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.
Friday, February 24, 2006
Thursday, February 23, 2006
This morning, we had the closing sessions of the church planting conference. After a seminar, we joined together to share the Lord's Supper. This diverse group from Southeast Asia and the United States joined hands and hearts to celebrate one of the ordinances that bind us. We united across denominational, ethnic, and linguistic lines as a visual reminder that we are one in Christ. The children then presented beautiful garland leighs full of bright colorful flowers from India. What a gift to be present here and share in this week.
As we said goodbye, Kelly and I were even more grateful for our church family to return to and reminded of how blessed we are in the states. We have been blessed with so much as Americans and should share generously in those resources. Godspeed.
Posted by Bill Shiell at 4:06 AM
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Last night we had a dose of culture. After speaking at 3 workshops and preaching for the closing session, we had a "Cultural Program." Each nation represented here sang or danced a Christian tune from their country. Some children from the orphanage here presented traditional Indian dances and music. A student at the Bible college also danced (and we're talking amazing dance here) to a Christian song in the Hindi language. This is quite a talented bunch, and they're willing to give all of their gifts to the Lord. Kelly and I sang a duet during my sermon. I'm very glad we did not have to follow up with an American dance!!!! Do you know what a 3 footed preacher looks like?
We have relocated to a hotel on the Bay of Bengal. We awoke this morning to a beautiful sunrise, small fishing vessels on the water, and the reminder that the sun never sets on the Lord's work. We will share communion with our brothers and sisters here this morning and then shop this afternoon.
Posted by Bill Shiell at 8:57 PM
Planting churches is a lot like nurturing children. They grow in life cycles as children do, thus they need patience, water, love, food, time, love, and more love. Around me this week are people who are in the trenches doing the work of the kingdom. They have come from miles around seeking to plant and nurture new churches; like other pastors, they have come for restoration of their souls and good fellowship with colleagues.
We gather at Vision Natives, a ministry of Arjun Chiguluri and his wife Raja. VN has been around since 1997. They started as a children's ministry, serving as an orphanage and home away from home for needy children. They expanded to a church planting center, school, and Bible college for this area. They are reaching unreached people groups in areas where many people are not. They have three very large buildings, beautifully adorned, perfect for this work. One building is the conference and classroom center, another is dorms for children, another is an eating hall and residence for college students. College students study here 11 months out of the year, as well as the children. They go back to their homes for a month in the spring. Families of college students come to visit them one weekend a month. That would be tough to do. All of them leave here prepared for the work God has for them. Many of the college students are here with us in the conference.
The work here crosses denominational boundaries. Some are Baptists; all are some for of evangelical. I haven't found any Pentecostals yet. Each person is uniquely gifted and willing to serve. I have met one fellow who worked with Eastman chemical in Kingsport for awhile before moving to China. He is working part time now and planting and supporting house churches in China. Another couple from America works with a church for missionaries and families in Thailand. He's a pastor and church planter.
The weather? It will be in the 90s today; some rooms have air conditioning; thankfully, our hotel does. It's warm enough here to nurture the hearts of some needy pastors and to teach this pastor a lot about the kingdom of God.
Posted by Bill Shiell at 3:26 AM
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
One of the greatest feelings in the world is to see your name on a small white sign. It's like a welcome mat in a foreign country. After a huge sigh of relief from making it through customs in India, Kelly and I were then greeted by two welcome faces-- and our names appropriately scribbled on a white sign. Our friends, Sandy and Mercy, arranged for one of their friends to meet us at the Mumbai airport and escort us during our stay. We spent the night in a hotel in Mumbai and woke up the next morning bright and early. Neither one of us could sleep very long, so we waited for our new friend to arrive at breakfast, had a cup of coffee and some toast, and boarded the plane for Vizag.
On the way to the airport, we had our first lesson in driving in India. When in doubt, don't drive! I'm glad I was in the back seat, not the front. These people are crazy. I've never seen anything like it. If there are traffic rules, I don't think anyone abides by them. They just blow their horn and go. And yes, they drive on the other (left) side of the road. I guess that's one of the major things left over from colonialism.
We finally arrived in Vizag, on the southeast coast of India, around 2:00 p.m. We checked into the hotel and arrived at the conference around 5:00 p.m. The conference is being attended by people from Nigeria, Thailand, China, Burma, U.S.A., and of course, India. The 100 participants plus speakers are truly international in flavor. People are dealing with all sorts of issues-- from fighting AIDS in Africa to dealing with a Tsunami on the Bengal Sea. I sat across the table tonight from a pastor who dealt with the Tsnumai on the coastline of India. He has started about 10 churches along the beach.
In their own way, each person carries a sign with them back to their native land. The names are not inscribed yet, but they will be. They will be the names of future believers who will be touched by these people and who will have a church to attend because of this conference. What a welcome.
Posted by Bill Shiell at 11:06 AM
Monday, February 20, 2006
Kelly and I are on the way to India. I am preaching at a church planting conference in Vizag. I will try to blog from there. Right now we have landed in Paris and are en route. We will fly into Mumbai/Bombay and rest and then fly to Vizag. Pray for us as we travel.
Posted by Bill Shiell at 4:33 AM