Dateline India: Day 7 Hello Friends! After many, many hours of travel, we officially reached the other side of the world. We are tired but coping, well-fed and well-caffeinated, and the weather is quite pleasant. March is truly a good time to visit here. No life-sucking humidity and temperatures are mild. Little did we know that the Academic Dean here at Mission India is Korean and has thus kept us up to our eyeballs in kim chee and other Korean staples. Who would have thought? India never ceases to surprise.
Our first conference at the Mission India Bible College and Seminary is in the history books. The first day the warm room and the long day conspired against us and the last lessons of the day clashed with dozing students and a few lost the fight. No matter; most were engaged and made it through to the end and the others obviously needed the nap. The second day they were all fresher and in the end they shared corporately about what learning the names of God has meant to them, including which names impacted them the most. It was a joy to hear how the Spirit worked through us! We have left all traces of Korean food behind us and as we write this we are soldiering on to our next destination and conference. We are threading the Indian needle between Bhutan and Bangladesh, and are soon to be in West Bengal, presuming we emerge intact from the 12-hour night train. Thanks to the kind (and strong!) young men at the college, we and our 10 plus pieces of luggage were deposited safely on the 2:00am 12432 Rhajdani Express. It wouldn’t be India, however, if boarding a train didn’t involve having to wait seemingly endlessly, proceed cautiously, wait again, run to a different platform (involving two sets of stairs and aforementioned luggage), wait again, survey incoming train against all levels of anxiety, and run again against the crushing tide of passengers to the correct coach. We are eternally grateful to the guys from the college who gave up sleep to help us on our way. We would never have boarded the right train, found our sleeper car, and managed to keep track of the luggage without them. God provides ALL our needs.
Our time at the MI Bible College was amazing. There is a sweetness to the students that is contagious and seeps into the whole ministry. The leadership of Dr. Kenny and his wife Dr. Paulah is solid, gracious, and Christ-like in far too many ways to list. We look forward to ongoing partnership with them as they prepare a generation of young people excited and equipped to serve the Kingdom. As we talked with the students, we heard their hearts for orphans and addicts, some orphans themselves, seeking to train in counseling, teaching, and pastoring, in theology and practical ministry as well. They desire above all to bring the hope of the Gospel to their hurting corner of the world. What a joy to encourage them and be part, for a moment in time, of their equipping. As we head toward the tea plantations in the north of West Bengal, we say farewell to more Korean food than we could possibly have consumed, hopefully closing that food chapter with some finality for the duration of the trip. We gladly anticipate the calming affects of a good cup of Darjeeling. And in other news, we gratefully report that Ron has been restored to good health. Praise God for antibiotics. Will update again soon from the heart of the tea plantations near Darjeeling. Thank you for all your faithful prayers. We need them and we feel them.
Dateline India: Day 11 It’s just what India does: it defies articulation and renders you speechless. Words fail. I would like to recount our long drive through lush tea gardens to the colonial mountain town of Darjeeling, but words will fail to adequately relay such a surreal and harrowing journey. Lingering romantic notions of the place have been shoved unceremoniously aside by reality. So words will probably fail, but if you know me, you know I must try regardless. I give you a tired attempt: Narrow, windy half-built roads, crews working on half-built roads in flip flops, one-way bridges marked “weak bridge,” HUGE trucks loaded with dirt crossing clearly marked weak bridges, Land Rovers packed with Indian tourists like clown cars, sherpa trekker parties heading toward Everest, and the occasional steam train chugging through the middle of it all with clearances measured in inches… this is just a smattering of the chaos we experienced as we wound our way to nearly 7,000 feet in the foothills of the Himalayas. And it went on and on and on like this. A never ending massive flow of humanity in a very narrow space with the occasional bottleneck that ground it all to a halt. As if things were not dicey enough, the fog rolled in and then the already limited visibility disappeared and somehow we ended up in Nepal ? in a cemetery that had been co-opted by some shady-looking guys selling chips and chocolate ? Again, even after writing all that, words frankly seem insufficient. With that said, it is best left to the ladies attending the conference to speak for themselves. After three days of teaching on the names of God, this is what they said:
Because the LORD is my shepherd, I WILL NOT FEAR. Because my God sees me, I WON’T BE AFRAID. Because God is Almighty, I HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR. Because the LORD is my peace, I WILL NOT WORRY. Because my God is my rock, I WON’T WALK IN FEAR.
We could not have asked for more. These women, so precious to the heart of our God, heard Him loud and clear: they are precious to Him and He is with them. We spent our last moments at the conference center saying goodbye and embracing each and every woman, many who are considered untouchable. What a privilege to be the arms of Jesus, hugging and squeezing each of His precious daughters in His stead, many experiencing a tangible expression of an acceptance they have heard of but rarely truly felt. Our hosts Jenny and Home have been amazing. They have fed us, nursed us, chauffeured us, laughed with us and prayed with us. They have shared their dreams and hopes for their ministries. They are very special people with incredible life stories of hardship and grace, redemption and the ongoing battles they are fighting for the Kingdom of God in India.We are spent and have one long week to go. Thank you for your prayers. They are carrying us!
Dateline India: Day 15 We seem to have come to the edge of the known world, and it was no picnic getting here. What the internet advertised as a three hour drive from Amritsar was, in unrelenting reality, a five hour drive along the Pakistani border. This time in what seemed like the dead of night (but I guess it was really only 8:30), we encountered more windy, half-built roads and more crumbling one-way bridges over steep, plunging ravines. Throw in an electrical storm dumping rain, four or five military check-points with serious-and-scary-looking soldiers, and moderate intestinal distress, and we were unkindly reminded that we are still in India. When we left Amritsar it was a mild 70 degrees. When we reached the edge of the world at midnight, we peeled out of the van in our short sleeves and flip flops only to be greeted with a wind chill factor in the 30s. Daylight revealed what the cold and whipping winds had hinted at: that we are nestled quite literally at the foot of the Himalayas. The snowcapped and jagged peaks rise imposingly behind our hotel as if to say don’t even think about coming this way.
But they do come; they come from that way. The Tibetan refugees come over these huge mountains to this little town at the edge of India. They come here for asylum, for the Dali Lama, for help, and for a future. They hike for 25 days through treacherous mountain passes to find refuge here. Many are seeking two things; they hope to find hospitality, and they want to learn English. This is where our friends here have strategically placed themselves for the Kingdom. In this mountain village at the edge of the world, the part-time home of the Dali Lama, surrounded by Buddhist monasteries and red-robed monks, they serve Jesus by welcoming these people into their homes, offering them friendship, and teaching them English. This little outpost teaches 40-50 people a week in beginner and intermediate level classes. From this comes friendships and an opportunity to share life and hope. Many are open and seeds have been planted. Over a delicious homemade sponge cake and coffee, they told us their dream to open a café in the village, a place where they could water those seeds, and extend more hospitality and community while employing refugees and making disciples.
Our teaching time has been fruitful here, especially for the staff. The class is small with only nine students and four staff, but the setting is more relaxed and intimate. The group is mixed, some Indians and some internationals, and our friend Jeebita is providing strong and effective leadership here in a quiet and beautiful way. As we ramble through our notes for the third time each, we delight to see the students’ eyes light up with each new thought, pondering things about our God they had not considered. We are on the home stretch and home is looking pretty good to us. Please continue to pray we finish strong and somehow find our way back from the edge of the world.
Dateline India: Day 18 India is a land of surprises (and not usually good ones…). This time, however, though there were plenty of the usual sort of surprises, I will report they were not all bad. For example, I was surprised to find the night train to Siliguri not scary at all (bathroom facilities excluded of course…they were terrifying as expected). I was surprised to find myself standing in Nepal. I was surprised by the breathtaking beauty of the Himalayas and the mountain villages nestled there. I certainly didn’t expect to hike to one of them (that would have been a good day to leave the flip flops at the hotel). And, I was surprised by how moved I was to see my young friend Jeebita and how she has blossomed into an amazing woman of God and a strong leader in ministry in the last six years. Let’s just say I was surprised how easily the tears came…for both of us. As we finished up a week with the YWAM students in Dharamshala, we asked them the same question we asked the ladies in Siliguri and here is some of what they said:
Because the LORD is my Shepherd, I will let Him guide me. Because the LORD is my King, I will serve Him! Because the LORD is my Master, I will stop asking Him why and just obey. Because God is Almighty, I can trust Him. Because the LORD is my Shepherd, I won’t be misled.Because God is my Provider, I will not worry.
Again, we could not be more pleased. It is our hope and prayer that they will all continue to grow in the knowledge of our God’s character and His amazing grace, and that they will go boldly wherever He leads, bringing the Kingdom of God to the darkest corners of the world. And that’s a wrap, people. I write this from the halfway point in our 40-hour journey home. Thus far the first half has been classic Indian chaos. I am too exhausted to relive it here. Suffice it to say nothing is easy in this country. Absolutely nothing. Not even boarding an airplane. Thank you all for your faithful prayers. They have sustained us through the challenges that are India. We are so grateful for all of you. And we are coming HOME!