Someone needs to compile his aphoristic sayings and publish them in a book with a catchy title. For example, Parthee gathered with a small group of Presbyterian ministers in Sri Lanka who criticized him for being too narrow. In his quick and apt reply he thanked them for acknowledging that he had chosen the narrow way, since it leads to life, while pointing out that the only alternative was the broad road that leads to destruction. The arrow met its mark.
Here is another one that swept us off our feet. During his one and only visit to America (the same trip he came to a prayer meeting at GPC), he worshipped at a PCA congregation in Atlanta where some past missionaries to Sri Lanka were members. The worship service included several types of musical instruments accompanying the uninspired praise. He especially noted the wide variety of instrumentation. You have to know a little about the New Testament theology of worship to fully appreciate what follows. The couple eagerly approached him afterward to inquire about what he thought of the service. All he said, as he looked them in the eye was, “After all of that, I just thank the Lord that there were no animal sacrifices offered!” They were speechless. Knowing his warm hearted love for souls, you can be certain that he affectionately helped them to recover from the blow while explaining his deep love for the biblical principles of worship.
Another English-speaking foreigner came to lecture at a small congregation in the capital, Colombo, and the church requested Parthee to serve as interpreter for the event. In the course of the addresses the man began propounding a long day theory of creation and a geographically limited flood. But in Parthee’s translation of the address he asserted a literal six day view and a global flood, unbeknownst to the lecturer. After the address he explained his moral responsibility as a minister to protect his people from errant doctrine.
In two days I can already bury you with copious amounts of other “Piths from Parthee.” As you can readily see, he does not shy from an unyielding, no-holds-barred defense of the Reformed faith.
But please do not equate his resolute devotion to biblical truth with a somber disposition. Far from it. Unless you can picture a big cheesy grin accompanied by a belly laugh, your picture would be incomplete. He loves the Son of God while loving the sons of men. As one who knows the pains of childhood hunger, his compassion takes tangible shape in sacrificial generosity to those in need. His tenderness shines brightly through his gifted interaction with children, who all seem to flock to him. He cares for souls, and the recipients of that care know it.
You would be spell-bound to hear his life story. He grew up as a Hindu in the poorest family in his already poverty stricken village, and now he labors as an ordained minister in the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), under the auspices of our Home and Foreign Missions Committee. You can read more about that story in his own words in the June 2010 issue of the Free Church Witness under the article, “Trusting in His Grace”, found here:
I will attempt to flesh out more about his life later this week.
When he describes the spiritual battlefield in Sri Lanka, he identifies two primary fronts: the Buddhists outside and the Charismatic Arminians inside, both of whom hold the vast majority in their respective places. So Parthee plans to pursue biblical reformation in humility and prayerful dependence upon the Lord of the harvest with a heart throbbing for Christ to have all the pre-eminence.
The metrical words of Psalm 80:14-19 immediately come to mind. May the Lord grant that heart cry for Sri Lanka.
And may this lush land overflow with spiritual fruitfulness to the glory of God.
Pastor Rob McCurley
P.S. The pictures capture Parthee preparing fresh coconut milk and flesh for us, which they consume in the middle of the hot afternoon. You see him picking the fruit from off the roof of the house.
Worship & Widows
I am writing from Sri Lanka, while most of you are reading in America, but please turn your thoughts back to India for one more report on my final day there.
Hinduism propagates a principle of vindictive retribution, wherein they interpret every affliction as a punishment from the gods for some evil deed they committed. The outworking of this wretched doctrine crushes the most vulnerable in society, especially that class so precious to the Lord — the widows. If a husband dies before his wife, the wife is deemed culpable, and consequently, she inherits a curse that few can bear. Believers in India provide a Christian burial for their deceased, but the Hindus burn their dead. In the recent past, when a husband died, his living wife would be thrown onto the top of the wood pile and engulfed in the flames along with the body of her dead husband. Thanks to the diligence of Christian missionaries we have largely eradicated that practice, but the mentality behind it remains pervasive. These bereft women, already devastated by the loss of their husbands, now face alienation and neglect from their children and immediate family. They shoulder the hardships of deprivation, toiling for their own bread, even into old age when least capable.
In addition, Hinduism promotes male domination throughout society, where women cannot even go to “heaven” unless their husbands choose to bring them along as a slave. The girls are raised to view their husbands as gods and to spend their strength attempting to please him at all costs. It takes little effort to see the depraved incentives behind concocting this religious idolatry. Lost mankind always strives to supplant the place belonging exclusively to the only true Sovereign.
Now turn your attention to a slum on the east side of Ahmedabad where the gospel of Christ ignites an explosion against the background of pagan superstition. It was March 31, and we were gathered with a growing assembly of Christians for Sabbath worship. Randy and I were seated as guests at the front of the auditorium facing the congregation. I could not comprehend an ounce of the minister’s lengthy prayers, but his ardency was keenly felt. Likewise, though we were unfamiliar with their Gujarati praise, the joy beaming from this dark corner surely spoke volumes to those who heard it. Nish served as interpreter when I was called upon to preach Christ to the people, and I noted several onlookers from the community who stood outside the assembly peering through the many large openings around two sides of the hall. To be honest, I struggled more than I had hoped, but I had to trust the Lord to demonstrate his power in my weakness. Nonetheless, the sight and thought of these precious people moved my soul. We were told afterward that about 50% of those in attendance were unconverted.
The Lord granted the privilege of ministering to these outcasts, and the events following the benediction intensified our appreciation for their witness. The church had prepared 20 sacks weighing about 50 pounds each, filled with enough staple food to feed a woman for four or five months. The minister held a list of the names of 20 legitimate widows. We offered prayer for God’s blessing upon these precious women, and then Randy and I helped to distribute the food to each of them. Friends, we cannot grasp in the U.S. the impact on these women or the bewilderment of the Hindu community. The light of Christ shines in word and deed throughout this slum.
The minister, Ravi, and his wife and daughter chose to live in the slums among the people, unlike the few other Christian missionaries serving this area, a fact noticed by the inhabitants around them. They face many obstacles, but his countenance brightens as he describes the vision for the work and the Lord’s blessing on his labors. For the first four years they abode in a slum house, but now they enjoy better housing, consisting of one small bedroom/living quarter, a kitchen, a separate bathroom (containing only a toilet, which I could not figure out how to use) and running water and some other modern conveniences.
Ravi conversed (via Nish) about all that the Lord was doing. He also asked some good theological questions about the nature of Christ’s resurrected body in heaven. The flow of spiritual conversation demonstrated his obvious devotion to the Lord Jesus, and left us greatly edified by his fellowship. I assured him that I would convey his story to many back in America and that we would seek the Lord’s blessing for him in prayer.
In this post I have discharged my commitment to inform you of the need. Now it falls to your families to join me in offering prayers for the advance of Christ’s kingdom here.
“Because the Lord a father is
unto the fatherless;
God is the widow’s judge, within
his place of holiness.
God doth the solitary set
in fam’lies: and from bands
The chain’d doth free; but rebels do
inhabit parched lands.”
(Ps. 68:5-6, metrical)
In Christ’s bonds,
Pastor Rob McCurley
P.S. The pictures include:
Ravi and his wife and daughter
Pictures of the slums from the roof.
The contents of the 50 lb. sacks.
A Giant Tear Drop
Randy and I still abide in the land of the living and are now drawing our breath on the island of Sri Lanka. Thank you for your kind prayers for our long day of travel. When we planted our feet on the turf outside Parthee’s home last night (Monday) we were exhausted, having been up since Sabbath morning. We hope that a couple nights of rest will revive our energy.
Parthee’s cheerful disposition and spiritual conversation, coupled with the scenes outside the window of the vehicle, increased the delight of an otherwise grueling six hour trek from the capital city of Colombo to the north-central city of Vavanyu. I bombarded poor Parthee with a myriad of questions about life and ministry in Sri Lanka, which furnished me with enough material for many more posts, though the sand is now falling quickly through the hour glass that marks our return home. The Lord has bequeathed to this nation a fascinating history and rich culture. Over the next few days I will attempt to convey to you some of the treasurers I uncovered.
Our first impression coming off the plane had to do with the humidity, a substantial difference from arid Ahmedabad. Think sticky, very sticky. I am drenched even now as I write. The thermometer indicates temperatures slightly lower than we experienced in India, but I can hardly believe it. What do you call the opposite of a wind chill — you know how the wind chill makes it feel colder than the thermometer reads? I am clueless about the mathematical and scientific explanations, but the combined factors of closer proximity to the Equator, lower elevation, nearness to the sea and significantly higher humidity must magnify the heat index, but the net result feels like 50 degrees above the thermometer. We will happily acclimate over the next few days. Besides, consider the bright side: we guzzle gallons of water and sweat gallons back out our skin, thereby creating an internal washing machine that will leave us squeaky clean and healthy. Parthee’s house does not have air-conditioning, making it warmer inside than outside, but they also do not have hot water, which is a great boon in light of the former. We welcome a cool shower, and taking two or three a day is not uncommon for those who live here. But if my posts seem to degrade with time — remember that my brain is cooked. We may be hot, but we are happy. Randy and I are thrilled with the opportunity to support Christ’s kingdom in Sri Lanka. And I am sure that you will rejoice to hear about the Lord’s wonderful work and Parthee’s vision and labors.
My second impression had to do with the lush vegetation. Picture palm trees yielding enough coconuts to feed untold numbers of people. Parthee insists that they could not survive without coconuts, but they are only the tip of the ice berg (an misplaced metaphor, if there ever was one). Sri Lanka boasts of its status as a fruit paradise. All of the food found on Sri Lankan tables is harvested from with their own country. So they rotate what they eat based on what is in season, guaranteeing that every morsel is fresh from the fields. And they have a ton of variety from which to choose, much of which is new to me. Breakfast included wood apple jelly, a fruit that doctors here say is especially healthy. You can probably investigate wood apple on Wikipedia. They also have eight different varieties of bananas, including a red one. We know about mangos and papaya, but Parthee is capable of dazzling you with the names of fruit you have never heard.
The purpose of this brief post was to report that we arrived safe and sound, thanks to the Lord’s kind upholding. More details about the ministry will be forthcoming over the next couple of days, Lord willing. One final prayer request: Given all that I said about the weather, you can imagine the impact on the mosquito count. So please to continue to pray for protection against the diseases borne by that acrobatic menace. As our catechism teaches, God’s providence is over “all his creatures and all their actions”, including every flying insect and where they go and who they bite.
When you look at Sri Lanka on the map, it bears the resemblance of a giant tear drop. Their history, even the recent past, testifies to much hardship and many tears. But our hearts long for tears bearing the fruit of repentance joined with tears of joy over the sight of the Savior. You can join us in using the mental image of the tear drop as a prompt to pray Psalm 126 for this island nation and for Pastor Parthee’s ministry.
“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, brearing precious seed shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”
The next post, which is already written, will include details of our last day in India.
Pastor Rob McCurley
Signing off from India
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
Aiming at Edification
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)