Unnamed Heroes; Further Thoughts from India

The room was filled with some fifty Indian men. Because I am not familiar with the language (although two kindergarten girls tried to teach me the Telugu alphabet) their singing and clapping were unintelligible to me. Occasionally I would catch a “hallelujah” or something like that, but I hardly knew what they were singing. All I knew was that I was sitting in a room full of the bravest, most sacrificial men in the world. As I looked around I could see that many of them were older, they had been through the struggles. A few were young men and were newly initiated into the fellowship of suffering that I stood amongst, but they too wore signs of the battle. The lifestyle of most of them was simple, if not utterly poor. Their shoes gave away their status. For Christmas their gifts were a box of two dress shirts. By no account could they be considered luxurious or “top of the line.” They were simple dress shirts for simple men that might not have but one or two shirts to their name already.

The singing continued, along with the clapping and praising. Different men were introduced to the front where they would start a song that the others knew and the whole room would elevate into music. Although foreign in it’s lyric the tenor of the song was happy. Men who had lost brothers, reputation, employment, health and the status of prestige were full of joy. Smiles were on their faces. Occasionally from the back, and in keeping with time, you’d hear a “hey!” ring out as if the song they were signing could be a gypsy festive dance tune.

Song by song rang out through the room for some time. After they were done singing one of them addressed the crowd. He addressed the men and, for all I could tell, encouraged them and stated the business for which they were gathering together. They introduced the man to my left and applauded and gave honor to him. After a few words the honored guest turned to me and said, “Jeremy, now you must speak.”

What do you say to a room of fifty pastors who are wiser, more experienced, and personally more acquainted with the Savior and act of shepherding then you feel that you are? When asked to preach to these men who have seen their fellow pastors lose their lives, property, families, and all worldly comforts what do you tell them? Steadfastness in suffering is off the list. You know nothing about either subject here. Do you tell them about methods? I laugh to think how that talk would go. “To have a really effective and influential ministry in the world today you have to punch your weight class. You have to be up with the culture and be a compelling, nuanced leader. You’re really only effective if you’ve managed the right technique, mastered the art of the hipster-sermon-delivery. The gospel is only understood by our culture if you make it engaging, enlightening, palatable to their senses.” Such talk is utter foolishness in this place.

The weight of the matter is that you’re stupid and stuck. For whatever reason coming from the opposite side of the planet seems to give you some credibility about what you are saying and doing. However all you feel is ignorant and unworthy. Ignorant not just of their lives, but of all the work, hardship and suffering they have endured to spread the gospel. Ignorant because you think they are ignorant of the modern debates of creation theory, justification by faith alone, women’s roles in the church and on and on. This isn’t to say that these are not important issues to discuss and have clarity on, but these men read the Scriptures and believe them. They have no large library of various viewpoints and perspectives. They have a Bible and the Holy Spirit, which is both more than you actually rely on.

These are the unknown pastors. The men who heard the gospel, believed it enough and were called by God clearly enough to lay down their lives for the sake of the flock. They don’t do it for prestige or for the “perks” or for power. They live in one room huts that don’t add up to 200 square feet. They suffer rejection, rebuke, persecution, loss of all things and they keep marching forward. Some must to work in fields to provide for their families but they must labor through the night to supply for their souls. Their knees are calloused from prayer, their hands are crippled by labor, their hair is grayed from anxiety for the church. They have no podcast or web presence to announce their latest sermon series or book. They don’t get on the New York Times Bestseller Lists. Culture does not accept them, nor do the politicians. They battle the spiritual and the physical and suffer on both accounts. There is no “glory” angle for them here apart from one; the glory of the power of the resurrection and the fellowship of the sufferings of the cross.

These are my heroes. Men of which the world is not worthy.