It’s been a little strange joining the team mid-mission. It’s amazing to finally be here after all the prep and to hear of the stories from week one. What a blessing it was to be part of the graduation ceremony yesterday and to look in on the friendships made between the team and pastors over God’s words. In the space of a week the shared experience of the team has already had an impact. I suspect as much on the team as the pastors we farewelled.
I woke this morning after a surprisingly deep sleep despite my one inch thick mattress. Unfamiliar sounds of car horns puncture the morning air. I’m first in the dining room keen for the day to begin. The team dribble in looking worn out and feeling a little flat from a draining first week and the high of yesterday’s graduation ceremony. It’s Sunday which means church and this also signals that it is transfer day. Ludhiana here we come!
As we wait around downstairs an unfamiliar white face picks up a conversation with us. It is a French guy called Remy who has decided to pedal the length of India from top to bottom on his bike. In his first 4 days he has already been bitten by a snake and been to hospital. Having experienced just 1 day of Indian driving I’m already convinced this guy is a few short in the top paddock – ah the French.
We gather in front of the hotel which the team have dubbed “India Fawlty Towers”. I get a little insight as to why this moniker has stuck as the staff perform a farewell ceremony for us their most honoured guests. Each of us has turmeric pressed on our foreheads before rice is added. Next we each receive a wreath of flowers and then a wrapped box is presented which we later discover contains Indian meat rolls for the journey. A little odd but very touching.
We begin the drive toward Ludhiana with a stop scheduled for church along the way. I’m lost in the scenery interspersed with periodically holding my breath and shutting my eyes as we somehow avert oncoming trucks, animals and people.
The landscape quickly changes to open fields. It is green and surprisingly beautiful. Heavy rain sweeps through - Not what I was expecting. People are never far away with small towns then larger coming and going as we flash by. It is a medium sized town we turn into for church. The church looks to be in the poorest part of town, our bus just manages to squeeze down a back lane and the next thing I know is we are disembarking and walking into a room packed with clapping, smiling faces.
After introductions, Jane and Paul give their testimonies and Matt preaches. As I look back the thing I remember most is the joy. These people with so little seem so happy, so thankful to God. This is rammed home afterwards when we join pastor Muthuraj in the small two bedroom flat above the church for lunch. A fabulous meal is served and we are humbled as we notice the price tag on the brand new crockery bought especially for this occasion.
Pastor Muthuraj established the church 13 years earlier. For the first 18 months of his ministry he saw no converts. He and his wife continued to pray and today the church is full to overflowing. He has planted 3 other churches and is hoping to build a new church that can hold more people.
I couldn’t help but think on the bus after lunch just how much we have. We often don’t even see it. A church here costs $12,000 and changes the life of a village!
As we enter Ludhiana it is clear that it is very different from Chandigarh. There are few trees, many more homeless and it is far more industrial. When we arrive at our hotel in Ludhiana it is clear from the get go that this is no Fawlty Towers. We have a brief time to sought out rooms and freshen up before heading out to a local church.
We find ourselves driving down unlit dirt roads before pulling up outside the Tabernacle of Grace. All are welcome is painted on the wall. When we arrive the service is just getting underway and we are ushered upstairs to the pastors house. Pastor Paul introduces his family. He has come to this area as a missionary from the South. We are saddened to hear that his beautiful children are persecuted at church because of their darker skin and Tamil heritage. The Pastor’s wife wobbles her head in that Indian way and praises God when this is mentioned – I feel the outrage for her and am sure that I could not follow her Godly response.
Dinner back at the hotel starts at 10pm. It’s been a full but rewarding day. From the initial promise of India, the planning and preparation, to now the first parts of fulfilment I’ve not been disappointed.
Ian B, India Teaching Team 2013.