Monday, July 28, 2014

Insights from India Part 2

2 Timothy 4:2  "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine."

This verse sums up a lot about what I learned about ministry in India.  The word "instant" is translated "ready" in other translations.  Paul is telling Timothy in this verse to preach the word, and to be ready to do so "in season", when he's expecting it, and when it's time for preaching, and also "out of season", when he's not expecting it.  In other words, be ready to preach the word no matter what the circumstances.  You don't have any time off of this great commission.  Then he tells him to reprove, rebuke and exhort with all longsuffering...because when you're doing these things and working with people, it requires a LOT of patience...and with all doctrine, because the time will come when they will not endure sound teaching, but will heap teachers after their own lusts, having itching ears.  We are to be ready at all times to preach the word, and to do it with patience and right teaching.  One story from my time in India stands out to me as a good lesson to be ready in all circumstances.

We were in two places in India mainly.  We started out in Chennai and the surrounding villages for a few days, then moved south into the mountains, and worked in Kodikanal and the surrounding villages.  When we got to the mountainous region of Kodikanal, we were in a much nicer and cooler climate, and staying at this nice English-built stone lodge, with a lake and place to eat nearby.

When we arrived, one of the pastors was telling us about our itinerary.  Most of the days, we would be going to a school assembly in the morning and presenting for the kids, then going to villages in the afternoon.  But there were two days when we'd have the afternoon free to do touristy things, because Saturday there was a youth crusade in the morning, and the other day there was a pastor's conference.  So we're all thinking, "Hey, that's a pretty good deal!"  But suddenly, our team leader, Dr. Castelino, raised his hand and said, "Actually, we didn't come to do touristy things.  We came to minister.  So if you could find another village or something to go to in the afternoon, we'd rather do that."  And we were all thinking, "Whaaaaa?"  (Just kidding--that was probably just me.  The other members of the team were much more spiritual.)  The pastors had a quick conference with each other in Tamil, then said they weren't sure what they could work out, but they'd try, which contented Dr. Castelino for the time being.  But that ministry glint was in his eye.

We went to a school, called the Zion school, which had the biggest assembly of English-speaking kids we'd had thus far.  We presented the skit of Achan, illustrating the concept of Romans 6:23, and that God is always watching, even when you think nobody else is, and told about the gift of life that He gives us through Jesus Christ.  The only group of kids that were missing were the 10th and 12th graders who had huge exams that they had to study for, making them exempt from the assembly.  We went inside to have tea (which we were served everywhere we went, it seemed...which was okay with me, because it was delicious!) and cookies, courtesy of the principal.  While we were partaking, the principal brought in the 10th and 12th graders for us to pray a blessing over them.  The guys laid hands on the guys and the girls on the girls and we prayed.  Afterwards, we were able to interact with them in English which was a pleasant change of pace for us.  As we were talking with them, Dr. Castelino walked over and announced, "I have been talking with the captain of their state champion volleyball school, who challenged us to a volleyball match on Saturday.  I have accepted on your behalf!"  The translator's eyes widened and he said, "Wait, at your request, we already started looking for other ministry opportunities and had set up something with an orphanage!"  They had a hurried, whispered conference, and then announced that we'd do the youth crusade in the morning and into the afternoon, then volleyball after that, then after dinner around 6, we'd go over to the orphanage.  So now, far from being a day of free time, we had a packed schedule for Saturday!

Saturday rolled around, and were told ahead of time to be expecting young people ages 14-25 to attend, and we were asked to focus a little on relationships since that was a big issue in India, with all of their movies very focused on romance.  We conferred amongst ourselves in the evenings trying to come up with some good ways of teaching these principles to an older audience than we were accustomed to, but the only ones offering testimonies about that sort of thing were the girls, and otherwise, we were just going to do the skits we had already been doing and practicing.  As we were talking about the skits, we also tried to come up with some new ideas, since we had been doing the same ones since our arrival in India.  The idea was tossed out there for a skit about the story of Joseph in the Bible.  But as we tried to assign characters and a narrator and scenes around the campfire, we gave up, deciding there were too many characters and the story was too complicated to tell.

Saturday morning when we arrived at the building where the youth crusade was to be held, the translators came to us looking a little grave.  "Because of the big exams coming up, all the schools decided to hold school again on Saturday," they explained.  "So we have some of the Christian girls from the Zion school, and a few orphanages sent all of their little kids."  Suddenly, we had a completely different audience than we were expecting, so rather than try to focus on relationships, we decided to just do the skits we already had prepared, focusing on the commands of Christ.  As we were performing, the Lord moved on a few members of our team to set up something separate with the girls on our team and the older girls from the Zion school.  They met together outside and began talking about relationships, with several of our girls sharing their testimonies that they had planned on sharing with everyone.  After their talk, several girls were crying and one girl came up to one of the members of our team with tears in her eyes and told them, "I was praying you would talk about relationships today!"  So even though it was in a completely different format than we had anticipated, we prepared an offering for Him, and He used in the way He wanted to.

We finished performing all our skits, and then went to the volleyball match, where we were trounced by the high school team.  But it gave us another opportunity to interact with the kids we'd met the day before.  Afterwards, we headed back for dinner, and then it was time to go to the orphanage.  By this time, we were beat.  We were used to the day ending with dinner, and this had been a full day.  Also, all the kids from the orphanage had been at the youth crusade and so had seen all of our skits and we had nothing left to present!  Nonetheless, we packed up and headed over to the orphanage, hoping to be able to just play with the kids.  No such luck.

We played with the kids for about an hour, then the owner of the orphanage called us into this crowded, humid, stuffy room with all of the kids and told us, "Okay, it is time for your presentation.  Go ahead!"  Uhhhh......

As our team started doing songs with the kids, I had a quick mumbled meeting with Dr. C.  "What are we going to present?  We already did all the skits we had prepared!"

He thought for a minute then said with a smile, "Why don't you do the story of Joseph?"

"Uh because we haven't planned it out or practiced it or anything!  Besides we were arguing about whether I would play Joseph as the narrator, or have someone else narrate and...we're just not ready.  Which version would I even do?"

He smiled and waved me off.  "Ah, you'll be fine."  Then he started doing the hand motions to My God is So Big.  Thanks a lot, Dr. C!

So as the songs ended, I jumped up in front of all the kids, with all the members of our team wondering what on earth I was about to do.

"Hi kids, I'm going to tell you a story from a loooooooong time ago, about a young man named Joseph.  But I'm going to tell you as if I'm Joseph."  I took a deep breath and plunged in, explaining about my big family and how my brothers didn't seem to like me, though my father loved me.  As I spoke, I grabbed Dr. C to play the father, and motioned for Jake and Adam to come up and play the brothers.

It was one of the best skits we did the entire time.

All of the team members were fantastic, jumping in and ad-libbing and acting out the parts as I told the story, producing some hilarious lines, that probably made us laugh more than the kids!  I would say something along the lines of, "Dad sent me out to go check on my brothers!  Oh, there they are!"  Then I'd wave enthusiastically and Jake and Adam would frown in my direction.  "I wonder why they don't look excited to see me?" I'd tell the kids.  Then I'd approach Jake and Adam and say, "Hey, good to see you guys!"  And through a little bit of dialogue, they would end up grabbing my multi-colored scarf (a prop thrown up to me by one of the girls on the team), and saying, "You see that hole Joseph?  I think this scarf looks good on me, and I think you'd look good in there!"  Then Jake grabbed my arms and Adam grabbed my legs and they swung me out over the audience to the kids' squeals of delight.  The entire skit was like that with every character whether they were playing Potiphar, Potiphar's wife (a situation I tried unsuccessfully to handle delicately), the jailer, Pharaoh, the butler, the baker, etc.  Throughout the whole thing I kept saying things like, "And I don't know why God put me in this situation, but I'm going to trust Him no matter what!" which became the theme of the story.

As we finished, I told the kids, "And now, I'm going to tell you about how this applied to my life.  My father died when I was seven years old.  But God became a father to me, just like the Bible says.  'God is a father to the fatherless.' "  And as I was saying that, that's when it hit me.  God had orchestrated this entire evening.  Here we were in an orphanage, surrounded by kids who had no mother or father, or whose parents had abandoned them or couldn't take care of them, subjected to hurt and extreme poverty.  When we had arrived, we hadn't planned on doing the story of Joseph and I hadn't planned on telling my testimony.  But the Sovereign Hand of God had orchestrated that we would tell THAT story, and that I would be the one narrating it.  As I applied the lesson to their lives, it was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.  I saw tears in people's eyes.  I told them, "Everyone bow your heads and close your eyes and I'm going to pray for you."

This whole incident served to show me that even the best laid plans may fall through.  We had a certain idea for how the day would go with the youth crusade, but nothing came about exactly like we thought.  However, if we have the mindset of ministry like Dr. Castelino did, and apply the principles of 2 Timothy 4:2, being instant in season and out of season and using longsuffering and right doctrine, God can shape the events and use our faulty plans to bring glory to Himself and produce an effect far greater than any we could have imagined.

How does that apply when not in India?  The exact same way.  I find that oftentimes, when we go on a missions trip where it's our "job" to serve and reach out to people, because that's what we're there for and what we're "supposed" to do, we have a ministry mindset and look for opportunities to influence and impact.  But for some reason back in the states we lose that attitude. Isn't it true that it's our job to serve and reach out to people wherever we are, because that's what God has put us on this earth for and what we're supposed to do?  I challenge and encourage anyone who took the time to read these words to have that mentality!  In your day-to-day life start looking for opportunities to serve people and to point them to Jesus, and we can't even imagine what He will use that for!  And I look forward to hearing and reading your stories. ;)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Insights from India

“There are many ministers working for Christ.  But I can count on my hands the number of people doing it without a second motive.”  The statement hit me hard, as the bus hit a pothole hard swerving to miss a cow. The translator was holding onto a railing as he shared his testimony, rocking back and forth on the bus that seemed absent of any shocks, except the shock on our faces as we took in the driving style of our bus driver.  “Without a second motive.”  Honk, honk.  And that quote is what stuck with me as one of the most memorable lessons I witnessed by example while I was in India.

The Lord did a lot of amazing things on our trip.  I was amazed at the prayers that were answered and hearts that were changed.  Many times a surreal feeling would creep over me as I looked around and what we were doing.  Andrew would be standing there, preaching about the Prodigal Son to a crowd of barefooted children, as dogs, goats and chickens meandered around the thatched roof huts lining either side of a narrow street used by cows and motorbikes.  Exactly what I’ve pictured reading so many missionary stories but never imagined that’s what I’d be doing.  Countless kids coming up for prayer, sharing the gospel in small, smoky, one-roomed huts, preaching on the streets, sharing testimonies at orphanages, leading people to Jesus…the Lord worked powerfully.  But through all that, the constant nagging question was, “How do I take this sense of ministry home and apply it in the states?”  I saw God working so effectively through the pastors and in the villages we were ministering in.  The pastors and ministries found a way that worked in those rural Indian villages.  But the cultures and attitudes are very different in the States.  And yet, our attitude about service and prayer and faith should be consistent, I believe no matter where we are!

And that's what affected me most in India: the pastors and their mentalities of ministry.  At one of the pastors' conferences we attended and presented at, some of their mentalities sunk in, and I jotted down notes, praying that I could have the same kind of attitude back in the States.  Here's a few of the things I learned.

One of the quotes that stuck out to me was "Jesus told us He would built His church and the gates of Hell would not prevail against it, and told us to go and make disciples of all the nations...and yet, we're building churches."  The emphasis at Serve India Ministries was on discipleship.  "Too many times," one of the pastors told me, "pastors emphasize the number of believers they got.  They talk about how many conversions, how many baptisms.  But what I want to know is how many disciples do you have?  That's what Jesus told us to make.  Disciples."  I see that trend in America.  We love having an impact!  We love seeing fruit!  But if we get them in, get them to make a profession of faith, baptize them...then they leave and continue leading lives like they always did, what have we accomplished?  It's not about the's about the heart changes in people.

Paul warned us against this mentality in Galatians 6:12-15:

Galatians 6:12-15 "As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.  (13)  For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.  (14)  But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.  (15)  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature." KJV

The Galatian church was dealing with Judaizers who were constraining the Gentiles to be circumcised, saying they needed to be circumcised to be saved.  But Paul reveals their true motives: they wanted to glory in their flesh!  If they could produce some visible change, they could say, "We got this many circumcised!" and glory in their numbers.  People do that today with many external things, like standards of dress and other things.  But Paul says we only glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In Him, the only thing that makes a difference is not whether you've been circumcised or not (an external change) but whether or not you've been born again and are a new creature (an internal change)!

Too often we build a church or a ministry and invite people to come.  But in India, these pastors go into village and find people to disciple, and the churches grow up organically from that!  It's possible also to begin discipling people before they're saved!  If they know more about Jesus and who He is and that His teachings work, they will be more likely to commit their entire lives to Him and get to know Him personally!  We cannot have a second motive when ministering the gospel.  It must be chiefly the glory of God and our love for Him and what He loves--which is people!  People have many second motives, whether it be money, the opportunity for education, a chance to showcase skills, one's own glory in acquiring a position, or feeling accomplished because of what a difference you've made.  But God's glory MUST be our primary motive!  In a future post, I will tell a story from my time in India to illustrate how I believe our attitudes should be as we go through our lives looking for disciples.  God bless you all!