Often when you go somewhere different you start with an orientation. Maybe a day or two is spent working out how things work and where things are located. India doesn’t afford this luxury. “Pastor Matt” educated us well in the months before we left home. We had been told what to expect but in many ways it could not prepare us.
From the moment we stepped out of New Delhi airport terminal we are hit with sights, smells, and sounds that have to be experienced to fully comprehend. We begin in the middle.
This seems to happen in everything we do. We go to church and we arrive some time after they have started, always while they are singing. One time we are ushered upstairs to the pastor’s residence and given Coca Cola and a choice of vanilla and chocolate slice (no curry!). We talk for a while and then they tell us it is time to go downstairs to join in. They must know our limit at home is two songs in a row before we have to sit down and have announcements.
There are no “quiet” streets. Every street is full of seemingly anything that moves, the only requirements being that it keeps moving and has some sort of long lasting audible warning device (except for the camels, elephants and pedestrians). You just edge your way in and join the seething maelstrom.
Everywhere we go we are overwhelmed with kindness. We are not allowed to quietly slip in and sit up the back. Rather we are walked down to the front and we are seated in a place of honour. When the singing stops Matt is introduced and then he introduces his team, all to generous applause and in one case Matt is greeted with a deafening burst by the bongo players more befitting a tribal chief. Then we give one or two testimonies and a sermon. They sing and declare God’s praise and then we are asked to disperse among the congregation and pray for as many people as possible. At some point the word goes out and we are ushered out into our mini bus and then back into the traffic once more.
I wonder what they really think of us. Do we meet their stereotypes with our cameras and smartphones etc? They think our prayers are special. They are always asking us to pray for them. I worry that they do not see themselves as equal before God.
On the way to our teaching venue this morning the begging children climb a tuk-tuk beside us as we wait an intersection. They look in at us and bang on the window asking for money. People have woken up from their “beds” on the median strip dividing the six lane road. The contrasts are ever present.
When we arrive I speak to Joel, the translator for the discussion group that Ian and I lead. He is a student and will graduate in about five years’ time. I ask what he will do to find a job. He is immediately downcast and says “everything in India is totally corrupt”. He goes on to explain that his qualifications will mean nothing if someone with no qualifications but has money for a bribe also applies for the same job. I recall that half of the front page of today’s paper contains around five stories about government corruption. I also cast my mind back to Chandigarh where in slow moving traffic a policeman noticed all the “westerners” in our mini bus. We were pulled over and our driver negotiated an “on the spot fine”, the policeman was happy and IGL were the poorer. Pastor Benny shrugs his shoulders, that’s the way it works here. The same thing happened when we crossed the regional border of Delhi into the Punjab.
There is a McDonalds next door to where we are teaching. We can’t resist. While the pastors are doing their daily exam a few of us go over to pick up orders and get some welcome relief from the heat and humidity. The building is unique, construction is actually finished, the painters covered everything, the lawns are manicured, there are garden beds and they have a concrete car park. A security guard lets us in where there is a “McSpicy” version of nearly everything on the menu. Collectively we had some fries, sundaes and soft drinks. It was agreed that it all tasted exactly the same as at home.
We finish the night at the chocolate shop across the road from our hotel which has become a favourite haunt. Much to our surprise and Steve’s and my delight we find they have twelve varieties of hot chocolate! Butterscotch is a favourite and the shakes also went down well. The “Chocolate Mess” is the dessert of choice.
There is much that needs to be done. Our two weeks seem like a drop in the ocean.
But it is strategic and we pray that it makes a difference. Obviously the solution is Jesus. We have heard many amazing stories. There need to be many more. In order to repent and commit their lives to Christ people need to hear the gospel faithfully taught. The smiling faces, feedback and determination of the pastors we have been teaching gives us great encouragement. Pastor Benny tells us that each day in India 5,000 people commit their lives to Jesus and through IGL alone 7,000 churches are planted every year. Praise God!
As I ponder all this I conclude that we will finish as we started. We began in the middle and so we will also end in the middle. We give thanks for what God is doing and pray that God will use our efforts to his glory.
Craig, India Teaching Team 2013.