From January 14-23 I was blessed with the opportunity to serve with Grand Parkway Baptist Church on a mission trip to the Odisha provence of India. We partnered with a local pastor who oversees a network of 25 churches and who established and directs an orphanage that houses 47 children. The journey to get there and back was long- over 48 hours each way. The area we were in is relatively poor and largely rural. Trash was everywhere. Traffic was horrendous. The cities were filled with people and the air was thick with pollution. In this largely Hindu culture it was obvious that the people revered life. Animals roamed the streets and cars would stop to avoid hitting even the smallest bird. However, it seemed that human life was held at a lower value than that of the amimals. It is a land where creation has taken dominion over the people instead of the people having dominion over creation as God designed in Genesis 1. This trip truly was a great adventure.
A little history... In late 2007 Hindu radicals coordinated a series of attacks against christians in the area. The culmination of the attacks was during a gathering of all area churches for a Christmas service. After cutting trees to block the roads, the radicals broke down the door of the church using clubs and hatchets. They then proceeded to slaughter those inside. The survivors fled to mountains and hid for several days in the woods, living off what little they could forage. Women were left widows, children were left orphans, and churches were left in ruins.
One pastor who survived was led by the Lord to rebuild from the ashes. As he made his way from village to village bringing the Gospel back to the areas that had been attacked, the pastor encountered many children who had been left orphans. The Lord impressed upon him to take in these children and ensure that they were cared for. In each village, he also reestablished churches. Today, the orphanage he founded and directs is home to 47 boys and girls, a network of 24 churches has been established, and dozens of widows are ministerd to on a regular basis.
For the past several years, there has been a lull in the persecution, but things seem to be taking a turn for the worse. The general population is very hostile to anyone who claims Christ. Distrust and hate simmer just below the surface. In the last election, Hindu radicals took control of the national government and now there is a movement in India to outlaw religious conversion, essentially making the act of sharing the Gospel illegal. Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that terrorists have taken control of several villages in the region. The future of the area is uncertain, but we trust that whatever happens the Lord's name will be glorified. Perhaps the pastor said it best when explaining his perserverence in the face of continuing death threats. "People want to kill me, but if I live I get to share the Gospel, and if I die I get to go to heaven." These powerful words are a modern day echo of the words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:21.
We spent five days in Odisha sharing the Gospel and ministering. We visited four villages. At each one we taught on 1 Thesselonians chapter 1. We held a women's conference, a pastor's conference, and baptized 22 people. Every night, we ministered to the children at the orphanage and on our last day we held a widow's conference and were able to bless each woman with a sarree. At the widow's conference we also had the opportunity to dedicate the pastor's 6 week old daughter. We truly were able to paricipate in the "religion that is pure before God, the Father" that was refered to in James 1:27.
Personally, I was blessed by my time with the pastor. We discussed common struggles we face in our ministries and were able to encourage each other as we move ahead. We spoke of how to bring the Gospel to people that face persecution if they accept Christ, about the responibility we feel for the teams that visit, and the faith it takes to rely on the generosity of people thousands of miles away to fund ministry and care for your family. We spoke about plans for the future and government interference. We shared about the cultures each of us work with and found encouagement in how the Gospel has spread.
The trip was not all smooth. It was obvious from the looks we received from many people that we were not welcome in the majority of places we drove through and several times local government officials came to the orphanage to harass our hosts. The pastor was quick to get us moving at the first sign of trouble and our drivers did a good job of getting us from village to village. The Lord's hand of protection was over us the whole trip and brought us home safely.
Many people have asked many questions to both myself and Heather about this trip. Why are you going on a mission trip if you are already a missionary in Costa Rica? What about the Guaymi people? Are you going to move to India? Aren't you away from home enough?
The popular perception of missionaries and what they are supposed to be has largely been shaped by people who are not missionaries themselves. Their exposure to missions is an occasional video, a visit from a missionary on furlough, or from popular media. Reality doesn't have to reflect perception. For some time I have been talking with partner churches about joining them on short term trips. India was the first opportunity and I pray in the future there are others. These trips are not meant as scouting trips for a new ministry or some emotional desire to see other countries. They are meant an opportunity to learn how others do ministry and to seek ways to improve the work we are involved with. They are meant as a hands on education in the universality of the Gospel and the power it possesses.
No matter how successful a ministry is there is always room for improvement. I find it sad that it is so out of the norm for missionaries to go and minister with other missionaries that people are shocked when it happens. Are we surprised when a teacher observes another classroom for ideas? Is it strange for an engineer to attend a conference to learn techniques? Is it shocking for a doctor to assist another doctor in a complicated surgery? What better way to learn than by doing? Things that I learned here will apply directly to the ministry we have been entrusted with to the Guaymi as well as to any other ministry the future may hold and expect that there will be many other opportunities in the future to continue fleshing out our definition of missions.
When I was presented with the offer to go on this trip there was never any question. It was a thirty second conversation and in my mind it would have been stupid to say no. God is dangerous and he asks us to do dangerous things. We can follow in obedience and experience life abundantly or we can live a safe, boring, life filled with what-ifs. That is not to say that we are all called to go to India, or Africa, or China, or Costa Rica. God is asking us all to do something, but that something is different for everyone. It is my hope that each of you would seek God's will about your something and that you would have the courage to follow his lead.