Hi friends. It was hard for me to write today because I’m feeling depressed by the political climate. Just saying those words is a freeing thing and so I’m saying them, but I’m not going to go into particulars because I want this to be a unifying sort of post rather than a divisive one.
But it’s hard for me to choose my battle, to know where to put my energy. As such, it’s been hard for me to do things like follow the nutritionist’s plan, or write, or listen to my kids – you know, the things that are good for me (or them). I’m hoping that by saying these words, it will help me in those areas too.
So today, instead of elaborating on how frozen I feel by everything, I’m going to tell you a few stories of faith from India. We brought them supplies, and they sent us back with stories of faith.
First, let me tell you about Venkatesh’s village. Twenty years ago, this village was run-down, poverty-stricken, and crime-infested, with constant police raids. Twice, someone of faith came and attempted to convert the villagers, whose main income was derived from home-brewed bootleg alcohol. Twice, the pastors were sent away with their tails between their legs.
Until … along came a new pastor. He was nothing much to look at. A humble guy who limped. But in this Hindu village, they noticed that he prayed a lot. And they noticed that when they brought someone to him who was sick, the person very often got better. That’s when they started to put their trust in what he was saying, and believe.
Venkatesh became a Christian after his mother believed, and when he was ready to marry, the family searched for a wife who was also a believer. Now they’re raising their two girls that way. When Hisill was looking for a driver, he went to this village to search for someone who needed a job. He instantly hit it off with Venkatesh and paid for him to get a driving license since he had no particular skill. And that’s how he began his career driving for Hisill.
Now their village is a clean and happy place to live. The pastor is still there serving the community, and the majority of the people who live there are farmers of rice, bananas and coconut. There’s no more bootleg spirits. Instead they’re filled with Holy Spirit.
Nalini was Brahmin, which is the highest caste in the Hindu religion. From what I understand, the caste carries the faith forward through sacred learning and priestly duties, and belonging to this caste carries some responsibility.
So her family did not take too kindly when she became a Christian at the age of eighteen. They used to beat her regularly because of her faith, and once, her brothers came to where she was worshipping and dragged her home by the hair.
There was even a period of one month when her family locked her into her room, opening the door only to bring her food. She had no Bible with her to keep her faith up and had to remember the verses she learned by heart; but she refused to back down. Now she’s a couple decades in the faith, married, with children, and at peace with her family. Those family tensions in her young adult years did not break her, and her faith did not buckle under the pressure.
Nalini’s faith inspired Hisill, who was only fifteen when he became a Christian, along with his older brother. He saw what she went through and how she persevered, and he was encouraged to do the same. Now, his family was Syrian Catholic so please don’t get the wrong idea when I use the term “became a Christian”. I’m making the distinction between an inherited faith and a faith that was all his own. A faith in which Jesus is Lord.
The Syrian Christians of India are also called Saint Thomas Christians because they date their faith back to the apostle Thomas, who – it is widely believed – brought Christianity to India and was also buried there. Similar to the Brahmin caste, having a Syrian Christian origin carries some prestige so when a teenage Hisill (young upstart that our friend was) decided to leave the faith and go towards a simpler form of Christianity – where rituals were out and discipleship was taught – his family was less than pleased.
He also got his share of beatings, along with his brother, and they were also chased from home more than once where they had to sleep outdoors. And when his family decided they would move to a new city to get away from the negative influence of this new church he had joined (I say this with affection since it’s my church), Hisill and his brother taught the Bible to – and baptized – so many people in the new city, the church had to send an evangelist to the town to lead the church those teens had planted there.
I hope you can hear in my words that I’m not proposing that one expression of faith is superior to another, but only to make the distinction between a heart that is touched by a life-changing faith in Jesus, and one that is content with the ceremony. I’m hoping to inspire you by what a teenager can do when lit by a radical faith.
Unlike the prestigious Brahmins or Syrian Christians, we met another woman who grew up on the fringes of society – in a brothel, where her mother was a prostitute. She heard the Word of God and became a Christian, and today, this gentle young woman lives a life of faith – married and with two children, serving the poor. This is only a snippet of a story, but one that shows that, with God, there is no caste. There are no “untouchables”.
I have one last story that Hisill’s wife, Jobby, told me about. A sister in their church had a midwife who stayed on to help with the early care of her children. This woman was a Hindu. A few years after she had left her employment, the sister heard that the midwife had throat cancer, which was in the late stages. She decided to see if the midwife was interested in studying the Bible.
She was, and Jobby went with her to begin these studies at a time when the woman could no longer talk because she had a hole in her throat, with a breathing and feeding tube. Never mind that small impediment! She enthusiastically participated in the Bible studies using gestures. She confessed her sins using gestures. She expressed her willingness to make Jesus Lord and get baptised using gestures. And the grand day came when they were ready to baptise her.
Jobby and the sister feared some opposition because the midwife lived in a slum where the residents were Hindu and the woman’s son was Muslim. They weren’t sure if they would be allowed to study the Bible with her, and they weren’t sure if they would be allowed to baptise her.
On top of it, on the day of her baptism, they arrived only to discover there was no water coming out of the city pipes. The neighbours, instead of chasing them away, said, “What? You want to get baptised for the forgiveness of your sins? We’ll help!” Forgiveness of sins is something Hindus can connect to. And they all came, each carrying a large bucket of water out of their precious stores so she could fill the barrel she was to get baptised in (only up to her shoulders because she had the breathing tube in).
She became a Christian a week before she died.
I know we are all at different stages in our faith. Of course we are! Our relationship with God is highly personal. But what these stories remind me is that God is doing miracles every day all around the world in reaching people, whether we have not the remotest article of Christian instruction in our lives or whether we’re bathed in the tradition but have lost touch with the intimacy of having a relationship with God.
This is what I’m reminded of when I hear these stories and it makes me give glory to God.
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17)