Wow... that was one intense week. I'm having a glimpse of what the ministry would look like.
I travelled from Mumbai to Hyderabad, and from Hyderabad to Vishakapatnam, then back, then finally attended a wedding reception in Sircilla, Nizamabad district.
I was there representing the Montreal church and trying to encourage the disciples there as much as I could. The trip was so edifying for me too!
UPDATE: I added some of the pictures
Monday evening, big stress... I'm leaving work with things barely fixed to let the testers have fun with my work, and I'm rushing to the train. Thank God, almost no traffic. I take the train, and get a nice surprise: I was upgraded from 3AC to 2AC. Worth about 400 or 500 rupees more, for free :D
I arrived the next day, in the afternoon, in Secuderabad. A brother picked me there and we went to my host's place. In the same building, we have a) the church office, b) the evangelist' flat and c) his parents' flat. That evening, I join the singles inviting folks in the street to come to Saturday's programme.
Wednesday, I'm taking a plane to Visag and the brothers welcome me there. We go to a guesthouse by the beach. The view is amazing, the bed huge, and there is AC. I was liking my trip! We visited the city a bit, and I interviewed the leader of that church, with the help of his niece who translated for us, since he only speaks Telugu. In the evening, I preached on sanctification and after we went have a walk on the beach. One of the girls studying the Bible in the group was making advances at me, but I did not take advantage of her. You can't preach that you're a saint and then get cozy with girls the same evening (or week, or year for that matter)... Satan was trying to distract me from my mission. I spent more time with brothers then, and it was time for zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. The hot sun of AP was just too much for me.
On Thursday, it was time for some tourism. I had a great time with a brother who took me around, made me meet another brother for interview, and then we visited one of the touristic areas on the city. There was a 'shrine of all religions' there and it was disapointing to see a man worshipping the image of some guy. Finally, I took the train around 5PM.
The church there is small, about 20 disciples. Their signing is very powerful though. The city is full of people who either never left it, and are likely not to speak any language than Telugu, or Navy people who'll all have a fair share of education. Its an interesting mix.
Back in Hyderabad on Friday morning, it was a "meet poverty day". I got to visit the HOPE English Middle School, which covers kindergarden to 4th grade. All is provided by HOPE, thanks to funding by CA. By all, I mean it: breakfast, lunch, pencils, books, school uniform. The kids who attend live in the nearby slums and would not have any education otherwise. They dream of jobs as doctors, engineers, etc. Without a good education, they would maybe "dream" of jobs like housewife, rickshawallah, etc. In the pure HOPE tradition, they don't care about the religious background, only about need. They have many challenges ahead, since getting state certification is difficult without bribing. A massive increase in funding would help getting things at a level allowing the certification, and that's pretty much the only option.
Then, I saw the computer centres. They serve two batches. Mornings are for housewives, graduates, industrial workers. Afternoons are for school children of public school. In India, there is a simple rule: if you go to public school, your education sucks and you'll have trouble getting a job. If you go to a private school, you get a major head start. I was surprised to see that many housewives are signing up for the computer classes, as they want to learn how to use the computer that they have in the house. In the evening, we had a devo for the Nanpali house church and the response to the message I preached was great! Some started confessing their sins, etc. Its a bit surprising and hard to deal with a sister confessing challenges in purity, but I guess I better get used to it, since God has given me the vision of doing more of the same.
After that, I spent some time with brothers in a poor area. I felt twisted inside. So many emotions... anger at the fact that a church will tolerate an illiterate preacher in the 21st century, sadness about the love of traditions of the people over the idea of a genuine faith, anger at a government that won't bother educating its people, gladness for all the blessings I have received, joy of knowing that brothers will have great impact there, sadness at the fate of people who are so down on luck that dreaming is a rare luxury, pain feeling their painful living... that was A LOT for me to handle. Truth be told, I did not took the time to handle it. I kind of pushed it aside. I know I'll have to revisit this place, at least in memory.
On Saturday I first went to Golconda Fort, once the home of the Nizam of Hyderabad. I spent more than a bit of time preparing for the lecture in the evening. It was a modified version of "La Bouffonerie Chrétienne", which I did with Telugu translation this time around. I visited the "matchmakers" of the church, the couple who do the arranged marriages. Hard idea at first glance, it is really wise and healthy in the way done by the church. Essentially, boys and girls don't mix too much in South Indian culture. The matchmakers get a "matched" couple over for diner and get them to do some "extra fellowship". After some "dates", they'll decide to get married or not. Maximum dating period: 6 months. In short, they decide to get married the moment Westerners decide to start dating.
Sunday was the first time I did a full Sunday message. The topic was "Brotherhood without boundaries". The disciples were challenged in the right way. There was a brother who recorded parts of the message and some KKC (kid's class). I was surprised to find out that the children had their Sunday program in the open. I did some more interviews with disciples, and was amazed at how crazy hard conversion can be here. Some of them got beat up pretty bad by their families, and yet they forgave them and are helping them.
In the evening, I went to Charminar market with the evangelist's mother. What a crazy place! Its jewelry central!!! There is one street with only shops selling bangles. Only bangles! And so many pearl merchants too, and some folks selling fine clothing, like wedding kurtas worth 6000+ rupees! And we shopped some pearls... I didn't want such a gift, but they really insisted on giving me something like that.
Even now, I don't realize it. Who am I to get fancy gifts like that?
Politicians, businessmen, IOC officials... these guys get gifts all the time. I'm not one of those. I'm not even leading any congregation. I'm just doing my best to encourage people. I don't know how to deal with recognition of any kind. I don't like people clapping their hands and cheering at the end of a message I do. I don't know what to say when I am told that my message was great and inspiring. I feel I don't deserve gifts like those I got. Am I suffering for some variant of the survivor's guilt? Do I need to understand more dimensions to Grace? I'm afraid that the answer to the last one is yes...
But, I still have to write to you about my trip to Nizamabad district...
On Monday, I leave pretty early to take a bus to Sircilla, Nizamabad district, Andhra Pradesh. The heartland of the Andhras, pure Telugu-land. Am I kidding? No, their local MP is of the "Telugu Nation" party... I went with a brother. At first I didn't think that I would need any help, and was fighting Raghu about this. I soon understood the wisdom. No English, no Hindi, only Telugu. And no, there is nothing in common between the last two.
It was different... the land looked dried up. I wonder what it'll look like at the end of summer. There were boars roaming around the streets, and it was small-town like setting. Only that a small town around here is 100 000 people! It is a textile manufacturer's city. Both our flatmates have fathers in the textile business. One was very proud of the new machine he just imported from China.
We were very warmly welcomed. For some people, my flatmate and myself will be the only foreigners they'll ever see in their life. The "we" onwards will include that brother, me, and my Colombian flatmate.
We joined the house of the newlyweds in the afternoon, after pooja. The moment we got in the house, we were asked to "go pray to god". In other words "please go commit idolatry".
After a long silence, I said no. The brother said no. More incomfort... my flatmate went, put the spot on his forehead (its called a Tilak), worshipped the idol, ate the prasad, etc.
After, we were introduced to the father and his friends. It was weird... they introduced themselves by their jobs. "Caste association secretary", "diamond trader", "college professor"...
We ate some very spicy Andhra food. Andhra is the spiciest in India. The guys who ate before us found it spicy... I was afraid that I'd end up crying because of the spice. Surprisingly, not at all. They were all surprised that a foreigner would eat on the floor, with leaves as a plate, and eat their food without flinching.
At this rate, I'll get an Indian passport before I leave... ;)
After that, it was time to sacrifice goats to get some goddess' blessing. It was the first time I saw an animal worshiped and then sacrificed. And it wasn't the nice and calm kosher-style of killing. No, more like decapitation. They put the blood on some factory equipment, for blessing's sake... My colleagues in Mumbai were surprised that people in India still did that stuff.
In the evening, I wore my ceinture fléchée and went to the reception. Men on one side, women on the other. Not just the singles, even the marrieds. The couple would come together, and then split. South India is more conservative, and rural south India is VERY conservative. And the poor married stood for 3+ hours, while people would throw them some rice on the face (a blessing) and take pictures. I did bless them, more Christian style. The food was good... we had the sacrificed goats for dinner. There was some dance, but the women wouldn't dance. We managed to convince some teenage girls to join us for dancing. They asked permission to their mothers and joined us for 2 minutes. It would've been easier to apply for a security clearance.
And the next day was traveling... bus to Hyderabad, bus to Mumbai.