I pray everyone is doing well. It is a little past 10pm on Wednesday here in Bhubaneswar. Tomorrow is the last day of teaching (I think). It has been an incredible time with so many church leaders here. The conference here in Orissa is about twice as large as in Siliguri - with about 60 men here, most of whom are pastors. The hunger they have for the word is inspiring. Over the last two years, men representing about 100 churches have united and really taken to a discipleship/mentor process centered around serious study of God's Word. I am told that when they began they were babes, but to see them now is truly a work of God. We have gone into some pretty heavy theology and tried to tackle some of the most difficult passages, and most are very quick to understand. They have rented a hall at the hotel here for all the out of town men (probably 40-45) to sleep in - they have been provided mattresses, and they love it. I am told they talk about theology and ministry until they fall asleep - and I believe it, considering their excitement during the sessions!
I talked to one youngish pastor here who said that he grew up as a worshiper of Kali, the goddess of time and death. He used to "bleed" himself by cutting as part of his devotion. He also said had beaten Christians and burned Bibles. Then, one day he attended a kind of prayer meeting at the persistent invitation of some others after his younger brothers had become Christians. He felt so uncomfortable that he got up and left. But the message he heard would not leave his mind, and he gave himself up to Jesus Christ. So, he was a former persecutor of the church, who God has now used to plant several churches. Like Paul, he is an example of Christ's perfect patience and mercy (1 Tim. 1:16).
I shall now be up for a while as a Hindu wedding and party has just begun in the hall beneath my room - Indian techno and fireworks anyone?
Well, my time in Siliguri is over (for now). Below is a picture of Pastor Y and his family, who so graciously took care of us the whole week. I look forward to working more with this dear brother and sister in the future. The second picture is the church where our conference was held.
Now I am in Bhubaneswar, Odisha (Orissa)! The view from the hotel is the third picture. It looks like Ranjan (the pastor/coordinator who has set this all up) wants us to do a mini-family/couples conference this afternoon (we each already have a lesson planned - we just thought it was for the last day - and we didn't think we were teaching at all today). The pastor said he wants to make the most of our short time here - so that means they want as much teaching as we can dish out! But, I am looking forward to it. Pastor Ranjan and his associates are incredibly hospitable and humble people. Several of his close pastor friends were among those martyred in 2008. Tomorrow he is taking us to visit the widows of those men (who now live at a center Action funded on the outskirts of the city). Please pray that we could be an encouragement to them. Monday through Thursday will be pretty much teaching all day on the attributes of God and the character of a shepherd.
Hello again from India! I am still in Siliguri. Today is the last day of teaching. It has been such a huge blessing to worship with, teach, and learn from these brothers and sisters in Christ. There are about 30 students here for the training. A few could not make it out of their country (a closed country), but Pastor Y is hoping to travel to see them next week. I am very humbled by the commitment of the pastors, leaders, and some of their wives who came. Many come from very remote areas in India and east Nepal. I had one encouraging conversation with a pastor who came to Christ about 20 years ago in the city oity of Darjeeling, India, after his brother became a Christian and told him the Gospel. Subsequently his whole family became Christians (parents and siblings). Then 10 years later, he and his wife went out as missionaries to the remote areas of east Nepal to bring the Gospel to many of the unreached Nepali speaking groups there. They continue to labor there after 10 years, and have formed a fruitful partnership with Pastor Y (the missionary hosting us in India) - so that leadership training is now occurring in several places in east Nepal. They are also praying about expanding this training into another district, with a few pastors who came from that district this week, Apparently unity among churches is an issue there, and they want to try and bring more unity through solid teaching. Please pray about this partnership.
Tomorrow we fly to Orissa (Odisha), and Monday begin teaching to a whole new group of church leaders in a whole new culture and completely different language.
I am so thankful for everyone at CASM for their prayers and support. I will write again as soon as I can.
Sorry for the late update. I was out of internet access for a few days, but have found an internet cafe. Unfortunately, I can't post any pictures from here. I am in Siliguri, the city where our first conference will be held this week. Pastor Walt and I just got back from Pastor Y's church. It is a house church of about 15 people, and it was a joy to worship with them. Pastor Y graciously invited me to preach, so I gave a message on Philippians 1:21. I think I went long, but received encouraging words afterwards anyways. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow we are talking a lot with Pastor Y about his pastoral training. He is a very, very active pastor/missionary. He regularly travels to Nepal and Bhutan (as well as ministering here in India) to train other pastors and church leaders, and he has a very large vision for reaching the unreached in this way. We are talking to him, basically, just to find out what people on this side of the pond can do to help him in what he is doing. Please pray we would be an encouragement to him. He was thinking of actually taking us across the border for a day to visit some villages in Nepal where he does some of the training, but discovered that it was not worth the immigration/visa hassle for the short time we have before the conference. We may instead go up to Darjeeling (tea anyone?).
Things are going well here. Weather is perfect, driving is scary, and the cows have the right-of-way. Oh, one thing I haven't seen before, and did not, unfortunately, get a picture of, was a man riding a bicycle with a smallish canvas bag draped over either handle - and in each back were two live goats.
I pray things are going well back home. I will try to keep updating every few days, if I can.
Hi. I made it to India. Flights went fine, and I even had an empty seat beside me on the 13 hour leg from New Jersey to Delhi! Today is just a rest/study day. I am staying at a hotel in Delhi with Pastor Walt Becker for two nights (counting last night when we checked in at 1:15am) and tomorrow (Sat. here) am flying out to Siliguri, West Bengal, where the first conference location will be. Here are some photos of my room and the morning view out the window.