I think I'll always be trying to process what I saw and experienced in India. My new friend Justin was there creating this video for Love-N-Care Ministries. It'll give you a better idea of work we did in India (and you might see me in a spot or two). [vimeo 62993383]
India Trip 2013, a set on Flickr.
Putting together and all encompassing written description of my time in India is pretty daunting. Instead I'd be happy just to share a set of pictures I took while there...
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.
I want in some way to sum up the experience of my unexpected journey from the last two weeks. However I possess a large bit of difficulty in doing that mainly because of how expansive the trip was. Just uploading a couple hundred pictures to a photo-sharing account won’t accomplish that either. There is a larger sense in which what I experienced in India can’t be captured and regurgitated via any specific medium. But I don’t want to leave you with the mere “guess you just had to be there” either. Something must be said. For one, to me at least there seems to be two India’s. One is affluent, cultured, educated and wants to make the rest of the world believe that this is how all of India really is. Bollywood puts on a good show of this. The other India however is the far greater majority. Poor, dirty, uneducated, ignorant. They live in the slums and squallers of arguably the largest nation in the world by population. No one really knows the actual population because apparently the Indian government doesn’t seem to keep track. This second India is the real India. Still a developing nation, still living in the poverty of the slum. Still doing things the ancient ways as it always has, thank you very much. My guess is that these two India’s exist because of the caste system. The higher and more powerful castes get the better jobs and greater power, the lower castes are forever stuck with the recompense of being born poor.
Secondly, there is a spiritual vitality to the people of India that is palpable. You see it, you feel it, you taste it, you dream it. The gods of India are real, and the gods of India are false too. They are real in the sense that the people of India make them real. A brief excursion into an Indian city is an extended excursion into the temple of some three-hundred million gods, which by the way means there are more Hindu gods than there are American residents. Pick a place, need, topic, situation, desire or anxiety and there is a god to deal with that. The temples of Indian cities are more numerous and ubiquitous than Starbucks and McDonald’s combined in our cities. And so power is attributed to these gods. Worship is given to gods and goddesses that can do terrible things. The eyes of the Hindu are blind and spiritual forces hold them deeply in bondage. Every temple announces the demonic stranglehold, every deity possesses death, not life, for the faithful. And every worshipper is subject/slave to a higher power that they cannot release themselves from. The gods of India are very, very real.
The falseness of these gods, however, is obvious to most Westerners. We see statues built and laugh that a silly painted Monkey-Man would be considered a god. We see pictures of some guy that looks like André the Giant’s long lost brother and console ourselves that a guy who looked so ridiculous would be considered an object of power and worship. Yet for our apparent recognition of the folly of the objects of their worship how objectively false do our objects of worship compare? They are actually worshipping what they call “gods.” We functionally worship pleasures, food, wealth, power, celebrity, and ourselves. The Hindu’s of India are a bit more intellectually honest about what they worship all the while we Westerners can’t see our hands in front of our face.
Maybe we in the Western, “enlightened” world are really the ones in a deeper sleep. Maybe we are the one’s that have frittered away every idea or design of spiritual power because it just isn’t rational, it isn’t scientific. And maybe, in so being this way we are the ones in greater bondage and slavery. Maybe we are the ones under a greater death?
I will have more to say about India and my journey there in the following days (or nights depending on how long it takes me to get myself back on Central Standard Time) however this is the first impression. First impressions might be the best ones.
How do you end up on the opposite side of the planet unexpectedly? How do you end up so far away from your home that the moment you start traveling one way or another you are literally headed home? How does one get thrown into the most opposite culture and way of thinking that they can find? It comes by praying that God would do whatever it takes to make you more like Christ.
Think about that kind of a prayer. “Father, I want to be more like Jesus, I want to be holy and pure and fruitful in my thinking, living, speaking. I want to be transformed to the image of Christ and this means I must behold his glory. I want to be Spirit-filled, Spirit-empowered, and Spirit-fruitful. I want to be more like Jesus, so do whatever it takes.”
Whatever it takes. That kind of a prayer frightens us. It tells us that things we love more than Christ will be gone. It tells us that the desires and passions and joys that we have (that are all secondary and smaller passions and joys) will have to be replaced. It says that the little gods that we idolize and worship day after day will be crushed beneath the heal of a superior Savior and king, Jesus. It means we will become small and Jesus will become great.
But what if we do pray that? What if we do ask for God to do whatever it takes? Remember your theology. God is love. If God is love then he will not act maliciously towards his children. He will not act to terrorize or destroy them. As the best Father he will lead, guide, provide, give, supply and grace His children. So when we pray “do whatever it takes” we’re asking our Father, who gives good gifts, to give us a good thing.
But we are afraid. “Whatever it takes” means I might get sent to a place I really wasn’t wanting to go a month ago. “Whatever it takes” means I’m stripped of so many comforts and joys that I have idolized and set up as gods in my life. “Whatever it takes” means that all of the sudden I’m not in control of what I do today, including my menu. I have to eat what I’m given, sleep when I’m told to, work where I’m told to. “Whatever it takes” frightens me because I have to relinquish every bit of control, comfort, and convenience I have. I must decrease, He must increase.
I’m trusting the God who is love to change me, even as it means I decrease. He had to send me to the other side of the planet for a few weeks to continue this process. I’m still going to pray it. Lord, do whatever it takes to make me more like Christ today.