Wow. How do you describe the indescribable? How do you capture the raw emotion, the overwhelming of the senses or the stories behind every wrinkle and smile? Words, pictures, even video’s fall short. They can communicate and convey and give meaning…but they are still lacking “flesh.” Similar to the fact that “In the beginning was the Word (Jesus)”…yet it wasn’t enough. “The Word became flesh” (John 1:1-14).
I have now been to India seven times. And while I have come to know what to expect (that you have to expect the unexpected!), it still impacts me deeply and perhaps in deeper ways each time. And I maintain that especially for India, you simply have to experience it yourself. It’s impossible to describe. And you witness the most interesting things!
However, for the sake of “decompressing” yet again personally; and also to maybe inspire one or two others, let me give it my best shot in trying to capture through words and pictures a few highlights from this most recent trip experience, and a few stories of incredible but “unknown” people I came across. I have to say, some of the most faithful, humble and sacrificial servants of the Lord I have ever met are here in India. Again and again I am amazed by their testimonies, humility and faith.
It started in a slum in New Dehli. This particular area of the slum was predominantly Muslim, in fact several Muslim youth were present (one was especially intently listening as I shared about Jesus). In this slum, what caught my attention was the roofs made of straw, sticks and whatever “tarps” or other material could be found. It was obvious that when it rains, or now with winter coming, life becomes even more challenging than it already is.
Yet what struck me were some of the kids who not only were intellectually bright, but full of hopes and dreams. It’s one of the things that consistently amazes me about children in the poorest of conditions; they have dreams, hopes and aspirations that are very much alive…sometimes perhaps more so than kids living in privilege, prosperity and plenty. They loved the “Story of Jesus” that we distributed! And the adults were so hungry for the Word of God.
The needs of this particular slum are many, but a few stand out as one’s we would like to meet: winter coverings for this year and the start of a “mobile” tailoring class for young girls at risk of human trafficking, something unfortunately very prevalent in these conditions. “Mobile” meaning not being locked down by a physical structure in one place; but being a program for a year in one place and then moving to another section with another group of girls. Usually it is actually held within the local church.
From New Dehli our next flight took us to the foothills of the Himalaya’s. The first evening we met with some local youth, some who are struggling with addictions and others who are working with those struggling with addictions. The zeal and energy level of the mostly young men and women was palpable. They eagerly shared their testimonies and the challenges they are facing. Our team shared a few words of encouragement and I shared a message with them about how Jesus see’s us not just for who we are in the present…but who through His power we will become in the future (John 1:42) as we follow Him.
The cry and need here was for programs and strategies to reach out to those caught in the bondage of addiction. I encouraged them to be bold and not paralyzed by fear or intimidation with this problem. We may not always know what to do, but God does and God will give us wisdom and the ability to “bring down giants” if we just trust Him and step out in faith. Hopefully in the near future we can provide some type of training and material for them in regard to addictions.
Two days later, after a pastor/leader conference, we left for a winter covering distribution in two remote villages. It was perhaps one of the most moving experiences I have had in a long time. To be able to wrap a blanket around elderly people and children and tell them of God’s love for them…I can’t find words. Two elderly women walked two hours by foot there and back just for the coverings. One woman was shivering. Another was fighting to hold back tears. There are hundreds of villages like these two. And hundreds…if not thousands…will die every year because of the cold; mostly elderly and children who fall sick due to lack of sufficient coverings and no heating systems in their homes. When it is 28 degrees outside it is also 28 degree’s inside.
As we stood there with the mountains surrounding us I shared in one village a verse that came to mind and became real to me: “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 125:2).
Our regional coordinators in this place are a young pastor and his wife. They have quite a story as he felt called to a particular place to begin a church. He came with nothing, knowing nobody, with no place to stay and not even able to speak that language! But now his church has not only grown to about sixty people, but more churches in other parts are being planted. It is men and women like this who are quietly making such great sacrifices that are the unsung heroes. Despite not being known on earth, they are known by God in heaven who has his eye on them!
Our next flight took us to the slums of Kolkata. The highlight for all of us was most certainly in one of the dirtiest, narrowest and smelliest slum area we were in. I did not enjoy the walk to the place we going…but once we got there and were greeted by about 50 kids with the sweetest smiles, loudly singing unto the Lord, it suddenly became one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to on earth. This experience occurred several times on this trip. The presence of God was simply manifested in a most transforming and beautiful way. In fact it has become even more of a mystery and precious reality that Jesus did not come into this world as a king in a palace to be pampered…but was born into one of the most humble, smelliest, dirtiest, unsanitary places possible…and then placed in an animal trough with animal saliva. He walked the dusty roads of Jerusalem. He got his feet dirty. He served despite our messiness. He was one of us. He truly was and still is “Immanuel: God with us.”
The man who has been gathering these children together and teaching them was a humble, joyful and “ordinary” kind of man…but with a remarkable story. He shared with us that his brother had simply called him one day and told him of the need of this slum area (again mostly Muslim and Hindu). He up and left and moved to this slum. He began with just five children seven months ago. Today…over 113 gather! His congregation is now 25-30 people. We took a risk going into the heart of this area. It is a vulnerable area. Yet God’s presence and protection was evident in this little piece of heaven on earth.
We also visited our ServeNow lighthouse center (earlier in the trip we visited another one we have in New Dehli). In a small three-story building with tiny rooms it is unbelievable what all takes place inside this building in the slum. On the first floor elementary age kids are provided an education they otherwise could not afford and a hot meal each day. In another room is the church that seems impossible to pack as many as they do in that little room each Sunday. Another room is where some girls are learning cosmetology. On the second floor is the “home” (one room) of the couple and their daughter who run the lighthouse. On the third floor is a room with computers where classes are offered to learn that skill. And then there is a room where women at risk can learn tailoring.
One woman joyfully shared with us how through the center she had come to know Christ just six months prior. She came from a Hindu background, but her kids began coming to the center. She opened her heart to Christ and in her words is now “loudly” proclaiming Jesus and his praises. She certainly had the energy and boldness of a new believer that we all could afford to recapture in our own lives!
Next it was on to another flight to another place! Upon arriving we met with some of the pastors for prayer in regard to the conference we were having the next day. Over 130 pastors turned up where I spoke at three sessions.
The next day we had a bicycle distribution for ten of those pastors! Some of them walk by foot over 100 miles each week for the purpose of ministry. One of them is even blind…but that doesn’t stop him! He has a guide lead him around. Since they had their shoes off you could see the effect on their feet. Yet Romans 10:15 came to my mind: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
We also conducted a medical clinic in one of the villages. We didn’t go as “deep” as our Indian staff does (safety reasons) but nonetheless it was perhaps this day more than any other day that the reality of overwhelming need really begin to hit me and trouble me. People in this village hadn’t seen a doctor in six months and yet beyond this village were hundreds of thousands who have never seen a doctor. Indian is just a “sea of endless people.” And it is also a “sea of endless need.” I realized then and there that though we have accomplished a lot with a little for being a small organization…it is truly barely scratching the surface…a tiny drop in the bucket. I want to do so much more and my vision has greatly increased. Elderly people were really suffering here. One woman was in tears because of her pain, barely able to walk. Many live such a tough and difficult life.
The following day it was off to our last place and stop. We first visited our HIV home where we currently take care of eight precious children. There are thousands of children who roam the streets or are abused, even treated worse than animals simply because of the stigma of HIV. We have kids that have been rescued from being kept in a cage. One little girl said her favorite thing about the home was the food and (in her words) that “no one beats me here.” On the last day we celebrated that very girls 8th birthday! How different life was for her not long ago. These kids come in very thin and sick but are growing into the some of the most beautiful and sweet children. Sadly, the first child we took in actually was in such bad condition that she died. We want to reach more before they reach that phase…
We then visited another home for orphaned children. The testimony of the man and wife who have started it is simply amazing. He was pastoring a small church at the time and content with that. However, God began to burden his heart to help especially young girls in need. He finally shared the burden with his congregation as he had nothing and they had little. However, they took action and took in the first two girls. Now there are 13 and God is providing for their needs! We have come alongside them and are putting together profiles of the children for people to sponsor. We provided all the kids with new backpacks, shoes and a blanket for the winter!
After this we met with a remarkable woman who through her beautician shop has led thirty women to the Lord! We had the privilege and joy of dedicating and initiating the first cosmetology class for free in this particular slum area, with her as the teacher!
On the last team day, we visited one more slum and conducted another medical clinic. Most people who came were women who walk up a hill every day to fetch water for their family. Most had aches and pains due to the climb up and down.
On my last full day in India, we met with a handful of some amazing pastors. The first one who shared began his ministry after retiring. He has started a church in an area where there was no church. It has grown to 50-60 people! A woman then shared about her ministry to what they call here in India “Third Gender” people. They have been born with hormonal imbalances so they posses both male and female features. They lives as “women” without having undergone operations…but they are outcasts in society and thus suffer from feeling rejected not just by others but believing even God doesn’t love them. However, she has been ministering to them and six have come to know the Lord and choosen to be baptized as a result! Another pastor shared how he was a communist leader and was so full of hatred and anger he desired to become a terrorist. He became a “mobster” and a drunk. However, God got a hold of his life one night and he confessed all his sins and accepted Christ and has now become a pastor! Another pastor just had a personal accident where he lost four of his teeth and injured himself…but then not long after, his 12-year-old son tragically drowned. Yet despite the anguish and tears he shed even as we prayed for him and over him, he is faithfully still serving the Lord. These are the kinds of pastors we are standing with and alongside so that their church (or churches) may be equipped as disciples who reach out to make other disciples so that together we can fulfill the great commission!
I close with this. “Overwhelming” is the word that always comes to mind when in India. The sights, sounds, smells overwhelm your sense. The endless “sea” of people and need overwhelm your heart. But I am learning the world is truly changed one person at a time. One touch at a time. In fact people need to be “touched” in such a way as to know they personally matter. That God truly does loves them.
It takes so little in a country like India to be able to do so much…and touch so many with the love of God. But it takes someone who doesn’t just look at what they can’t do and don’t have…but will do whatever they can with whatever they have. That was my main message while on this trip. Look what Jesus did with just a few loaves of bread and fish that a young boy had! (John 6:1-12). When we give all we have to Him, however small or insignificant it may be God can do more with it than we dream possible!
That reality sunk in even more so while visiting Mother Teresa’s house in Kolkata. I don’t agree with Catholic theology, but she is an example of how one person with very little can make such a huge difference and inspire many others to make a difference. The room she lived in, worked from and died in was tiny and even still doesn’t even have a ceiling fan. Yet she greatly impacted the world.
Jesus himself never owned much except the clothes on his back. He didn’t even have his own place to call home. He never had an “official” position. He didn’t even travel that far. He only had twelve main disciples. And present in the upper room on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came, there were only 120 present. Yet they turned the world upside and the Gospel spread like wildfire.
I challenge you give God what you do have. Step out in faith and see what He will do. He is not limited by our limitations…only our unwillingness. He can work with our faults and flaws…but not our disobedience. Regardless of your fears, doubts, insecurities and sense of inadequacies; trust His heart and depend on His power. We often get in our own way by focusing on our lack rather than His sufficiency. Stop “waiting for God” to do something; He is waiting for you to do something! God is calling us to ServeNow with whatever we have. The question is are we responding?