Category: India March 2013


I am now in Dubai on a 14 hour layover, waiting for the Emirates Airline flight that will bring me home to Texas. Ten weeks in Uganda and India was an amazingly rich and varied experience. My flight leaves at 2:45 a.m. and lasts another 16 hours into FW-Dallas. With the 5 hour flight from India to get me here, that’s 35 hours total for the trip.

The funny part of this leg of the journey is that I am flying westward, with the sun, so I will leave at 2:45 a.m. Dubai time and arrive at 9:45 a.m. Central time, but be in the air 16 hours, surfing the sunrise into Dallas.

I am looking forward to seeing everyone, but especially that one person I am married to, and whose birthday and our anniversary I missed during the trip. I probably won’t do this again without taking Gail along. This has been tough on both of us. But reunions are sweet! And, I’m finding, time apart reawakens the poet in me…but those small offerings were meant just for her. I’m comin’ home, Ma…

Advertisements

When I write about India, I am frequently vague about people, locations and church names. Here’s the reason. Christianity represents just 2% of the Indian population, far outnumbered first by Hindus, and second by Islam. Both Hindus and Moslems may tend to persecute Christians in India, though there are often long seasons of peace.

Radical Hindus can be quite violent – see http://persecutionindia.com/. Just before I arrived in India, the team had worked in the state of Orissa, which has been violently anti-Christian until just recently when the climate has eased significantly. One of the main political parties in India, and one that is thought will soon gain a political majority, is the radical Hindu party BJP – see http://tiny.cc/cfaruw.

Hindus may also tend to abuse and then ostracize family members who become Christian, though often they can eventually be reasoned with. The main complaint is that they will have no one to marry, and marriage and children mean a great deal to Hindus. I have heard a story that one girl who converted was given a plate and cup and told by her parents to sit in the corner only and use only the one plate and cup to eat so as not to defile the rest of their home.

Contributing to all this, the first missionaries to India focused on the untouchable caste as an easy target for evangelism. This has had the unfortunate long-term effect of type-casting Jesus as the “god of the untouchables” (they consider Him one of many gods), and Christianity as the religion of the untouchables. This makes Christianity very unappealing to the higher castes of India, and especially unappealing to a higher caste whose child converts downward to Christianity. Hence the complaint, “Who will they marry?” For reference, so you will understand “downward,” the untouchables are the bottom of the caste ladder, except for the tribal groups. The tribal groups are considered to be non-existent by higher castes (as in not worth considering – much the way gypsies are viewed in Europe), and are therefore below untouchables. Complicated, isn’t it?

Moslems are also persecuting Christians in India and elsewhere, even organizing centers to train their radical young men how to effectively attack and drive out Christians and Christian churches using violence. Many pastors are beaten in areas where these organizations are active. Though there is not currently a strong anti-Christian movement in the Nalgonda area where we were for the last three weeks, we did pass a Moslem training center for violence in the city. The police tend to respond to these kinds of threats in “free” India only when a crime is committed, or when the area’s police officials actually consider the persecution to be “a crime.”

It is for these reasons that I do not often list people’s or church’s names or even community names when I speak of the work in India. I do not wish to put any information out on the internet that could be used against the pastors and churches here.

Every March in Nepal and India, natives go a little crazy during the celebration of Holi, one of India’s oldest and apparently most enthusiastic festivals. Holi originates in Painted 1ancient Hindu myth but is very much alive and well as a popular national holiday in 2013. Everyone was off work, and we even had 51 in attendance during our teaching in the village.

Holipaint 2 celebrates the triumph of good over evil, but it is now mainly a harvest festival which marks the end of winter and the “cold season,” which from my perspective seems to be a shift of about 7 degree upward, but we are located in the south of India, and perhaps the change of seasons is more dramatic in the North. It has regularly been 100 plus F since we’ve been here, topping 105 the last couple of days and headed for 120 by May, so the “cold” season is entirely relative. Somewhere in the complicated storyline of the myth that spawned Holi, the god Krishna seems to be chasing a group of handmaidens with some kind of paint. Now, like our Halloween, the least has become the first, and it is the paint that everyone associates with this holiday.

All the markets were selling baggies loaded from large piles of brilliantly colored powdered dyes, which are apparently colored flour that is mixed with water. During the long partying and hard-drinking night and following day, the dye is flung at all passers-by, Hindu or not, celebrants or not. People are pulled from their cars and doused with buckets of paint. th

The next day we saw many multi-colored Indians walking about and some still throwing paint. As we entered the freeway ramp on the way home at 5 pm, we passed a group of four Indian men on the shoulder, no vehicle in sight. They seemed to be fighting with each other, and one of them was spread-eagled on the ground, unconscious either with drink or “failure to duck.” Most of the celebration seemed to be in good fun and humor, with the occasional over-indulgence. No one seems to resepaint 3nt being caked from head to toe in some eye-shattering fluorescent color, which is what happens to anyone found on the streets. There were many children of all ages running around enjoying themselves with hair and clothing all scarlet, green, yellow, or purple, or a mix of all.

At 6 am this morning my companion Lynn Noles and I drove with our host to the center of Nalgonda, parked the car and walked past a mosque to the foot P1080499of a long upwards stairway. These are the 550 steps that climb one of the two mountain that Nalgonda is built against and around. The mountain is named Lateef Saheb Dargah Mountain.

We left Martin at the bottom and began the long steep climb. The temperatures thankfully were cool in the morning breezes, though by mid-morning they would be pushing the normal 104 degrees of the last week. We wanted to take advantage of the cooler air to P1080501make this arduous climb.

The mountain itself rises up out of the flat surrounding (flood-basin?) plain like the tip of an arctic iceberg, an image that if we hold onto it firmly may help with the heat a little. I suspect each of these strange mountains that suddenly rise up out of the tabletop-like landscape hides two-thirds of its mass below the earth.

There is a small mosque on the top of this mountain, so the access might be limited to moslems except for the presence of a police transponder station that also shares the summit and is always manned by several officers assigned to the radio-monitoring duty.

We climbed to the top, enjoyed the view of Nalgonda and the surrounding territory, escorted by the local pack of dogs, who guided us up the steps all the way to the top. It turned out that the leader of the pack was the mama dog and she is the pet of one of the families who live at the mosque – when we P1080506finally reached the top we found her leashed and sitting contentedly next to her owner on a rock.

Here are some of the pix I took.

P1080520

P1080537P1080552

P1080513

P1080526

First version didn’t publish picture (internet issues) – Mixed into the back country of the India we are driving through daily is another flavor of cultural in2013-03-18 10.12.04fluence. Scattered around rural India, there seem to be pockets of those who have rejected all religion as a matter of conscience. We passed Hindu temple after temple, and then suddenly by the side of the road stood a large red pillar with a hammer and sickle at the top. This marks the village as communist.

Apparently the people in the immediate vicinity have experienced their own reaction to the many gods of the Hindus, and their agenda is a political one, seeking radical reform of the government and the society they live in. We are told that they have violently rejected all religions and supposedly work to make their areas religion-free zones. We are warned that it is actually dangerous for Christians to try to evangelize in a communist area because the people will attack with the intent to drive you off. Motivated by political fervor, their efforts have apparently met with some success politically. There is one state of the 29 states of India that has voted communism into the majority in recent years.

We came across several of these small enclaves on the back roads we were traveling. Attached is a picture of one of the markers. Oddly, sitting in the very shadow of this hammer and sickle obelisk is what appears to be a small Hindu temple. So I’m not sure what that means exactly. India is perhaps the most complex of all countries. Don’t even ask about the caste system. It will take me years to understand all the nuances.

Where Am I, You Ask

Some are asking where I am in India. India is a large country. It has 1.2 billion people. I am located in the state of Andra Pradesh along with a population ofMap India 80 million. Here is a map showing approximately where I am in Nalgonda, Andra Pradesh, India.

  • The largest democracy in the world, the land also known as Bharat or Hindustan is unique with its  incredible diversity, both culturally and physically.
  • The second largest populous country,  India is home to around 16 per cent of world’s population. The country, however, accounts for 2.42 per cent of the total world area. India’s land mass is one-third the size of the U.S., but is large enough and isolated enough to be considered a “sub-continent.”
  • India has two National languages (Central administrative). They are English (but many can’t speak it – the schools teach reading and writing but are weak on speaking) and Hindi (in the Devanagiri script). The Indian Constitution also officially recognizes 22 regional languages – They speak Telegu where I am.
  • Religions are Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism – Hindu 81.8%, Muslim 12.1%, Christian 2.3%, Sikh 1.9%, Other groups including Buddhist, Jain, Parsi1.9% (2001)
  • Urban population is 28%, which means that 72% of the people live in the villages scattered all over India, communities with 50 – 100 families.
  • 88% of the people of India have access to an improved water source. We have seen women carrying water from unimproved water sources like streams and ponds. It seems the men rarely carry water here unless it’s by motorcycle or bicycle. The women walk. However, in the cities we see improved conditions for women, women riding cycles also, woman professionals, etc. India is progressive in many ways in the urban areas, not so much in the villages.

As I taught our very earnest group of 20 Indian Christians today, I led off with a scripture meditation on Ecclesiastes 3:11 which says: “He has maP1080488de everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.” We discussed this amazing verse together for 20 minutes. These folks, most of them converted from Hinduism, understood mP1080467e well when I explained that God has put a hunger for Him in the hearts of all men. I encouraged them to be confident that when they go out to share Christ with their neighbors and with the villagers who do not have a Christian church within many miles of their home that God’s Spirit will bear witness to their good news about Jesus. When they share the plan of salvation, they can be bold because He has put eternity in the hearts of each one of these people and they already hunger for Him, though they may be searching for Him among many gods.

We agreed that when a person first hears the gospel, they react to it, some with gladness because now they know the very thing they have been searching for, and it is as if their spirits recognize the name of Jesus when it is first spoken to them. Others react with fear because they recognize that if they embrace this Name which resounds in their spirits, they will have to abandon their traditional worship of the million gods of India. But each of these Christians hP1080482as arrived in this class in this very manner, so they are familiar with this process of hearing the name of God spoken for the first time.

We are surrounded by Hindu temples as we travel around India. There are large temples and small temples, each to a different god, many representing the god who rules that local region (Eph. 6:10-13). We pass by well-kept temples that are decorated with intricate carvings or lavish paintings of these gods. Sometimes the idol of the god stands out in the yard of the temple area for all to see, other times it is hidden inside the structure of the temple building, inviting the worshiper to bring the sacrifices inside to the altar. There are food, flower, drink, and sometimes blood offerings. The variety of gods available is surprising – we have seen temples to the lion-faced god with the human body, the monkey god (very popular in this region), the four-faced god, the ten armed god flying down to attack a man witP1080481h a sword in one hand and a cobra in another, the cobra god himself – nearly every creature here and every legend or ancient tale spawns a different god that someone worships.

We pass by many ruins also. These are temples that look ancient and which have fallen into ruin and disuse, grown over by plants, and look very much like something from an Indiana Jones movie. These temples fall into disuse because the families that originally built them have all died out or moved away, or the historical kingP1080480 of the area who built it was deposed or conquered and replaced by another with a different god, etc. Now India is a united “democracy,” and the forces who built many of these small, older temples have completely disappeared into antiquity. We also still see new temples being constructed in the villages as the cycle continues.

Our Indian hosts tell us that there are still treasures buried in many of these old temples by the original worshipers, but that no one bothers them because they are sacred places, and many of them are supposedly guarded by cobras which are plentiful here and which like to live in the old stonework. There is one large and famous temple in the state to the west of here that is very famous because within its ruins are buried enough treasures of gold and jewels to pay off the national debt of India. But it has been sealed until recently, and the governme2013-03-18 11.00.59nt is still deciding what to do with the treasure that has now been discovered within the temple walls, floors and hidden chambers. And even though our Christian hosts don’t believe the treasure was really guarded by a giant cobra, there is a hint of doubt in their voice as they repeat the famous story (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-13994351).

Visiting this land makes the idol-worship so frequently referenced in the Old Testament very real. I have attached pictures of some of the temples we have seen so you can see what I am describing.

Here is the church “facility” we taught in the early part of the week. We drove for two hours along poorly kept country roads to reach this village where the c2013-03-18 14.07.59hurch is located.

What you see in the pictures is the front of the pastor’s home. He has constructed a canopy over the “front porch” area, which is reality is the dirt yard in front of his house. Then he has wrapped colorful cloths around the posts to enclose it. He puts rugs on the ground for the people to sit on during the service. This is the sum of his church facility. Under the edge of the cloths on one side where it rides up a bit, we frequently saw the feet of goats or cattle passing closely by on their way to the pasture. Chickens wandered in during our lunch and prowled around the edges of the “room,” sensing that food would be dropped.

There was a six hen “flock” o2013-03-18 11.00.59f guinea hens that seemed to hang close to the house, though they ranged up and down the dirt road next to it looking for food. They were always together, moving in perfect tandem like a team of synchronized swimmers, sometimes even taking a dirt bath together between the the house and our parked car and kicking up a cloud of dust. Their “call” is more highly pitched than the2013-03-18 13.55.29 other chickens that were running about, and so all through the teaching, two days about 6 hours per day, I could hear this little group of six marching up and down, complaining or gossiping, or whatever their cackling means.

When you look at these pictures of the church facility, remember that this church is already discussing planting another church in the next village. Kind of puts my need for AC, PA systems, musical instruments, etc., into perspective…