to the Water Strike
4) Praise for the translators and Indian team members who have been beyond vital to this work
5) For protection from the spiritual forces at work.
We love each and every one of you. And for those of you who made a commitment on the SignUp page to either pray or sing over us, we can’t think you enough. To all of you praying peeps, we know what you’re doing and we love it. May God bless you for your commitment to this mission as well.
This evening, we had an amazing time of singing and worship on the porch of the NR Mission Center. All last week there was a massive Hindu festival that kept most people away from church. Not that the Christians were attending the festival, but that it just wasn’t safe for Christians to go out that day. But tonight, some of David’s good musician friends (both good musicians and good friends who also happen to be musicians - and good ones at that) came and brown people and white people had some Church. It was incredible. Again, just another taste of what Heaven is going to be like. I will say this: the Indian believers will be representing the bluegrass in Heaven in a massive way. It’s crazy awesome.
Time for bed (4 hours ago). Love you all.
Oh, and Annette Spain! Matt said he was thinking about calling you, but then decided to be a “man of character whose ‘Yes’ is ‘Yes’ and whose ‘No’ is ‘No’”. Apparently, the lack of calling will STILL make the reunion that much sweeter. You have my permission to punish him mercilessly - though, I doubt you needed my permission for that.
See you all tomorrow.