I am posting this blog from a tiny, little Internet Cafe in Raipur, Chattisgarh, a state in Central India. Chattisgarh is a new state in India. It was formed in 2000. “Chattisgarh” means “36 forts” in Hindi. At one time there were 36 kings that lived in this area and each king had a small kingdom or “fort”…thus the name. The people in Chattisgarh have been oppressed and exploited for more than 1,000 years under the various kings and under the rule of Britain. They have just recently formed their own identity as a state, but still a spirit of servitude prevails here. In the 1980s, IET sent missionaries to preach the gospel in this area and now IET has nearly 60 churches and one divisional headquarters here in Raipur.
Pastor Samraj is the division leader in Raipur. He is a thoughtful and passion servant of the Lord. He speaks English as well as three Indian languages. IET bought a small farm 12 miles outside of Raipur a few years ago. Slowly, they are converting it into a mission base. They already have a Bible school with 37 students here. I stayed with Pastor Samraj in his home on the farm. They have a quaint little home with a nice upstairs guestroom. Being in the countryside has been a welcomed change of pace. I don’t think I have ever been to a more quiet place in all of India!
Pastor’s wife, Joli is a wonderful cook. Many of the vegetables she cooked were grown here on the farm. They grow tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans and okra….they also have a number of banana trees. Sounds like South Georgia…without the banana trees.
I have deeply enjoyed my time here in Raipur. We conducted a three-day pastor’s seminar for the Bible school and about fifty pastors. One pastor came more than 100km to be here. He is memorable, because he loved to shout “Hallelujah” during my teaching. At one point I was telling a very serious story about a man in our church who was battling cancer. As I was getting to the climax of this moving story, this pastor shouted “HALLELUJAH.” It scared me to death! It totally broke my concentration and everyone laughed at how it did not fit the context. I laughed too. I noticed that the man was missing some front teeth. I later found out that he lost his teeth after his was beat up for preaching the gospel. When I heard this, I said, “Let him shout all he wants!”
The pastors here bear the mark of P.G. Vargis and IET. They love to laugh, worship, pray and they live a simple life. They seemed to like my teaching. They laughed often when I would act out certain illustrations like playing hide and seek, by crouching down where the pastors were sitting or rolling around on the ground, illustrating those who fall in sin and remain there.
A highlight for me was one session in the seminar when we had a Q&A session with the pastors. We had a great theological dialogue as the pastors asked me questions.
One pastor asked about my statement: “God is our Father and the church is our mother.” The pastors laughed, because they said this made me sound Catholic. I proudly defended this statement that was made popular by Augustine. It really made me think, because the pastor asked me to defend it from the Scripture. I explained that it is not a Scripture verse. Nevertheless it is accurate, because we believe that salvation, that is causing people to becoming born again, is a work of both God our father and the work of the church (the bride of Christ) who becomes our mother. Paul said in Galatians 4:19 that he, as a representation of the Church the bride of Christ, is in the labor of child birth. I understand his reaction to my statement. He was reacting to Catholic Theology, which requires membership in the Roman Catholic Church. I explained that the church is not an organization, but people. We are the church. People are the church. And people, as the bride of Christ, give birth (like a mother) to new Christians.
Another pastor challenged my statement that Jesus was poor while on earth. We searched the Scripture together and I went to my room after the break to look up Greek words to determine if Jesus lived in a home or not. I loved it. It was great theological dialogue. I was made for this!
It has been a great seminar here in the state of 36 forts. As I thought about the number 36, I thought of a numbered list that describes my trip to India this year. I travel back to Delhi tomorrow and then travel home on Friday.
As the trip comes to an end let me sum up the trip with this list:
0 — the number of international cell phones I brought with me…maybe next year!
1 — the number of syllabi written while in India (I am teaching next quarter at SGTC)
2 — the number of books read: The Spirit of Early Christian Thought & Ravi’s biography
3 — the number of sermons I wrote here including this Sunday’s sermon: “Seventeen Years”
4 — the number of Seinfeld DVDs I watched from Season 6…thank God for laptops!
5 — the number of CDs listened to over and over on my iPod
8 — the number of flights that I will have flown before returning home
17 — the number of years I have walked with the Lord as of April 1, 2007
19 — the number of times I preached in the last 12 days
22 — the number of granola bars eaten on this trip
150 — the approximate number of students and pastors in the two seminars
So it has been another wonder trip to India. God is doing a tremendous work here in Raipur. The night sessions were scheduled to end at 7 pm, because this is when the nightly, one-hour power outage begins. The lights in the building would go out at this time and the pastors would begin to pray in the dark for each of the areas where IET is at work in India. They would pray for over an hour for God to pour out his spirit in India and through IET’s leadership. I have been thankful to be here and to be a part of what God is doing in India.