Monday, September 12, 2011

A Living Building

With just two days left in India, our team visited the Taj Mahal yesterday and will travel back to New Delhi today.  It has been a journey spanning thousands of miles, and we've all battled with sleep loss and illness.  But today everyone in on the mend, and God has still been glorified throughout our trip.

After an overnight train ride from Damoh to Agra, we arrived at our hotel about 5am Monday.  We all tried to freshen up a bit before heading to breakfast and the Taj Mahal tour.  The buildings in the Taj complex are a marvel.  Everything was built in the early 1600's - so about the time Jamestown was settled, a mathematical genius was constructing the Taj Mahal.  Everything is a model of perfect symmetry and calculation.  From any angle, there are new observations to make about the building.  Everything lines up in the building, around the building, and hundreds of meters away, the lines are still perfectly straight.  And there are a number of optical illusions that play tricks on your eyes.

The most fascinating part about the Taj Mahal is that all of it - this enormous white marble palace- is just a mausoleum.  It's a giant tomb for an emperor's second wife.  He loved her so much, that when she died he wanted to build this perfect monument to her resting place.  No one ever lived there.  Countless expense, amazing creative and architectural tallent, 22 years of labor by more than 30,000 workers - for a grave.  Yes, it is a demonstration of one man's devotion and love to his wife.  But it's still a grave.

A few hours later, our team visited a church.  I had the opportunity to preach at 3pm on a Monday afternoon.  In a room about double the size of a typical American living room, there were about 150 men and women crammed in, sitting on the floor, in a stairwell, crowding around windows from outside the building, and even crouched in a back room.  The singing was enthusiastic.  The temperature was hot and muggy.  The Spirit was moving, and that tiny, cramped, old musty room was alive with praise.  Praise God, there were a number of decisions as well!

Leaving that church it hit me:  "You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ," (1 Peter 2:5).

In Agra, we saw an opulent, beautiful building that houses a grave.  In Agra we saw a humble building of believers that houses the Living God of the universe.  

Entering through the Eastern Gate to the Taj Mahal complex

The Northern Gate that approaches the Taj Mahal, it's over 100ft tall!

This is not a fake back drop.  

We lucked out with the weather.
The sun came out after a storm and created
these awesome dark clouds behind the Taj.

Another shot of the Taj Mahal from up close.

A woman in the Agra congregation. (Thank you Ivy for the pics in the Agra church!)

Singing praise to Jesus.

Listening to Bible teaching.

Making decisions for Christ and rededication.

Pictures from Damoh

 Waiting for the train in Bilaspur to Damoh...
 Our Welcome sign upon our arival at CICM

Lashi giving us a tour of Bal Bhavan (Children's Home).
Yes, snakes.
 Indu giving us a review of the children's program.
The Bible college Students at CIBA

Corey and me with some of the children at Bal Bhavan.

Me and Ajay Lall, the founder of CICM

Indu speaking to the children at a food distribution.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Saying Goodbye to CICM Headquarters

First, let me apologize for not getting more posts up for the last few days. Our internet service has been sparse. To recap, our train ride from Bilaspur to Damoh was a real experience for most of us. But even though our train was over three hours late on Wednesday night (Thursday morning), we were warmly greeted. Dozens of students and staff at CICM waited at the train station until past 3 in the morning just to say hello. What a blessing!

The last three days have been spent touring the different departments of the mission, interviewing several of the key leaders, and hearing testimonies from local preachers. Words here will not do these stories justice - several of them are absolutely heart-wrenching and inspiring. The persecution, the courage, and the compassion happening in this ministry is nothing less than amazing. Honestly, I'm still trying to mentally digest all that we've been exposed to - and we look forward to sharing these things with you in the future.

We've also participated in two chapel services and two local worship services here in Damoh. It's amazing the way people worship here.

A little sour news is that all but two of our team have experienced some stomach issues at some point on our trip. Most of us are on the mend, but a couple guys may be staying in Damoh another day just to get normalized. That would mean they will miss our day in Agra (where the Taj Mahal is), but it's better for them to be healthy when we make our final approach to Delhi. We are still set to leave this afternoon by train, to spend all day Monday in Agra, and then return to Delhi by Tuesday evening. Wednesday we will spend in Delhi, and eventually arrive at the airport for our evening flight home. Please keep us in your prayers during the last legs of a very travel-intensive journey.

Pictures to come once we get a better internet signal!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Travel from Raipur to Bilaspur

Traffic Trouble from C Church on Vimeo.

The highlight of our last couple days has been the adventure of driving - or shall we say being a passenger while our cabs drive us.  Above is a video Kevin put together, but there is nothing like being in it for 3+ hours!

Truthfully, the powerful moments came from being with the leaders and some members of the Raipur church.  And from hearing the testimony of our host and guide Sanjeev Lambert (who was at Roanoke Christian Camp over the summer with some of the kids from FIF).   And this morning, our itinerary has been changed due to road conditions, so we will instead get to meet with several of the area preachers.

Let me say, we feel a bit guilty about staying in such nice accommodations.  So far, we have stayed in 3 nice hotels, because our Christian brothers here want to show us hospitality.  They are always careful about our safety, and it doesn't go unnoticed (especially with two teenage girls being on our team - their father Tim is grateful!).  But where we sleep every evening doesn't keep us from noticing the living conditions surrounding us.  We are all having trouble putting into words the overwhelming poverty, the dilapidated buildings, the mud houses, the people living in the dirt.   In every city there are hundreds of  street-side restaurants that are essentially a camping stove, a pot, and a table set up in the gutter of the road.  I've seen roads that are like the worst gravel parking lot I've driven in go on for 30 miles (although the roads in the cities are pretty well paved, just poorly drained).

Yet people make it work.  Just like the traffic, they find a way.  I saw a man carrying about 100 dozen eggs strapped to a bicycle.  I saw a woman washing clothes in a small metal bucket outside her home of a blue tarp and some pieces of wood.  I see families of 4 all seated on the same moped driving down the street.

The other night I saw over 200 Christians, who walked through the rain and the mud, to be with our team for about 2 hours on a Monday night.  And they shower us with good cheer, and they put hand-made flower leis around our necks, and they smile and shake our hands.

You'll notice in the video, there is an elephant god on the taxi dashboard.  There are huge, life-size elephant statues all over the towns, made from clay and hand painted, and enshrined with colorful fabrics and a tent of meeting.  There is a festival going on until September 9th to this Hindu god, and every night there is celebration.  Yet, as my brother Sanjeev mentioned, many of the people KNOW it is just a mud statue.  They know it's not really God, but they are too steeped in their tradition and culture to be willing to change.  And that is what makes the Gospel of Jesus so powerful to them.

I know we don't have elephant statues back home.  But we have other seasons of colorful lights and celebrations where we give presents to each other.  We have flat screen idols that we sit in front of for hours every day.  We have a god called dollars that often gets our heart and attention.  We know those things don't provide salvation or even true happiness.  But I've often bowed to them.

Like Gill said last night in our devotion, I don't want to go home and go "back to normal."  God has blessed us with so much!  What are we doing with it?  I just know today, I want to be a blessing to those I meet.  And I think that's the awesome thing about God's grace, is that all my sins and failures have been forgotten, and He just asks me to serve Him today.

God is using us, and your prayers are empowering us.  Keep up the good work.

Prayer Works in Any Language

We are about to depart from Raipur - it is 10:00AM.  But yesterday was a great day.  We continue to be impressed and humbled by the hospitality of our Christian brothers.  Romans 12:13 and 1 Peter 4:9 talk about that, but we have seen it first hand.

I (Marty) had the opportunity to preach last night to the church we visited.  It was an awesome experience, and I'm so grateful to God for my brother Sanjeev, who is an amazing translator (and host and leader and guide and friend).  We know the message (not me, but the gospel) communicated because of the emotional response of several.

As per usual, our team lined up at the end of the service to be greeted by everyone in the church (like a massive receiving line).  One young man spoke to Dennis and me in broken English, "Please, sir, would you keep me in your prayers?"  I asked his name, and was half-tempted to just write it down and pray for him later.  But like back home, I figured there's no better time to pray than right now with him.  Dennis and I held his shoulder and prayed for him - we didn't know his needs, but God does.  After we said "amen" we looked up, and there was a crowd of people eager to be prayed for.  The spirit opened a floodgate, because everyone came for prayer.

We prayed for individuals, we encircled whole groups and families.  Everyone on the team was able to pray for and with people for half an hour AFTER the service.  One little boy, maybe 8 years old - who was carrying his baby brother on his hip who was about 2 years old- came up to me and spoke in broken English, "Will you pray?"  I did.

I prayed for everyone in the room to know Jesus as Lord - and indeed many of them do.  But I prayed they would know they can speak to Jesus directly, without special intervention.  Our brothers and sisters were so grateful.

This church building, by the way, was just a concrete-walled sanctuary with a corrugated tin roof.  It had been raining, so there were a few leaks.  When we left, there were some little children squatting on the ground around the corner from the entrance (that's the church restroom).

But none of the rustic conditions could hinder the very real, living, and active presence of the Holy Spirit.

I didn't get many pictures yesterday, so please link to the Christ's Church blog from yesterday to see some.  Thank you for your prayers - Kevin and I are both feeling better stomach-wise.  A few others need your prayer as well - but generally our team is doing great!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Overwhelmed and Overjoyed

Our group today celebrated with our brothers and sisters at the church dedication in Delhi.  Words cannot describe how privileged we were, how humbled we were, and how joyous the occasion was, to dedicate their new facility and to break bread with them.  The gospel was preached, people sang for hours, and lives were changed.  It was like nothing we have ever experienced.  The Christians here are filled with joy, and they were thrilled by our presence.  Pray we retain the sense of awe at God’s working today throughout our trip and upon our return. 

The rest of our afternoon will be relaxed, as we leave our hotel at 4:00AM (yeesh!) to catch an early flight to the city of Raipur.  Depending on our internet access, our posts may get sparse for a few days.  Thank you for your prayers!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Wonderful First Day in Delhi

We are tired and ready for bed after a long day of sight-seeing.  But it was great to get out and be in the culture here.  Different smells, different ways of driving and walking around, different types of historical sights - yet there are a number of similarities.  For example, our first night in India, after we got to the hotel from the airport, our hosts offered us a light dinner/snack before bed.  They brought us pizza from Pizza Hut - now THAT'S a long trip for a pizza!!  It looked and smelled just like deep dish pizza from back home, except this had a spicy chicken topping.

A couple striking things from today's travels - many of the attractions and museums are religious in nature.  We visited a new temple of the Ba'Hai' faith - a house of prayer for people from all faiths.  And afterwards, we traveled to an Islamic mosque built around A.D. 1200.  All of this was very different from anything we would see in the States.  But still, the truth is people need Jesus everywhere.  Here, it may be competing religions, but in America, it could be competing priorities.  Here there are Hindu temples on every street, in America it may be bars on every corner that fog the truth of God's word...  So, perhaps we can all pray that the voice of the Lord would be clear in every culture - that people would hear it through the noise of the world.

I will add that tomorrow we will be sharing in the dedication service of a new building for a church here in Delhi.  The "new" church has around 1,000 attenders, and normally holds two services.  Several of us will take part in the morning service.  Pray for our impact to be a blessing.

Also, pray for our group's bodies to adjust to the time change - a few are dealing with fatigue from lack of sleep and some stomach trouble.  But Corey and I are fit as a fiddle - which is a blessing!

Praise God for a safe trip here and first day in India!