Biblical Messages, India 2013

“Dispenser of India’s Destiny”

Today, it was my joy to share with the St. Paul’s Church family about my mission trip to India.  Joining me in the dialogue was Lina van der Wel, myP1030320 dear friend who was part of our Team, all of whom were sent through the Tyndale Spiritual Formation Centre.  Lina is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Tyndale University College & Seminary.  It was hard to compress into a half hour what a three-week journey was like, but by listening to it you should be able to get a tiny picture of our experience.  Psalm 72 was read before our presentation.  You can listen to our dialogue by clicking here.  The title, “Dispenser of India’s Destiny”, comes from the English translation of the Indian National Anthem, which can be ready with decidedly Christian eyes.

At the close of the message, we showed a photo montage from the trip.  The photos were contributed by several members of the Team.  The musical accompaniment is “I will never be the same again”, from Hillsong’s “Shout To The Lord” CD.  You can watch the photo montage in QuickTime here and in Windows Media Player here.  (Note:  These are large files and may take some time to download.)

This presentation has been immensely helpful as I process what God is doing in my own life through this trip.  My prayer is that it has in some small way encouraged others to grow an interest in mission involvement.

India 2013

India 2013: Home, sweet home

Our India mission team arrived home safely on Thursday afternoon.  It was a bit of a bumpy ride into Toronto, because of the wind, but we landed without incident and all our bags arrived with us!  We all are so grateful to God for his kindness in preserving us through this whole trip.

We also are grateful to God for the prayers of so many.  While we were in India, we witnessed all kinds of spiritual warfare.  The church is a small and sometimes persecuted minority in India, and those believers need our prayers.

After crawling home in snowy traffic, I had a shower, Diana and I had supper, I called my parents, and we went to bed.  Nine hours later, I awoke, and I’m really hopeful that this will be the extent of my jet-lag…but I’m not sure that’s the case.  We’ll see how the next few days pan out!

I’m sure I will muse more about this trip in the coming days and weeks, but I wanted to thank you for your part in our journey.

Encouragement From The Word, India 2013

Vision matters!

Many, many thanks to those of you who have prayed for me and the team with whom I travelled to minister to the staff, faculty and students of the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies in Bangalore, India, these past few weeks.  We have been blessed in many ways, and we hope we have been a blessing.  God has ignited a fire in the community there to give personal spiritual formation a greater role in the life of the school.  If we accomplished nothing else, that would be enough – though we did find that many men and women found themselves spiritually nurtured through our ministry of spiritual direction and sharing the Word in chapel services and small groups.  We were honoured to be so warmly welcomed by everyone there.

What is especially exciting is that the key administrators of SAIACS now have a vision to see the foundational principles of spiritual formation more intentionally integrated into the academic life of the community.  There is a vision that the Lord has given, and the leadership there is prepared to do what it takes to make that vision a reality.

The news this week reported that Queen Beatrix, the reigning monarch of the Netherlands, is going to abdicate her throne in favour of her eldest son, who will become king.  Her mother did this for her, as did her mother before her.  This shows such a clear sense of vision on the part of the Queen!  She could hang on until she dies, and she’d have every right to do so.  But she wants a new generation of citizens of her country to be inspired through the leadership of a younger monarch.

As I’ve said before – not originally – having vision is like planting a tree under whose shade you will not sit.  And sometimes, that vision requires sacrifice.  In the case of the Queen of the Netherlands, it’s abdication of a throne rightfully hers.  In the case of the administration of SAIACS, it’s stepping outside a comfort zone of pure academics – knowing about God – in order to encourage everyone to know God better.

What vision has God given you?  And what sacrifices will you have to make in order to see that vision come to fruition?

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good ,pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12.2, NIV).

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 WordPress.com.  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.