The students hastened back to hearth and home and to a reunion with their families and congregations, further strengthen I hope for the ministry before them. Saturday evening draws to a close here, the Sabbath fast approaches, but my work remains incomplete. One more task lies ahead tomorrow, the labor most near and dear to my heart. In the morning a driver will transport us into the depths of the slums on the east side of the city where a congregation of over 100 people expects to gather, including many unconverted souls. I can almost taste the privilege, though I cannot fully comprehend the Lord’s mercy in sending me as one poor beggar to tell other beggars where to find bread, even the manna of heaven. They have invited me to preach the unsearchable riches found in our crucified Savior, and frankly, my soul warms at the prospects. In many ways, we find here the priceless gem at the end of this portion of the journey. As delightful as it is to equip men to minister the Word, in pales in comparison to the joy of preaching to sinners yourself, eyeball to eyeball. If the Lord will lend strength to my voice, I would have the gospel ringing in the ears of every Hindu within ear shot.
They inform me that the small building includes a covered portion outside the walls with space large enough to accommodate those who meet. The description sounds like an open-air environment to me, and if so, then God has provided a familiar setting — a personal favorite. Remember that the Lord delighted in the company of outcast publicans and sinners throughout his earthly ministry, and his presence can still be found among them today. I am devoid of any experience with Indian slums, and I possess no mental images to draw upon. But I know well what it means to worship the living and true God.
So please join me in contemplating the scene for a brief moment.
What a profound lesson in contrasts. On the one hand we behold those who only know the dark side of this sin-cursed world, surrounded by filthy rubble, dilapidated buildings and the stench of poverty. No fine clothes and no cozy comforts exist in sight. They subsist without our addictions to sumptuous fare and luxuries. But tomorrow brings the Christian Sabbath to their believing thresholds, and when we pull back the veil of sight, what do we see now? From this clump of dirt, worship is offered in the eternal throne room of heaven. The King of glory enters the slums of India to inhabit the praises of his people and to proclaim a Word of grace, while unimaginable angelic beings robed in splendor gather in attendance at the public assembly. We are home, my friends! So very far from Greenville and so very near the place we love best. I must stop before the floods of emotion sweep me away and I lose all composure.
You habitually pray for preaching from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day, and I am confident that you will not fail to petition the King for his blessing on the clarion blast of his gospel trumpet as it resounds on the east side of Ahmedabad tomorrow. As always, I owe you a great debt for your love.
Please pardon the abrupt change of topics, but I should conclude with some details about the next couple of days. From here we push off for the shores of Sri Lanka. We depart from the hotel at the close of the Lord’s Day, leaving at midnight for the airport. That means no sleep tomorrow night. Our flight leaves at around 4:00 a.m., and they require us to be there three and a half hours before departure. (Third-world airports bear no resemblance to GSP.) We fly 3+ hours in the exact opposite direction of Sri Lanka back to Dubai for our connecting flight. Then we retrace our path through the skies back out of the Middle East, over all of India and into Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka, arriving in the mid-afternoon. Parthee plans to meet us at the airport and transport us six hours north to his home and our final destination. Please pray for our travel.
Consequently, you will hear neither post nor peep from me until sometime Tuesday at the earliest (our time), if we are spared. Despite the silence of the blog, you will be much in your pastor’s thoughts and prayers, especially as we unite at the throne over the Lord’s Day. May the Lord shower down spiritual blessings upon your souls in the preaching of his Word and in the fellowship of the saints. I will pray to that end.
“How lovely is they dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts, to me!
The tabernacles of thy grace
how pleasant, Lord, they be!”
(Psalm 84:1, metrical)
P.S. Two of the attached pictures were taken from the roof of the training center. Just like in the New Testament, Asia still makes extensive use of the top of all of their houses and buildings, including sleeping on the roof in the heat of summer. But, children, please note the contrast between the squalor on the Hindu side of the building and the relative attractiveness of the small Christian neighborhood on the other side of the building. Can you see the tangible impact of the gospel witness? Never take for granted the past influence of the Scriptures on the West. As America retreats from allegiance to Christ’s crown rights, physical degradation may accompany the more important spiritual impoverishment, just as roots give way to fruits. You cannot spurn Jesus without embracing barbarity.
Thank you for your persevering prayers.
Your devoted servant,
Pastor Rob McCurley
Remember that the purpose of this visit shouts: edification. When we set our sights, aiming at India from America, we saw a clear target, namely, equipping men by furnishing them with the truth. The goal was to build them up in the faith.
Far from lacking ideas about what all that entails, I arrived loaded to bear, convinced I knew the needs of India. And many of those assumptions proved correct, not surprisingly, since God has provided one Bible for every nation, tribe and tongue. We cannot equate knowing the Bible, however, with knowing the particular needs and blind spots of a given people. The Scriptures are lucid, but the mind is dim. What portions of Scripture are unclear to them? What specific challenges intimidate them? What conundrums need solutions? What knotty matters of church practice need to be untied? We do not discover the answers by osmosis or mystical messages. Until someone informs my ignorance, I am restricted to conjectures, and the questions go unanswered.
My class material communicates to them what I deem important, but their questions reveal to me what they find confusing or consider pressing. In other words, they teach me about where they need support and help.
Questions open vistas of insight into their world, creating a panoramic vision of church life and ministry here. If the aim is edification, then count this as priceless. It hones our ability to speak the Word profitably into the demands of their spiritual environment.
You will be intrigued to know that while some of the questions bore unique Indian twists, many represented the same questions raised back home. In fact, it turned out that most of the questions, though not all, pertained to interpreting specific passages of Scripture. Their minds were churning over how to accurately understand and communicate the Bible.
A small specimen of questions similar to home included: Who is God describing in Genesis 6:1-4? What is the sin against the Holy Ghost? Why did Jesus tell Mary that she could not touch or handle him after the resurrection? What does the mustard seed and tree refer to in Matthew 13? They also proposed practical questions about the role of women in the church, the application of the ordinance of church discipline, the cessation of special revelation . . . and on and on it went. Do any of these sound familiar?
The hour and a half whizzed by, leaving me with a yearning for more. I suggested to Nish that they amend future class syllabi to always include at least one entire Q&A class for the profit of the men. He agreed, acknowledging the value — and the fact that he enjoyed it as much as I did.
“Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine . . . Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that heart thee. (1 Timothy 4:13-16)
I present to you some more sights from Ahmedabad.
- A token Muslim, easily identified by his fabulous beard and cool cap and gown.
- A “close knit” family in transit. Not two, not four, not even six, but a family of seven on a single motorcycle (You can’t see the baby on the other side). That does it — I’m sold. I am trading in our mini-van for a motorcycle when I return home. I had know idea my whole family would fit.
- An Indian bottle neck. Your innards begin to quake when all of these are moving — through an intersection of ongoing traffic of equal numbers. Also note that I captured here in the city center one of the select few traffic lights in all of Ahmedabad. It functions as a pretty decoration but nothing more. The people are unaware of its existence. I am not exaggerating when I insist that the light means absolutely nothing — to police or passengers. Every intersection offers a unique free-for-all.
- A New Yorker’s dream world. You find the words on the back of this truck, “Honk OK Please”, on half the moving vehicles in this city (regardless of their size). They respond in unison with a cacophony of ceaseless beeps day and night. I asked, and, yes, they literally wear out and regularly replace their horns, the only part of a South Carolinian vehicle that goes to the junk yard brand new.
- A classic Rickshaw in standard green and yellow glory. You find more of these on the streets than hairs on your head. Now picture cramming every last child in our congregation into one these three-wheelers. Some of the numbers we have seen defy calculation.
- Two corrupt traffic cops in typical tan, armed with a whistle and a stick. They stand on the side of the road, chew the fat and watch the bedlam in the streets. Then in classic tyrannical fashion they arbitrarily flag down some passerby, extract their hard earned money — and cram it into their own pockets, never ever to see the public coffers. Then back to loitering. Hold your breath now. Two days ago they pulled and searched our vehicle — no fourth amendment, mind you. No, I am not writing from an Indian prison, but if I was driving, we could have been sporting a new despotic hood ornament. Do these posts go on the Internet?
- I have only laid eyes on two white people since we arrived nine days ago — and he is one of them (I am not the other.). Since Randy may read this post, I will wait until I get home to sing his praises. Thank you for praying for his valiant labors.
- The Hindus built this pretty pyramid as a giant fire-cracker for their pagan festival earlier this week. As we drove home on Wed. (the days blur together now), we passed loads of these pyramids in various sizes (usually 3 feet to 8 feet high), sometimes every 50 yards. I was not present to see it, but at 7:30 that night, the whole city set them ablaze. Everything was closed Thursday, as they smeared everyone and everything in sight with bright colors. Google “images of the Holi festival” for a peak at the evidence.
- A sample shrine, located a stone’s throw from the front door of the training center. The streets are littered with shrines everywhere you look. As I noted in an earlier post, we have four or five within a 100 yard stretch on the tiny, dirt road in front of the training center.
Lastly, did you know that the world consumes goat more than any other meat? And no wonder, it is scrumptious. I ate it with pleasure again today. What is wrong with Americans? We eat lamb and venison, close cousins — but no goat meat. Isn’t there an advocacy group for American goat farmers in Washington?
A touch of humor supports sanity here, as the sober realities easily overwhelm the soul. The spiritual death toll boggles the mind. If anything above brings a smile, I hope it cements India in your memory and fuels your future prayers for the Sun of Righteous to rise with healing in his wings over the Indian Subcontinent.
When the Free Church of Scotland shipped missionaries to India in the 19th century they disembarked in the south and confined most of their labors to that region. If you hanker for more of that story, you can dip into several histories and biographies available to modern readers. You will profit from the perusal.
But to appreciate the relevance of these posts, I must transport you deeper and higher into the mainland. India consists of 29 states, much like our 50 states in America. If you peak at the map, you will see that Ahmedabad sits as the principal city of the state of Gujarat (pronounced Goo-ja-rat). All of the men attending classes this week hail from the Northwest of India, which encompasses a wide area containing over a half billion souls. Logos (the training center) sends trainers/teachers to 14 different states in the North, representing about 700 main churches (or 2000+ places of worship). These ministers shoulder heavy responsibilities, serving in local churches simultaneous to training other men in ministry. While their teaching equips men preparing for ministry, a significant portion consists of “continuing education” for pastors already in the saddle. They point to the model of 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”
They conduct classes at the center in Ahmedabad on a quarterly basis, but they rotate who attends so that only a portion gather at one time. If they did not protect the men by factoring in their time constraints, the classes could crush many already burdened with heavy work loads.
So Logos functions as a decentralized, multi-tiered, mobilized church-planting Bible college . . . of sorts. The structure may defy familiar Western categories, but my heart cheers to see them launch a biblical gospel and basic Reformed doctrine across the landscape of this needy nation.
In an effort to bring all of this closer to home, I include below pictures of a sampling of a half dozen individual ministers, along with a small piece of their story.
- Vinod lives in the city of Agra, the location of the famous Taj Mahal (The children can google pictures of this Muslim masterpiece, but Nish tells me that once you have toured the Taj Mahal, pictures will never again suffice.) Vinod serves as a trainer over his state of Uttarpradesh (UP). He is married with seven children.
- Emmanuel lives with his wife and two children in Sirsa. He serves as a trainer for the state of Hariyana. They recently purchased land and hope to erect a new building.
- Sohan resides in Banswada and has five children almost identical in ages to my own. He bears responsibility for the state of Rajasthan, which includes 32 main churches — with multiple places of worship attached to each of those.
- Arjun lives in Ranchi in the state of Jharkhand and carries responsibility for training men in his state.
- Charles hails from Roorkee in the state of Uttarkhand. He is a regional trainer over 5 states, which includes about 150 churches plus additional places of worship.
- Manoj, who lives in Jejepur, the state of Chhattisgarh, requests prayer regarding the persecution and isolation Christians are facing from the Hindus in his area.
I hope this further information broadens your vision and deepens your prayerful interest in the Great Northwest of India.
The sight of your faces and the sound of your voices via the Skype arrangement this morning (Thurs. morning here; Wed. night there) provided a great boon for me. The singing of Psalm 67 placed icing on the cake. Thank you for your ongoing prayers.
With all Christian affection,
Pastor Rob McCurley
In order to keep things in proper proportion, I offer another post to the kiddos (after all, they constitute a significant percentage of those filling the pews at GPC). If I had to guess, parents probably perk up when I address the children anyway, if posts are anything like sermons. Just do not label me a blogger or hurl other terms of derision at me (I speak, of course, tongue-in-cheek – no offense intended to the valuable contributions of some in the blogosphere).
And now, back to the children, most of whom want to know “what it is like” here.
What did you eat for breakfast? You may have to think for a second, unless you gobble up the same thing every morning. Well, food is one feature that distinguishes countries, people groups and even religions. You probably know that in Mexico (a country) they eat tacos and that Eskimos (a people group) eat fish and that Muslims and Jews (two religions) abstain from pork. Since I flew to India on a Middle-Eastern airline (think Muslims), I anticipated rightly that we would not be eating pork or shell fish over the Atlantic Ocean.
So what do they eat in Ahmedabad? Remember that 8 out every 10 people in India belong to Hinduism. Hindus believe that when you die your “soul” stays in this world and you become another creature (person, animal, insect). If you accomplished enough good deeds in this life, then you might proceed up the food-chain and become a robust Burmese cow, but if you were delinquent, then you might come back as a malaria-infested mosquito on the backside of a dog in the slums. Needless to say, that means Hindus do not eat meat – it may be their great-grandmother they are chewing! Not a pleasant thought. So vegetarians hold the majority in India. But do not worry, this does not confine everyone in India to a paltry diet. The Christians and Muslims strive to balance the scales by consuming more than their fair share of meat along with their vegetables, fruit and everything else.
Next, they enjoy a warm, arid climate, which determines the type of veggies and fruit they can grow and eat. During my time here the weather has been unseasonably cool with highs around 100 degrees (normally it is hotter). Unlike South Carolina, however, the humidity is low, which makes the heat far more bearable than I anticipated.
Enough on the background information. We eat our main meal at lunchtime with the pastors at the training facility. (For supper I munch on a snack or two that Mrs. McCurley packed in my luggage.) If your palate tolerates maximum flavor and a wide array of spices, then you will salivate over the tables in Ahmedabad. To top it off, they use food as medicine. So it tastes scrumptious and improves your health. You might actually suspect that God designed it so. While Mr. Taylor does not share my preference for hot spices (to put it mildly; sorry he loves puns), he would whole-heartedly concur with my assessment about the loads of yummy flavor, even when you insist on mild heat.
The typical main meal consists of several dishes, though I do not remember all the names: a thin flat bread, a meat dish in sauce, a vegetable dish in sauce, steamed rice usually with cumin or another spice, a soup poured over the rice, fried hot green peppers on the side, and fruit (like mango) for dessert. They use no utensils, providing for a tactile feeding experience. They do graciously provide forks and spoons for us Americans, and we put them to work. They pinch the food and soak up the juice with the flat bread and eat everything on their plate with the fingers of their right hand. Sometimes they bring a bowl of warm water with a slice of lemon in it for cleaning their very messy hand at the conclusion of the meal. Please look at the picture of a poor woman cooking the flat bread over an open fire.
Lunch break lasts two hours so that everyone can lie down to rest after the meal. I attached a picture of a man asleep at lunchtime. Many people just lie down on the ground under the shade of a small tree or bush. While they snooze, I compose posts for you, among other things.
They hold a brief tea break mid-morning (10:30 a.m.) and mid-afternoon (4:00 p.m.) every day of the week, at which they serve Masala Chai and a few crackers or chips. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that while I love coffee, I have not met a cup of hot tea that I thoroughly enjoyed. Hopefully no one in Scotland reads these posts. Several of our ladies at GPC love their tea, and I am certain that my immature taste buds are at fault and that I am the looser for not having acquired refined taste for tea. But Indian tea (Masala Chai) stands in a league all by itself. Delicious, if not addictive. The addition of several spices and milk leaves no trace of the taste of tea.
In the next post I will return to describing the work here, highlighting especially some specific prayer requests for the men and their ministries. My bedtime is fast approaching now.
Hopefully, children, I have included enough information to satisfy your curiosity and to provide you with a window into the world here. Our gracious God has supplied many types of food to delight our tongues and to nourish our bodies in serving the Savior. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). But all of these temporal gifts serve as pointers to the surpassing pleasure of feeding upon Christ by faith. He is the bread that has come down from heaven, which satiates hungry souls. He is the fountain of living waters, from which, if we drink we shall never thirst.
God’s grace alone creates the spiritual appetite which is dissatisfied with anything less than Christ himself. When you think of India, pray that they will seek this heavenly feast. And pray the same for yourselves.
“And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined” (Isaiah 25:6).