Headlines from First Thoughts

Friday, February 24, 2006

Bill, Bill, George, and Birds

Former President Bill Clinton was here earlier this week. President George Bush will arrive next week. So in the middle of a bird flu and presidential visits, I've arrived to give some input to the daily affairs of India. Ok, I'm not nearly as important as birds and presidents, but it has been interesting that the world is focused on India right now.

About the bird flu, in Vizag, it's a big joke. They laugh about it, and they're still serving omelets for breakfast at the hotel. In Northwest India, it's no laughing matter. About the presidential visits, people are taking notice as well. Bill Clinton has been promoting his AIDS awareness causes; George Bush will arrive on the heels of a flu outbreak and proposed changes in nuclear policy.

So down in a resort town on the Bay of Bengal, we've been talking about kingdom issues-- God's kingdom. There are over 440 indigenous missions organizations in India right now, and they send 44,000 missionaries. You would think that is enough missionaries. But India's Christian population is actually shrinking. According to statistics I've read from my host, Christianity has shrunk from 4% to 2.4% of the population; in the northeast, it's less than 1%.

Some say it's because the government is suppressing the numbers (they don't care for Christianity much in a Hindu/Muslim/Sikh country). Some say we have many people planting churches, but they are not very qualified, trained, or educated. We need to do a better job of training them in Christian colleges and seminaries. Others say the American missionaries spent most of the past 30 years trying to get people to become American Christians, rather than Indian Christians. In other words, you have to sing American hymns, choruses, and adopt Western values in addition to giving your life to Christ. I'll leave that for the missiologists to decide. I will tell you that we sang a lot of praise songs at this church planting conference. Do you remember, "You are the Rock of my Salvation"? How about, "Open our Eyes, Lord"? We've exported praise and worship to India.

The bottom line-- Indian people still need the gospel, and they need trained leaders. Western values are on the rise-- and not the kinds sung from the hymnal or seen on a screen at church. Everything that we decry about American materialism and economics is growing in the subcontinent. We might be the place for call centers and outsourcing, but we've also delivered plenty of other struggles to this culture as well. And yes, they have a good strong dose of Hindu civil religion to go around to make doing the work of Jesus even more urgent. It makes me even prouder that our society values religious liberty and freedom-- not just religious tolerance.

As we were walking the streets of Vizag yesterday, I heard a strange sounding noise. "What's that?" I asked the guide.
"It's the Muslim call to prayers."
"How often do they do that?" I asked.
"About 4 times a day" he replied.

As we passed by the mosque, I remembered that there are problems deeper than bird flu, AIDS, or nuclear issues that neither Bill, George, or this Bill can affect. Only by God's power will people hear the name of Christ, and he will use God's people to be his agents of love and reconciliation.

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