On Monday, 10/28/13, we left McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville around 2:40pm and flew to Detroit. After a brief layover, we then flew to Paris, France. After yet another brief layover, we then proceeded on to India. We arrived in Delhi on Tuesday, 10/29/13, at around 11PM, and transferred to our hotel for the night. The next day, we returned to the airport for a flight to Bhopal, which lies some 500 miles further to the south.
We were met that evening by Rev. Mathews Varghese of Good News Bhopal (http://www.gnccbhopal.org/). Over the next three days (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 10/31/13-11/02/13), I spoke five times at a Ministry Conference at Good News Bhawan (Hindi for "house") in Bhopal. The conference was sponsored by the Good News Center in Bhopal, and was designed for indigenous church planters and pastors in the greater Madhya Pradesh region. Approximately 60 pastors were in attendance - several of whom, I was told, travelled as much as 18 to 24 hours by train in order to participate.
During this time, my wife and the other members in our party were working with the children at the Jeeevan Jyoti School, as well as at the orphanage, both of which are run as extensions of the Good News Center in Bhopal (http://www.gnccbhopal.org/services/anmol-kids/).
Among many other activities, they also visited and worked in the women’s tailoring and literacy program. This ministry uses hands on methods as a means to change women's lives, teaching both sewing and literacy as ways to improve their personal standards of living and also to impart hope. (http://www.gnccbhopal.org/services/anugraha-tailoring-and
On Sunday, 11/03/13, I was privileged to speak at the Morning Worship Service at the Good News Center Church (http://www.gnccbhopal.org/about-us/). That afternoon, we departed for Agra.
The following day, Monday, 11/04/13, we visited the world famous Taj Mahal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taj_Mahal) as well as its sister monument: the Agra Red Fort (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agra_Fort). Late that evening, we departed by train for Delhi, where we once again lodged for the night.
On Tuesday, 11/05/13, we travelled by high speed train trip to Haridwar, the famed Hindu Holy City on Ganges River (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haridwar), as well as Rishikesh, another famed pilgrimage site for Hindus in the foothills of the Himalayas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rishikesh).
Later that evening, we travelled by car to Dehradun (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dehradun), the capital city of the state of Uttarakhand in the northern part of India. On the
way, we rode through the famed elephant corridor. Fortunately, we did not have any elephants cross our path. We made it to Dehradun and then spent the night at the Luther New Theological College (http://www.ntcdoon.org/).
(Just one short week later, a passenger train very near to where we were plowed into a herd of elephants, killing 7 of them and further injuring 10 more. Check out the story at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/speeding
ndia-8939117.html. Be advised, though, as the pictures are somewhat sad.)
The following day, Wednesday, 11/06/13, I was privileged to speak at another conference for members of the faculty and staff, as well as church planters form Northern India. Afterwards, we were given a guided tour of the facility by the founder, Dr. George Kuruvila Chavanikamannil. His is an inspiring story of leadership, especially of the power of vision and the reward for commitment. That afternoon, we returned to Delhi by high speed train and lodged again at the Hotel Southern.
On Thursday, 11/07/13, we spent the day sightseeing in Delhi. We visited such sites as Mahatma Gandhi’s Memorial (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raj_Ghat_and_associated_memo
rials); the Qutub Minar, at 73 meters, the tallest spire in India, and, like the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qutub_Min
ar); the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official home of the President of India (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rashtrapati_Bhavan); the world famous Connaught Palace from colonial India(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connaught_Place,_New_Delhi); and the India Gate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/India_Gate).
A highlight of the day was the opportunity to ride an elephant through the streets of Delhi.
We finished the day with a little shopping and a hearty meal. Late that evening, around 11pm, we departed for the airport and our flight home. After travelling from Delhi to Amsterdam, we flew on to Atlanta, and then back in to Knoxville, arriving late in the evening on Friday, 11/08/13.
The total travel time, with layovers, is around 29 hours. Of course, the fact that one has to cross numerous time zones confuses everything, especially the internal clock in one's body. For my part, I went straight to McDonald’s and consumed massive amounts of beef. I then went directly home for a long hot shower. Thereafter, I crawled into bed and slept until Saturday afternoon.
It took another full week to get my internal clock back in proper working order. (In fairness, however, time change did occur while we were gone; and this most certainly had some impact on the length of time I needed to readjust my internal clock.)
The title of my post today is, of course, borrowed from E. M. Forster’s famed novel (which is itself borrowed from Walt Whitman's poem of the same name in Leaves of Grass). It is about a British lady who visits the country with the intention of seeing the "real India". For my part, I am thankful I got to go to India once again. I say again because this was my second trip.
On my first trip, 17 years ago, I went to dedicate the library at the New Theological College. The college itself is named in honor of the husband of a lady in the church I formerly pastored back in Georgia. Mrs. (Dr. Janie) New had given a substantial amount of money to Dr. George Chavanikamannil to help found the college in her late husband’s memory.
George's vision had been to train up one thousand, young, indigenous Indian pastors to share the Gospel in their native land. By God’s grace, they have now trained over two thousand graduates, and currently have over 330 students enrolled and studying for the Christian ministry.
That 1996 trip was a much shorter one for me. Both my sister (who was with me on the trip) and I got a severe case of "Delhi Belly" by eating the students' home-made brownies and drinking Kool-Aid made with unpurified water at the dedication ceremony. In fact, it was so severe that she wound up in the hospital; and we had to cut the trip short and fly home.
This time around, I was far better prepared. We managed not to get sick, to stay the full length we had planned, and to see much more of the country than before. Having been raised up reading Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book tales, I am happy to report that much of the wildlife for which India is noted is still there.
26,000 elephants along with untold numbers of monkeys still abound almost everywhere. While most of the tigers are restricted to national parks, they do, on occasion, still come down from the mountains and attack people. The Times of India has stories of several such examples posted online at: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/keyword/tiger-att
Also, the monuments of India are as breathtaking as they are purported to be. It is virtually impossible to gaze upon the Taj Mahal and not be filled with wonder. Ancient temples and other ruins abound throughout the countryside.
But the "real India" is most assuredly to be found in her people. And I do believe I was able to see the real India - especially in our visits to places like Bhopal and Haridwar. The emptiness evident in the faces of people (especially the eyes where there is such a blank stare) caught up in idol worship will tear your heart out. As will the utter hopelessness of people trapped in seemingly endless cycles of poverty.
Much of this is fueled by the fatalism one readily senses among them. This comes, in part, from their religion. But it also comes from the very rigid caste system. Although technically outlawed, this system of social stratification is still alive and well among the social life of most Indians (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste_system_in_India).
But, thankfully, that can all be contrasted with the authentic joy that is so abundantly evident in the countenances of those precious few Indians who have come to know Jesus Christ. They have been genuinely liberated and they know it! To be sure, the Christians of India are comparatively few in number - estimates are that only 2.5% of the country is Christian. But as my wife noted, these believers quite literally have a sparkle in their eye that most all other Indians do not.
Of course, as fellow believers, we know the reason for that. We know it is because they have found life, and life to the full (as John 10:10 says). We can only hope that other of their countrymen will do the same. India has officially outlawed evangelism by outsiders. Only indigenous missionaries can share the gospel there.
That is why I was very careful to speak only to people who were already believers while I was there. I was personally forbidden from sharing the gospel with non-believers. But I praise God for what He is doing through the faithfulness of those Indians who are believers.
Person after person that we met at the worship center at the Good News Center was a first generation believer. So were many of the Pastors, having given up everything to come out of Hinduism and follow Jesus Christ. Please pray for them as they continue their tremendous work there. For I am convinced that if there is a genuine picture of the New Testament church anywhere on this planet today, it is in India!
And I am glad I was able to witness it firsthand. It may very well have something to teach us here in the west as we find ourselves becoming increasingly counter-culture. I am also glad to continue to support it – both in my prayers and in other more tangible ways. I hope you will feel led to do the same.