As I said in the previous post, this is only the final chapter of 2009. In fact it's better analogized that these last 2 years are the first 2 chapters of a long, thrilling novel. And wondering after each page, "What's going to happen now?" or "What will God do next?" So it's really just the beginning.
As a disclaimer... I believe that God is doing an amazing work among the Dalit people right now and especially through BFM. We've spent a number of posts sharing about God's heart to bring spiritual and social liberation to an oppressed and often silenced people group in India. This continues to be the over-arching narrative of our relationship with Bishop and family and our connection to India. These final stories focus in on what God has been doing in us as we've followed him.
Let me expand on a few that sum up our entire trip:
I don't want to embarrass Dave. But I'm pretty proud of him. Yes, *tear*. He led well, enjoyed the kids, was a total team player. But that's not what I'm most encouraged by.
Dave's a diamond in the rough, a passionate guy with a huge heart and fighter's spirit. But the last few years have been challenging for him for a lot of reasons... juggling the responsibilities of taking care of his family, dealing with the pressure of living the Silicon Valley life and wrestling through things in his past. It's as if he's lived the last few years with a 50lb weight vest. It's hard to fight when you're carrying extra weight.
But India was in many ways a "rebirth" for Dave, if not a turning point. The turning point being Dave discovering that God does in fact know what he's doing, that he is faithful and that his love for him is unquenchable. And when you see that about God, you can't help but to be free. Dave and I have spent many hours talking through what freedom really looks like in Jesus... it's simple, but not easy... to embrace the freedom that Jesus has secured for us on the Cross. Like all of us, it's not hard to understand; it's just hard to live out. But beginning the few months before and then continuing into India, Dave started to "get it"; he began to really understand freedom and living with a reckless abandon for Jesus. He preached powerfully, led with conviction, shared with honesty. But even better... he began to hear God again. I mean really hear him... feel his presence, enjoy his embrace.
There's something about trips like these where you wake up and your goal is just to listen to God and do what he says. And when you start listening to God, you discover he's not an abusive disciplinarian, he's not the distant/uninvolved father-failure, he's not an ultra soft teddy bear. You discover that he deeply and passionately loves you and that he wants you to run with him on an adventure that'll stretch every part of your being. You'll experience God and life in such a way where you'll never want to turn back. It's not easy, but there's a truly intoxicating feeling of trusting and following Jesus.
There were many moments where I thought Dave wasn't going to make it on this trip. A few times where I thought his fear might do him in. But Dave's journey reminds me that God is constantly at work in us to root out the things that keep us back and help us take hold of the things that will give us life. I'm reminded that God doesn't give up on us, that he doesn't lose sight of our potential and that he's excited for each step we take towards him and his purpose for our lives.
I considered not returning to India earlier in the year - because I really didn't know why we were supposed to be there. Not that there aren't great reasons to be in India. But I just didn't know why WE were supposed to be there. If Dave was the reason... than that was reason enough. I'm excited to see what God has in store for him and this truly is just the beginning of his book. Keep reading.
BTW - I could share a story like this about each person on our team. Maybe I'll do that on anther post.
:: Puzzle Pieces - Sarah and Keren
We were on the mini-bus to Kanyakumari and I was sitting next to Promoth, Keren and Sarah. And Sarah asked Keren about this building on the BFM campus with a sign that reads, "Women in Rural Development." [WIRD] Keren shared that about five years back, she felt like God was giving her this vision of training and employing Dalit women in hopes of developing a people group that's long been marginalized in India. She bought several sewing machines and began employing local Dalit women to make clothing to sell in the local market. The problem was that they were able to produce, but had trouble distributing and selling. After about two years, the project came to an end and now the machines and building are largely unused and unoccupied.
After hearing that, Sarah then shares how she has had this long held dream of starting a baby clothing business. But she wanted to run it as a social enterprise where she'd employ people in distressed areas and a portion of the profit margin would be reinvested back into the local community. Sarah shared that she wants to do the design, will work on the marketing and distribution, but has never really known where to produce the items. And after Keren shared about the WIRD project, Sarah thought that maybe we could produce the items with Dalit women.
Keren shared that when the WIRD project came to end, she got a lot of criticism for investing in the machines and she personally experienced a lot of grief for her failed endeavor. She knew however that God told her to buy the machines, but she just didn't know what was to come of it. But God repeatedly told her to "wait". And so when Sarah began talking about her vision and the idea of producing the products in India, God reminded Keren right then, "This is why I was telling you to 'wait'."
As I said before, after the first trip, I still wasn't sure why we were supposed to be there. I gave a lot of thought to not going back. But God has been teaching me a lot in recent months about perseverance, about the value of "slow and steady". That often the real fruit comes only after seeing something to completion even when you're not assured of the results. In an "ADD" culture, it's really hard to live out.
I remember listening to Keren and Sarah's conversation and thinking to myself, "Man, I'm really glad we came." That even if we didn't do the medical clinic, the kid's camp, the pastor's training, that this was reason enough. We could not have orchestrated this; this had been in the plan all along. I had no idea... but God knew all along.
And again it was a sober reminder that my role is to follow. It's God's role to make things happen.
:: Not Here For You
I was slotted to give the opening message at the EMOS training gathering. I was actually quite honored that Dr. Selvaraj would ask me. When we got there, he gave me a very ceremonial yet warm and humorous welcome and I then went up to speak to a very select gathering of pastors and Christian leaders.
When I got up, two other men got up along side of me to translate into two different Indian languages. It didn't seem odd in anyway since we had everything translated for us whenever we spoke. But as we got started the rhythm [or lack thereof] of having what I was saying translated twice was throwing me off. It's hard to describe - all I can say was that I was flustered. And I ended up giving a very disjointed message and didn't really say what I felt like God was leading me to say.
On our way back to the BFM campus, I had to confess that I was feeling pretty down on myself. I was even thinking that I messed up a connection with a very innovative and intriguing organization that would have boosted Haven's mojo by just being connected with them. That's how pathetic and self-seeking I think sometimes.
As I was working through all those thoughts, the rest of the team was talking about Dave's last few months and his story of how he got here [India]. And Dave mentioned that his wife had shared a prophetic word with him but he couldn't remember it. And of course I remembered it. So I interjected and told them what Rachel said... that Dave would eventually have enormous influence and that the work that God was doing in him now would yield amazing fruit in the future.
And right then God whispered in my ear, "Remember... you're not here for you. You're not here to build the 'Kingdom of Elton' or the 'Kingdom of Haven'. You're here to build my kingdom." I immediately felt a bit of shame for having felt so bad. But the shame eased out quickly and I felt free from the pressure of building my own empire and exhilarated again to be a part of what God is doing in the world. Maybe my role was just to bring Dave or Sarah or anybody on our team to India. Maybe I'm just the bus driver. If so, that's more than OK. If that's what's needed for God to accomplish what he wants, then I'm happy to do it.
And again, I realize... I'm glad we came. I needed to understand my proper place - I follow him, he doesn't follow me. To understand that he is God and I am not. I'm glad we came so God could do a work in the lives of our team members. I'm glad we came to hear the testimonies of those women missionaries being sent back into hardest areas of India. I'm glad we came to see how much God has already done at BFM in just one year's time. I'm glad we came just to be with Bishop, Keren and Promoth again; to hear from their heart again and be inspired by their passion and commitment.
Any one of those reasons is reason enough. But really the best reason over and above the rest is that God told us to come... and when he leads we'll get to see what our imaginations couldn't even dream. And we'll get to be the son or daughter that marvels at the grand work of the father and recognize all along his way is always better than ours.
To finish this monster post... I just want to say that I'm very proud of our team. Trips like these push at all the wrong [or right?] buttons, it reveals our character and it forces us to understand the Gospel once again. I sense also that we are playing a small role in God's move to bring revival and liberation among the Dalit people. God is doing a grand work through Bishop Moses, Keren and Promoth and I'm glad we can be a small encouragement to them. We learn SO MUCH from them. I feel very blessed to call them our family.
Thank you so much for praying and supporting us in innumerable ways. Your prayers were heard, your funds well utilized, your encouragement well received. Thank you.
So we look forward to the coming years... we've only finished two chapters in a long novel and we're asking, "What will happen now?" and "What will God do next?" And I believe those are the right questions. We'll follow this post with more info on BFM and how you can partner with them in the near future.
Thanks again and on to chapter 3.
...for 2009 that is.
Sorry this has been delayed for so long. But let me wrap up what our team has so eloquently documented with regards to our time in India. Our first trip to India [last year] was indeed a first trip. We didn't know what to expect, we were learning from scratch and developing new friendships.
But this year God seems to opening the door wider, showing more of what it's inside. Shedding more light on why we're there, why God kept subtly pointing us towards India.
A quick rundown of our last few days in this post... and then some reflections on another post:
:: Shopping > Monday
We finally got to buy a few things; Keren and Promoth graciously took us into Trivandrum even though Jenis was sick. They have been AMAZING hosts and love us as family. We made 3 stops: tiffins, fabric and jewelry. And if we're honest, it was the Sarah and Heather shopping show with Christine tagging along. Faint interest from Amanda; none from Lauren. And Dave and I were just happy to have air conditioning. We ate lunch at a nice hotel... Dave and I had a Coke. It was gooooooood.
:: EMOS > Monday Evening
In the evening, we participated in a training event hosted by Evangelical Missions Outreach Service that equips Dalits to plant churches in some of the most hostile and unreached areas of India. Every year they host a training intensive to train and then deploy their workers into the field. We weren't sure what to expect, but we were welcomed very ceremoniously and lovingly by Dr. Selvaraj and Rev. Sudhakaran.
This year's class was entirely women from the most highly persecuted areas of India. It broke our hearts to hear stories of how many of the women lost family members, friends and homes to Hindu militant persecution. But it was truly inspirational to hear how these women found greater passion to continue their work to share about Jesus to a dying world. These women showed us the real cost of following Jesus. But also that Jesus is worth giving everything for.
It's unfortunate that we only got to spend a short time with them. We'll see if God would open up more doors in the future to support the ministry of ICRO/EMOS.
:: Tip of India! > Tuesday
We took a day trip with Keren and Promoth to Kanyakumari which is the southern most tip of India. It's a really interesting place because Hindu men must make their pilgrimage there at least once in their life. When we arrived there were tons of young men dressed in black and orange wandering the streets. There's something religiously significant about this location where three seas converge to one point... suffice it to say, the place was beautiful, the water warm and clean and it was a needed respite for the team.
We got to visit the two main sites in Kanyakumari, Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Thiruvalluvar Statue. Throughout our trip we'd discover interesting tidbits about each other... ie. Amanda LOVES killing insects, Heather is completely up to date on Fergie gossip, Christine loves jumping on random busses with kids. During our time in Kanyakumari we found out that Dave and Lauren don't like boats. After a little convincing and weighing the options, Dave and Lauren got on the creaky boat to take the short ride to both the memorial and the statue.
Left: Our beautiful hosts and partners, Keren and Promoth.
Right: At the beach in Kanyakumari.
Left: On the road to Kanyakumari through Tamil Nadu state... "Looks like Hawaii," says Sarah.
Right: We found the real location of the island on LOST. At Thiruvalluvar Statue.
Left: Posing at Vivekananda Rock Memorial.
Middle: Ordered a Pepsi at brunch... needed straws though... Dave keeping his lips away from the rusty bottles.
Right: India style brunch... delicious.
All in all it was a great day to see some really beautiful parts of India. Keren and Promoth were really informative and hospitable tour guides. And our little day trip was helpful just to expand our vision of India, gain a greater sense of the people and their journey. It was a good day.
:: Flight Out to SNG > Tuesday Evening
We got back to BFM mid afternoon tired and ready for a nap. But our day wasn't close to being over. We finished up packing, bathed and got ready to go to the airport to board our late night flight to Singapore. I think we were ready to go home... though not in the "pedal to the metal, don't look back" sense. At least not for most of us! We knew that God had done a work in us and our time in India had become way more than just "bearing with the elements." We knew we wouldn't leave the same and we were thankful for that. I was pleasantly surprised that most of our team wouldn't think twice about coming back. More on this in the next post.
We arrived in Singapore early Wednesday morning... way early, like 5am. We said goodbye to Dave who wouldn't do the debriefing in Singapore with us. It was a genuinely sad moment. As we walked out of the airport to board our transfer to the city, Lauren muttered, "I miss my twin." Amanda said, "That Dev is a very unique person." We all missed him... including myself! Whenever we were out and about, with 5 women, 2 men, we'd always walk in a line - me at the head, Dave at the rear. I felt pretty secure and trusted Dave to make sure all our valuables [the 5 ladies] didn't wander off. We had a good time in Singapore, but it wasn't the same without Dave.
We spent the 2.5 days in Singapore eating heartily, enjoying ultra clean bathrooms and taking time to process our experience. I was encouraged to hear what God had been saying to each of our team members as we ate meticulously baked Asian pastries and McDonald's breakfast. I knew that God had a reason for each person to be there and it became abundantly clear during our debriefing time.
When we arrived back in SF, we were glad to see Dave and Rachel who graciously picked us up. We feasted at Dave's family's restaurant and reminisced the grandeur of the last two weeks. There was a joy of having lived through an adventure together and because of that we would share a special connection with each other.
I'll share a few post trip meditations on the next post - but here's the rundown of our last few days. We're glad to be home, but looking forward to how God will continue to expand our vision not just for India for what he's doing here and all over the world. Amen.
It's been a long day... so let's begin.
Wednesday AM - Pastors' Training
I led a 4hr training session for the local Bible Faith Mission pastors [about 50 persons]. We did something similar last year on our first trip and made numerous cultural errors and did not present all too well. But God redeemed the time [thankfully]. And we learned a lot about the struggles of our new friends and what it means to be a Dalit Christian pastor. This year I felt like God was laying a simple message of encouragement to my brothers, to remind them that God has not forgotten them, that he won't leave and that he's doing a work through and in them. I took some time to encourage my brothers and was able to present some simple material on church-planting movements and discipleship. We'll leave the rest to God and see how He'll bear fruit from it.
Like last year, the pastors asked heartfelt questions. One pastor stood up and shared that there is a group in the US that is funding the construction of a large Hindu temple constructed here in Kerala; upon it's completion, it'll be shipped back to the US. He then asked, "How can we sustain when even the Christian countries are funding Hinduism here in India?" It was a very sobering moment and I was at a loss as to how to respond.
But the Holy Spirit was gracious to give me a simple response – that though the powers that oppress free movement of the Gospel seem insurmountable, the Gospel was meant to flourish in the margins, in places that seem least viable, in the midst of persecution, oppression and poverty. Maybe a reason we have not seen significant revivals in the United States?
In the end, it was another opportunity to learn more about the struggle of my brothers laboring to lead churches while working against government, extremists and caste. Please pray for these pastors and leaders – there is so much working against them and they teach us every time what it really means to take up our cross and follow.
Wednesday Afternoon – Children’s Camp Prep
We started looking at the VBS package that we purchased and realize that it was garbage. There’s not much more to say about it. So we began the process of writing our own stuff the night before. Yes, ambitious. We’ll see how it turns out tomorrow.
Wednesday Night – Dinner Debacle
So we decided that we’d cook for the Bishop and his family as an introduction to Chinese food, but primarily to give them a break. They’ve lovingly served us and it’s not easy to feed 7 people, breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It began with us taking stock of what we could cook. It came down to green beans, fried rice, stir fried chicken and green onion pancakes. Seemed doable. We started and things just took longer than we expected. A few things that were working against us: foreign kitchen setup with stoves equivalent to camp burners, unfamiliar ingredients and not entirely understanding the preferences of the Indian tastebud.
When we were ready to eat, we were almost 45 minutes late [they normally eat at 8:15p], kitchen was a mess, food didn’t look quite right and we didn’t even have time to finish the fried rice. There was this feeling of impending doom.
When we finished praying, the Bishop’s wife scooped some green beans that we stir-fried with some Hoisin sauce. And as she put the bean in her mouth, she immediately spit it back out and quickly moved [by hand] each bean to Bishop’s plate. I had to stop my mouth from dropping to the floor. I looked at Dave and he had this expression of pure dejection and later quipped, “Tonight, I’d rather have been a coward than a failure.” We were pretty embarrassed!
The chicken and the onion pancakes had a better reception. But it was hard to ignore the pain of green bean “FAIL”. Bishop’s daughter Keren said it well, “My mind says yes, but my mouth says no!” We were able to really laugh it off as we finally made it to the end of dinner. Keren even joked that they would take a picture of the dinner and put it on the fridge as “inspiration” to other foreigners who want to volunteer to cook! Bishop’s family were good sports and they appreciated the gesture even though they had to supplement that night’s dinner with some leftover Indian food from the night before.
Again we learned a lot and shared a very memorable moment with Bishop’s family. And hopefully our week doesn’t continue on that trajectory! God has still been good to us and we’ve been learning a lot. We look forward to sharing more soon.