India 2013

India 2013: the legacy we leave

To say that we are encouraged by our two weeks at SAIACS would be an understatement. To be sure, we are all very tired and very much looking forward to being home with our loved ones. But what really excites us is the fact that the key administrators want to see what we’ve done carry on, rather than be a flash in the pan.

Seminaries are known for being academic institutions, and rightly so; the students go to be trained. But we are realizing more and more that with the informational training must come spiritual formation. As I said in my chapel message on Friday morning, information fills the mind, and formation shapes the person. Both are needed for effective ministry to result from a good seminary education.

We are excited that God has brought this about, and look forward to learning how this may unfold over the course of time.

For now, we will enjoy a few days of debriefing and rest in the seaside city of Goa before heading back to winter, and those we love.

We have been blessed to serve, and to serve together.

Encouragement From The Word, India 2013

A zeal for truth-telling

I’ve been blogging a bit while I’m in India, reflecting on the work I’m seeing God do in this most interesting country.  In a recent post, I reflected on the fact that India, while one-third the size of Canada geographically, has 36 times the population!  What’s more, only about 2% of India comprises Christians, so the church here plays a very minor role, both presently and historically.

However, what I see in the people I am meeting at SAIACS does not reflect the statistics.  One might think that a faith group that is such a minority might just barely be holding on, but the church in India thinks big.  I am meeting people whose heart for mission and evangelism is as big as the nation itself.

There are parts of India that are already thoroughly evangelized; one area in northeast India, I’m told, is 100% Christian.  By contrast, there are parts of south India where hardly a church is to be found.  Clearly, the need is great, but at the same time, there is great zeal for the work to be done.

I wish that in Canada we had the same passion for mission and evangelism that I see in my Indian sisters and brothers.  They have a willingness to sacrifice much – including the admiration of their friends and sometimes even connections with their families – to reach people for Jesus Christ.  And when they see God work in power, these people receive the Lord.  In some cases, they have experienced the complete inaction of their own gods in contrast to the powerful action of the Lord, and they respond.  It’s a bit like Elijah’s encounter with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:  the prophets of Baal keep pleading with their god to act, but he never responds.  Elijah, by contrast, throws buckets and buckets of water on the altar, and God still sends fire from heaven.

We serve an awesome God who loves to be in relationship with us.  We all know people who are far from God.  True, their life circumstances may be so different from those of the people of India that they feel their own affluence is sufficient to carry them, but if they are shown the care and compassion of God, who loved us so much he gave his only Son, they, too, will come into a love relationship with the Lord.

What will you do today to demonstrate the love of Jesus to someone in need?

The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25.40, NIV).

India 2013

India 2013: a spiritual battle, and sometimes a physical one

Here at SAIACS, there is a spiritual battle going on which is sometimes more obvious than one might expect.  There is a Hindu temple across the road from the seminary campus family residences, and its greatest weapon is a large loudspeaker.  There have been times that their “songs” and proclamations have been ridiculously loud.  It seemed funny to us at first, a bit like bad karaoke, until we realized that it is a sign of a spiritual battle.  One family living on campus has one member who is sensing a sometimes debilitating physical oppression because of it.  On Wednesday evening, our team gathered to pray for the family, and for the blessing of their home.  At one point, the “music” started while we were praying.  I felt a pressure in my chest, and raised my hand in the direction of the music, against it.  It stopped.  As we prayed around the property, one of my teammates had a vision of angels, but those angels looked badly beaten and war-wounded.

The church here is sometimes an oppressed ministry.  The battle is significant, but it belongs to the Lord.  He will gain the victory, because he is greater than whatever those across the street may conjure up.

I also met with a young man who is a relatively new believer – a wonderful and not uncommon thing in India.  This fellow is different, though.  He was, you see, an Imam – a Muslim cleric.  He had a special responsibility:  to re-convert Muslims who had become Christians, back to Islam.  While studying Arabic, he was taught about the Christian faith, and decided to read the Bible.  He discovered that what he had been taught was a pack of lies, based on what the Bible said, and as he read, he became convinced that Jesus died for him.  Through a variety of connections, he met with a Lutheran pastor who became his Christian mentor, leading him to Christ and to some theological training.

When his family found out, they tried to kill him.  But God had a better plan.  He was hospitalized, and then jailed (since his family fabricated the idea that he had come into their home as a thief), but the case was thrown out.  He was safely taken into the care of Christians, and now is working actively to re-convert those he had re-converted!  His zeal for the gospel is nothing short of amazing, and I praise God for him, because he is perfectly positioned, knowing the “inside story” of Islam, to help Muslims come to know Jesus as their personal Saviour and Lord.

Sometimes, the battle is spiritual, and sometimes it is physical.  But God is greater than the knife wielded in hatred.

India 2013

India 2013: putting things in perspective

During a break, I did a little research, for my own interest.  There are about 1.2 billion people in India, in a space of just over 3.2 million square kilometres.  That means that in a geographical space just about a third the size of Canada, India holds 36 times as many people.

I must admit that I thought the country was geographically smaller; in fact, if you look at  Mercator projection of the world, it is deceiving – but Canadians like the Mercator projection, because it makes Canada look much bigger than the United States!  On that projection, India looks to be about the size of Ontario, but it is about twice that size.

Roughly 2% of India’s population is considered Christian, though there are some regions where that number is as high as 100%.  The national average, though, is quite small, meaning that the opportunities for mission and ministry are massive.  However, 2% of India’s population equals about the population of Canada.  There are many very enthusiastic believers in this country, with a high commitment to mission; I have been privileged to meet some of them during our time here at SAIACS.  Yet there is a high cost, for many, to be engaged deeply in their Christian faith.

Some have told me that their Hindu friends will tease and taunt them for their faith if there is any illness or difficulty in their lives, as if God were expected to make everything perfect all the time.  Others, especially those in pastoral ministry, often find that the culture demeans their role in church leadership, as if they couldn’t cut it in a secular job, so they “had to” resort to ministry.

In Canada, we do not yet experience these sorts of persecutions.  While only 10-15% of Canadians engage in Christian faith on a regular basis, there still remains a reasonable tolerance for Christian practice; it is, after all, the foundational tradition for our nation.  But would we be willing to accept the sacrifices that our Indian sisters and brothers face?  And can we be as committed to mission as they are?

If Canadian Christians were as devoted to sharing Christ as Indian Christians are, I dare say that the face of the Canadian church and nation would look much different.

India 2013

India 2013: traffic mayhem!

I thought I would post what I sent to a couple of prayer partners; I tried to send this earlier, but I’ve been having trouble logging in to  This weekend ended up a little differently than I had expected, and I think that may be for the best.  We left early (0600) Saturday morning to drive to Mysore, a city about 150 km southwest of Bangalore, to do some sightseeing on the recommendation of the Principal of SAIACS.  The school provided a van and a driver to ferry us to and around Mysore.  We stayed in a hotel there, with about Super 8 quality, for under $40!  The rest of the team toured around the city, but still feeling the effects of my cold, I opted to stay in my room and get some bonus rest.  It was worth it, as I feel quite a bit better today (though not 100% yet).  Our team leader, David Sherbino, suggested that we not take preaching engagements this weekend, since we all were so tired from the schedule of the first week of the retreat in daily life.  We all were glad for that.

The visit to Mysore was interesting, but what was most interesting is the whole process of driving to and from the place.  Not being certain of the population, I’d guess that Mysore is about the same size as Mississauga – maybe a bit bigger (I was close; when I checked this, the population is something close to 900,000).  Bangalore has a population of 10 million, and SAIACS is on the exact opposite end of the city to the Mysore Road, so that’s why we had to leave at 0600 on Saturday morning – to beat the traffic.  Coming back on Sunday at about 5:00, we could see why we left so early on Saturday.  Even though there is a ring road around Bangalore, I’m not sure we used much of it, as we zig-zagged through the city.  From SAIACS to the southwest edge of Bangalore, on Saturday morning, took us an hour and a half.  It would be like crawling across Toronto along Eglinton Avenue from one end to the other (and quadruple the traffic!).
Our driver is an expert in driving in India.  If there are any traffic regulations, nobody pays attention to them.  Sometimes, there are lines on the roads, but nobody pays attention to them.  There are speed bumps everywhere, and those are what people pay attention to, and probably what save countless lives every year (though I heard a statistic that something like 17 people a minute are killed on Indian roads every day).  We never saw an accident, but we saw a lot of close calls!  Thank heaven for Viji’s excellent driving skills.  I was sitting in the front seat with him, so I got the best view of what was going on – and I’m glad I trusted our driver completely!
Your prayers, and Viji’s driving, kept us safe on this weekend of sabbath rest.  We are geared up to go back at ‘er on Monday morning, looking forward to what God is going to do!
TUESDAY UPDATE:  We did go back at ‘er on Monday, and more people began opening up as they are getting to know us; we are seeing the same today, too.  Lives are being enriched by participating in the retreat in daily life.  We are immensely grateful for what God is doing among us, in no small part thanks to your prayers!
India 2013

India 2013: A visit to Mysore

With the weekend to rest, it was suggested to us that we take a road trip to the city of Mysore, to the southwest of Bangalore, to see another part of India. The drive was the most fascinating part of the trip: we left at 0600 on Saturday, in order to minimize the traffic problems. There is a ring road around Bangalore, but if we used it, it sure didn’t last long. It took us an hour and a half, in light traffic, to cross the city. After another half hour, we stopped for breakfast. Our great driver, Viji, went to an Indian place, and we all went to…wait for it…McDonalds! It was surprisingly good, and pretty clean (except for the restroom). The sausage in the sausage mcmuffin was chicken, but it really didn’t taste much different than the ones at home.

We visited a sultan’s summer home and a Hindu temple on the way. I did not go in to the temple, but even standing outside left me with a pathetic feeling, about which I may write later.

In Mysore, the rest of the team did some sightseeing while I slept at the hotel. With the cold I brought with me not yet shaken, I felt the need to get some additional rest. Hopefully a good night’s sleep tonight will help with that, too.

Thanks to everyone who is praying for us. The whole team senses your prayers and joins me in gratitude.

India 2013

India 2013: the blessing of prayer support

One of the sustaining graces about being on a trip far from home, doing God’s work, is knowing how much prayer support one has from people back home.  So many people have offered to keep me and our whole team in their prayers, and I cannot be thankful enough.  We are finding God’s grace pouring out steadily, both on us and on those among whom we minister.

This morning, Lina preached on 1 Kings 19, helping those listening to look at Elijah’s story from a different perspective – a perspective of spiritual formation, of listening for God’s still, small voice.  While this is new for most of those among whom we are serving these days, we pray that it will become a new approach for them in reading the Scriptures and listening for the voice of God.

We remain very grateful for all your prayers as we use the gifts God has given us to make a difference in another place.

India 2013

India 2013: Samuel stories

One of the common themes I’m hearing from several of the men I meet is that they were offered up to the Lord for Christian service either as small children or even before conception.  These are what I’m starting to call “Samuel stories” – stories that parallel Hannah’s offering of Samuel to God as recorded in the opening chapters of 1 Samuel.  We never hear about this idea in the west, yet in the east – and particularly in the Indian states that are nearer China, interestingly – this seems more common.

Any idea why?

India 2013

India 2013: Clay in the Potter’s hands

This morning – it’s Wednesday morning here now – one of my teammates, Cynthia, spoke in chapel in a powerful way. Using much the same message (adapted to the context) that she used whenshe spoke at St. Paul’s, Nobleton last June, Cynthia used pottery to illustrate the wonder and grace of God our Potter.

I could listen to that talk over and over and over again, because it’s a constant reminder of the fact that with God, who shapes us, there is no waste.  Nothing is thrown away.  God is always going to mold us and shape us and make us into what he wants us to be, but there is no waste.

This is a good message for the people among whom we are serving right now, for people in this culture are often seen as cast-offs.  They need to be affirmed in their God-image, that the Lord has made them for his good purpose and with him, there is no waste.

I look forward, today, to spending time with more people for whom I pray this truth will come to life in a new way.

India 2013

India 2013: The Retreat In Daily Life begins

On Monday, we held the opening session for our retreat in daily life, offered to the students and faculty of SAIACS.  More than 80 people have registered, which will make it a very busy week for us 5 directors!  I have 21 directees myself, including the principal and the dean of students, along with 19 students.  Women meet with women, and men with men in this culture, which is why the male directees have the bulk of the workload; the good news for the women is that all women interested in participating have been admitted to the RDL.  Some men, students and faculty, have had to be turned away simply because there are not enough hours in the day to meet them all.

Today, we begin meeting with them.  We will meet each directee for half an hour every other day.  They will have read a few Scripture passages, and asked the Lord to speak through them.  We directors will help them process what God is saying through the text, and what God is doing in the midst of their busy lives.  The goal is to provide enrichment for their walk with God, and to deepen their awareness of his presence in their lives.

Thank you for your prayers.  Each of us is blessed to be participating in this ministry!

(And a big shout out to my colleague back home, Jon Dennis, whose wife, Susanne, gave birth to their first child on Monday morning!  Congratulations to Jon and Susanne and their daughter!)

India 2013

India 2013: We have arrived!

I had hoped to post sooner than this, but arriving on the weekend meant getting internet access would take a couple of days.  Thankfully, yesterday, I was able to Skype to St. Paul’s to bring greetings from India, thanks to the Principal of SAIACS, Dr. Ian Payne, who let me into his home to use his personal WiFi.

We will be offering the opening session of our Retreat In Daily Life this afternoon.  There are over 80 people who have signed up for the retreat, comprising more than 3/4 of the student body.  However, because in this culture men must meet with men and women with women, we are not able to meet with all the men who have signed up.  There are only two of us men providing spiritual direction for the RDL, and we can only see so many people in a day!  Priority has been given to the students taking David Sherbino’s Intro to Spiritual Formation course, and students who are graduating.  All women who wish to participate will be welcomed to do so, since we have 3 women directors.

There is great interest in spiritual formation here at SAIACS.  We look forward to providing this unique form of pastoral care to the students, as well as equipping them to take these tools into their own congregations to encourage their people in their walk with Christ.

It is warm here; 30 degree days and 15 degree nights are common.  We are seeing all sorts of flora and fauna that are uncommon to Canada.  We visited the inner city of Bangalore on Sunday, and saw the sea of humanity that one expects to see.  Not as many cattle as I had expected, though!

Thanks to everyone reading this who is praying for our team.  David, David, Jenn, Cynthia, Lina and I really covet and appreciate your prayerful support.

Encouragement From The Word

Mission in God’s Big World

As you read this, I will be en route to Bangalore, India, where I will be providing spiritual direction to pastors and students (and possibly their family members) at the South Asia Institute for Advanced Christian Studies.  A team of six of us are helping to equip leaders of churches with new tools for spiritual formation.

This is a new thing for me.  And as I’ve told my congregation, it’s way outside my comfort zone.  The last few days of preparation were remarkably difficult, because my dear wife and I, in twenty years of marriage, have never been apart for three consecutive weeks before!  However, I pressed on, because I know God is in this in a powerful way.

One of the things I know this trip will teach me is just how global the church really is.  Never having flown farther than Vancouver before, I know this will stretch my picture of human society and enhance my understanding of what God can do in the world.

In that sense, I will almost certainly receive more than I give in this trip, but I hope to make a contribution to the Asian church as it enriches its understanding of spiritual formation.

God is at work all around the world.  While we in the North American church lament the closure of congregations and bicker over points of biblical interpretation and theological practice, the church in Asia bustles with excitement and activity.  People come to know Christ every day.  And I’m excited that I get to be part of that for just a few weeks.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28.19-20, NIV).  Wherever in the world you go to make disciples, know that the Lord is with you.

Please keep our team in your prayers.

Biblical Messages

Drawing the circle wider

“Epiphany” – the feast that always falls on January 6.  It means ‘revealing’ or ‘manifestation’.  It recalls the time that foreign soothsayers followed a star and visited the child Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, marked in Matthew 2.1-12.  I contend that this event, and not the giving of the Great Commission, marked the beginning of mission in the church.

You can listen to the message by clicking here.


Encouragement From The Word

Resolve, Together

Happy new year!  Did you make any resolutions?

New Year’s resolutions have gone from being notions for self-improvement and have become key factors in western economies.  Think of it:  were it not for New Year’s resolutions, where would fitness facilities make all their money?  As one person tweeted last week, “This is the last week that the gym won’t be crowded for a while.”  Why is that?  Because people make resolutions about their physical fitness, buy gym memberships, use them for a while, and break their resolutions.  The same is true with weight-loss programs and other self-help regimes that we think will make a difference.

I’ve never been one for resolutions, but goals are another thing.  When we set goals for ourselves – specific, measurable goals – we have a much better chance of attaining them.  What’s more, when we write down our goals, and give ourselves realistic deadlines to meet them, we have an even better chance of meeting them.  What can help us even more is to share our goals with others, particularly if those other people are interested in working with us to attain our goals.

Community matters.  For example, if I join a gym on my own, and go on my own, I have no outside influences to encourage me to keep going.  However, if I join a hockey team, the rest of the team will notice if I’m not there (especially if I’m the goaltender!).  When we are part of a team, our participation is not just a private matter, but a team matter.

The same is true in our life of faith.  If we want to deepen our walk with the Lord, it can be very hard to do on our own, but if we are part of a community, we share that journey together.  I want to encourage you to make your spiritual development a priority this year.  However, it won’t be much different than the gym membership that gets used for a couple of months and left to languish if we try to do it all by ourselves.  Consider involving a friend, or a few friends!  Join a small group for deeper fellowship and study. If you’ve not been part of a church community for a while, ask a friend to come with you when you check out a church.  Be involved together.  Share your journey.  Ask questions of each other, and ask questions together.

And furthermore, ask God to be present with you as you undertake this venture.  God understands the value of community, because in one sense, God is community!  God is One, and God is Triune:  one God, three Persons.  If we ask the Lord to be another partner with us in our journey, we will find that it becomes easier, because God will pour out his grace upon us.  He will welcome our desire to know him better.

Though one may be overpowered, 
two can defend themselves.  
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4.12, NIV).

Have a great year in the Lord!