James 4:14

"Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away." James 4:14

Monday, January 24, 2011

Hyderabad and more

Pizza Hut, Subway, Domino's, KFC, welcome to Hyderabad. What a totally different India. Big, nice buildings and westernized shops. So weird being there. We arrived at six in the morning to the Best Western to meet a guy (Bruce) from the States whom Pastor Daniel had known for a while. He was there on business. The hotel was pretty fancy, even by American standards. We traveled around the city most of the day. Possibly the most encouraging part was when we visited a Christian college where Bruce had an appointment to present his business plan to the teachers. We drove around for a while and weren't able to find it. Finally, after many phone calls, as we were about to give up, I spotted a small sign in a third story window that read, “Trinity Christian College.” We were welcomed by one of the staff and went upstairs. He sled us to a room where the staff was having lunch. There was nothing fancy about this place and it had a small staff of about six or seven people. I noticed a book cabinet and began looking at some of the titles (I kinda like books). I was greatly encouraged by what I saw. They had some very solid books by authors I recognized. Bruce gave his presentation and the staff asked good questions. I was so blessed talking with them afterward. They showed us around the floor which was very small and simple—a couple offices, a couple classrooms, and a room where they made curtains and candles to support the college. As I was talking with the Assistant Director of the college, he asked me what I did in the States (sort of a weird question right now). I told him a little bit about the Brushfire and immediately he called David (guy who greeted us at the start) in. Apparently, David and his wife have a desire to start that kind of ministry in Hyderabad. He was really anxious to hear about how it worked. Great time with those believers.

We had lunch at Subway which was really weird and then went to do some shopping...that is, Bruce did shopping. We went into a store that sold all sorts of souvenirs. It was hard to see this side of India—the extravagance. As we walked in, we were greeted by the main salesman who immediately began pulling out beautiful (and expensive) scarfs, explaining the quality and everything else about them. The store had nice gold things, nice cloth, nice carpets, nice jewelery, etc. Each section had it's own salesperson. I wandered around the store while Bruce began bartering. Once salesman, about my age, came up to me and tried selling me stuff. He realized I wasn't interested and we began talking casually. We talked about America how he would like to go. He then asked how I liked India. I said, “Some things I like, some things I don't.” He asked what I didn't like. I said, “All the idols.” He asked what I meant and I explained that it's hard to see people worshiping an object made with human hands instead of the God who made them. He agreed and mentioned he was Muslim. We had a short talk about sin and forgiveness, but Bruce was done and we had to leave. Not everything I would have liked the conversation to be, but possibly a seed was planted and either way it's better than talking about scarfs. Praise God!

We went to a couple other shops and they were all kind of boring. At night, we had some of Hyderabad's famous Biriyani (which was delicious) and then caught the bus home. So, there were ups and downs for the whole trip (some which I can't mention), but overall it was a good trip and I learned a ton.

On Wednesday we visited one of the village churches that was having a prayer meeting. Pastor Daniel gave me the message for the service. The church was very kind and encouraging. The coolest thing happened when the service was over. They started bringing out bags of rice and passed them out to the widows in the church. What a blessing to see the Indian church reaching out to it's own people. We prayed for many of them during this time. It's always hard to see though. One young lady asked for prayer because she has three small kids and her husband recently passed away. It rips your heart out, but I'm glad to know she has a solid church to help her out.

Thursday was also amazing. We had a pastors meeting in the evening at a different village church. We arrived early in the evening and hung out with the kids while we waited for other pastors to show up (they run on Indian time). The kids where all great. The meeting was absolutely spectacular. After we had a good group, we had a “procession” through the village. We walked through the streets together singing praises while a couple guys played drums. The adults would pass out tracts to people along the way. The procession was led by the kids. This was AMAZING! This little army of God would dart in and out of each house leaving tracts and mailbox club invites. It was an experience that I just can't explain with words to see these little evangelists running and skipping and singing and delivering their goods. Another great example of the church being the church. After it got dark, we gathered back in the building and enjoyed praising God together. I had the message here as well. I pray it was an encouragement to them. It's always fun to be with all the pastors and see them joking with each other.

Pastor Daniel also gave me the message on Sunday. I'm always blessed to be around the believers here and to see their faithfulness. The prayer meetings on Friday morning and Saturday evening continue to encourage me. There are battles for sure, inside and outside. It's definitely not all peaches and cream, but through everything, God continues to show His faithfulness. His grace and love continue to amaze me each and every day.

It seems like most missionary letters have the typical, “thanks for your prayers and support..they're really a blessing and encouragement...blah blah blah” in them. It's true though! It means so much to have all of you standing with me in prayer. What a family! I'm so amazed and thankful for all the wonderful people God has placed in my life. Please don't stop! I desperately need your prayers every day.

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude 24-25

Please Pray:
--Tabitha's husband-salvation
--Unity and openness
--Satesh--salvation (and that he would come to church)
--Ifran (young Muslim)--that he would know Jesus is the only way for forgiveness.

Praise For:
--Good Travels
--His work in the Indian church
--His guidance in making decisions
--His faithfulness and grace day in and day out

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Incredible Train Ride!

Well, I keep saying to myself, “I'll wait till things calm down a little and then I'll give and update, but they never do. So, I just have to buck up and do it. There's so much (have I said that before?), but here's the latest highlights.

I'll mention last Monday just because I promised it. Bottom line is prayer meeting at a house. Message, prayer and really spicy food. Spice scale: stings mouth-little spicy. Burns lips-kinda spicy. Runny nose-pretty spicy. Tears-really spicy. Good time though.

Well, this last week was super fun. Stella had to go back to college, and Sallie, Samuel, Abhi, and myself got to go with her and had a mini “vacation.” Lots of riding in buses. Bus from Eluru to Vijayawada=2 hours. Vijayawada to Chennai=13 hours. Chennai to Coimbature=12 hours. Taxi from Coimbature to Karunya (college)=1.5 hours. We stayed at the college for a couple days. It was a very nice college. It's a Christian college and fairly big (6,000) students. Good aesthetics, poor theology. In short, lots of health, wealth, spiritual feelings, material blessings and very little about sin, repentance, the cross, and Jesus' sacrifice. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” 2 Timothy 4:3-4. On the plus side, they had good coffee and it was nice meeting a couple of Stella's friends.

After two days there, we got on another bus to Ooty (forget how many hours). Ooty is like the Pagosa of India. High in the mountains and very beautiful.....and a tourist trap. I saw lots of white people there. Probably four or five every day. It's kind of funny to see them and have your mind go, “Weird, a white person.” Anyways, there was lots of good mini-adventures. Got to see botanical garden, rose garden, tea factory, waterfalls (missed my boat), hand woven flower garden, rose garden, monkeys, and lots more. I still felt weird being a tourist. It was a good time with the family though. Lots of good memories made. The coolest part, though, was one night when Abhi and I went to get food. While we were waiting for it to be made, a man came and sat down with us to eat his dinner. He spoke decent English and wanted to talk with me. We found out he grew up in Ooty and was a policeman. He asked what I did and why I was in India. So, I got to tell him. I was able to give him a little of my testimony. He asked if I was Protestant or Catholic, Abhi and I explained that it's not like a club where you just sign the card and “I'm this now” but that it's about really knowing and having a relationship with God through Jesus. We said we were simply, “Bible believing” Christians. When we asked about him, he said he was Hindu. We talked a little more, but it was off the topic. Not the best witnessing conversation, but still amazing to share a little with a Hindu policeman.

The trip home was absolutely incredible. We took the bus back to Coimbature from Ooty. Stella went back to college and we got on a train (much better) to Chennai. It was night when we arrived. We checked to see if we could catch the train back to Vijayawada. The train was full and had no room. So then we traveled around town in an auto-rickshaw to the bus stop. No room on the buses either. We checked several other spots, but all the buses were full. So, we decided to stay the night (it was already 11:30pm) and catch the early morning train (leaves at 5am). We got a couple $10/night rooms that looked like it. So we got a couple hours of sleep before walking to the train station. Train was pretty full but we were happy just to be on it and have seats. About halfway there, it started to thin out and a man named Satesh sat down with us. He spoke English and was pretty outgoing. He also asked me what I did and why I was in India. So, I got to tell him too. This was an absolutely amazing conversation. We got to talk about the gospel for over and hour and a half with him. He had some Catholic schooling mixed with Hinduism..so basically like people in Gunnison. jk. After Abhi told him I was a pastor (although I don't know if I would claim that title, but whatever), he said, “Yes, please bring Jesus to India.” I told him I can't do that because God has already given Him for the whole world and I'm here just to proclaim that. Then he said that he had been praying and meditating and asking to see Jesus face to face and that he hoped to one day. I told him that one day everyone will see Jesus. For some, it will be the most glorious thing ever, but for those who have not believed in Him, it will be the most terrifying thing ever. We talked much more about the gospel and what it means to be a Christian. I got to share my testimony with him as well. It was so exciting! What a wonderful time! Sallie gave him a Bible and I highlighted a couple key passages for him. He was very touched and kept wanting to pay for it. I told him it's like Jesus. If you pay for it, it's no longer a gift. Sallie asked him when he would start reading it. He said, “Right now” and opened it up. Praise God! It was easy to see that he was eager for it.

Then the battle became apparent. The man who was sitting next to me (across from Satesh), who had been silent nearly the entire time. Looked at him and insisted on seeing his palms. Satesh opened up his palm while the guy “read” them. They both spoke in Tamil so we couldn't say anything. We prayed while the palm reading went on. The other guy stopped for a second and Satesh went back to reading the Bible. Then the guy said something more and kept reading his palms. It was so obvious to see the spiritual battle. It was frustrating at first to see this happening right after we had just shared the gospel with him, but then I couldn't help but smile. It's funny that even though the two things are opposites, they are not by any means equal. The best thing the powers of darkness have to offer is just wish-washy speculations and guesses with the stars etc, whereas God has given us the solid truth of Jesus-a Risen Savior! God offers real, solid, forgiveness now. He gives us the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Not some wish-washy feel good guess, but a finished work. He has also given us His word. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” Hebrews 4:12. We were able to give Him the solid gospel and the word of God. I pray for him, that the Light would shine in his heart and that there would be a block to all the darkness and lies that will come across him. We also gave him a card for New Covenant Ministries and he said that he will try to come to church next Sunday. That would be great! Please pray for him!

It was so amazing. It's a great reminder that when things don't go according to our plans, it's often because God has something better in mind. It's not hard to see that God had us miss the train and buses the night before so that we could share His Good News with Satesh. It's incredible to see God's mighty hand at work in all of our circumstances. God is sooo good!

Well, I've had one day at home and tonight I leave for Hyderabad with P.D. A friend from the States is there for a couple days so we're going to go see him. More bus traveling. I'm a little weary, but still looking forward to the trip. As always, you all continue to be an overwhelming encouragement. Thank you for your faithfulness in lifting me up in prayer. I need it every day. I'm sorry I can't always respond to each of you to thank you for all the encouraging emails and comments, but I really do appreciate them. Also, this is again last minute with little review, so sorry for the typos. :)

“Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

Please pray:

-Tabitha's husband-salvation
-Satesh-salvation and that he would come to church on Sunday
-Suresh (policeman)--salvation
-Wisdom in one more decision

Praise for:
-Good travels
-Guidance in one of two big decisions
-His faithfulness!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy 4th!

Happy fourth of January! This is the newest fourth of January that there has ever been. And...it is the newest day the world has yet seen. And....it is the only 1-4-11 that there will ever be. Isn't that incredible?! Wow. Anyways, here's my last week in a nutshell..at least some of it.

Earlier last week we heard that Ramesh (village pastor who is about my age) was sick and in the hospital. He was in the Eluru hospital so we went to go see him. I guess it was pretty bad stomach problems. His brother also had the same thing and was coming to the hospital as well. They said that some other people in that village had the same symptoms, but they did not know what the cause was. It was sad to see Ramesh feeling so terrible. It was there that I had a very interesting thought. As I looked at him lying there, I thought, “To pretty much everyone in America and most of the people around the world, he is just another sick Indian in a hospital bed, but God has somehow placed us together where I look at him as a friend and brother.” It is impossible for us to know everyone in this way, but it brings much insight into John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” I cannot know all people everywhere in a close, personal way, but God does. He sees each individual Indian lying in the hospital or in their houses or wherever and knows everything about each one and He loves each one. And not just Indian, but African or Asian or American or whoever. For us, we have to group people together, but God does not. He knows us all individually and He loves each one of us enough to give us His Son. How truly amazing this is! That God offers eternal life to each one of us individually if we will believe in Jesus. Wow! Anyways, Ramesh was in the hospital for a couple days and then recovered. Praise God!

Everyone was really busy on Thursday and Friday doing New Year's cleaning and some of the ladies were making sweets for the church dinner. I helped out a little with the cleaning and setting up for the cooking. I helped cook by getting out of the way. It's not hard to figure out that they have their system down and you just stay out of it and watch. I also got to spend a lot of time in the Bible. On Thursday, Stella and Sallie (my sisters) both seemed a little quieter towards me. I wondered if there was something I did that upset them. I could not ask them because they were both busy. I was a little down about it and was sitting by myself praying and singing softly. All of a sudden three of the kids came around the corner and shouted, “Brother Paul!” and ran up to me. Little Joyce (who's probably like 20 pounds) ran up and literally threw herself on me, giving me one of the biggest hugs ever. It was such a blessing and encouragement just when I needed it. Later that night, I talked with Stella and she said they have a saying, “If someone makes you happy, you don't need to tell, but if someone makes you sad, then you must tell.” So she said if I do something wrong, they will tell me about it and that they were just busy that day. Good to know.

New Years was good. We had church from 10pm on Friday to 2 or 3am to bring in the New Year. It was a good time of singing and prayer. After the service we had cake, which was sweet, both ways. Turns out people love smearing frosting on each others' faces everywhere. Haha. There was one thing that happened that greatly disturbed me. However, I got clarification on it later and it all works out.

Anyways, we also had another church service at 11am on Saturday. Pastor Daniel had given me the message. He had Abi (Levi's son) translate for me. As we started, he began sweating a lot and seemed very nervous. He passed the mic to Pastor Daniel after a couple sentences. I felt bad for him. After the service he apologized and I assured him that it was okay. He told me it was his first time translating. I told him that I was honored to be his first translation. He didn't seem to down about it which was good to see. After church, we had FOOD! It's pretty cool how it works. They all eat in rotations. So one group of them will eat while the others wait on them, serving the rice and curry and water. When that group is finished, they swap roles. I also got to serve which was a lot of fun. It is very difficult to serve people here. They are very hospitable and they see me as the guest and so they tend to not want me to serve in any way. This was one of the hardest things when I first arrived. So things like this mean a lot when they at least put up with me serving. Mostly they just laughed about it. It was fun anyway.

Pastor Daniel had given me the message here on Sunday as well as in one of the village churches we would visit in the afternoon. Message in the morning was rough. I felt like maybe I was trying to go too deep too fast. It was hard because I know the way I explained it to make sense in English did not translate well, although Pastor Daniel did his best. Well, I figure there was Scripture read, so the people got that as well as a good opportunity to practice grace. Haha. jk.

After that, we went to the village church where they honored Pastor Daniel and Annamani (his wife). This message went a lot better. Stella translated for me which was different. I feel like Pastor Daniel translates my ideas, which makes the translation longer. Stella translated more word for word and it was much faster. This was good. It also helped having a more basic message. A huge praise is that there were many more men in the church than when we had visited before. One of them was possibly the tallest Indian I've seen. He was as tall as I am. Maybe..maybe...a little taller. Makes me realize how much tall people really stand out. Anyways, we had cake and banana's here too and then went to one of the families houses for lunch. This was nice but they kept insisting that we keep eating more. We were all so full that we didn't have dinner at night.

Well, there was more stuff today (Monday) but it'll have to wait. You are all such a great encouragement to me. There is some other more serious stuff that I wish I could share with you right now, but I can't. I'll just say there are some very important decisions that need to be made and I will need God's wisdom in the days ahead. Thank you so much for praying for me and standing with me. I got blasted with encouragement from some of you last week and it was...well, encouraging, and much needed! God continues to be faithful in everything.

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:30-31

Please Pray for:
--Tabitha's husband-salvation
--Wisdom in decisions
--Jay Raju's family (lost mother last week, then had both sons in hospital this week)

Praise Him for:
--A New Year of life!
--Ramesh's health
--Men in village church
--Closeness with the people here
--Good health