In February, I disembarked from a Boeing 777 in Mumbai, India. Others had told me to expect my first earthy scents of a developing country as I stepped into the terminal. Through the artificial light that glowed in the darkness of night, I stepped into the terminal and took a deep breath. My olfactory sense was overwhelmed with the…new car smell. We had arrived as one of the first planes to open the brand new international terminal that night. The plush carpet of the hallway cushioned my every step until it gave way to gorgeous marble-floored immigration waiting areas. Along the way, I stepped into the men’s room that sparkled like nothing I’ve seen in the United States. This is India in 2014.
In my travels from Mumbai to Bangalore to Delhi and to Dehradun over the next two weeks, I also saw rivers of trash, poverty, disease, deformity, and spiritual darkness. This too is India in 2014.
I saw the Lord at work in the hearts of people and in communities. He is saving Hindus, awakening nominal Christians, giving his people a heart for their cities and states, and giving his people a deep love for the truth of his word and the whole counsel of God. Most significantly, this is India in 2014, and it is the hope of her future.
The Lord is drawing the Reformed Presbyterian Church into ministry in the great nation of India, largely through one man who was converted from Hinduism four decades ago and now serves as a ruling elder in the local congregation with me. Over the next few weeks, I plan to share a few reflections here at Gentle Reformation of what I saw the Lord doing in India during our time there. I will not always share in great detail so as not to be a stumbling block to various parts of the ministry there, but I hope to tell enough about the work of Jesus to encourage the saints here in the West.
Today, I will note two aspects of the work there so that the church can better pray for India.
First, I saw the difficulty of work on the front lines of gospel ministry into world. It is probably not much different in other places where the gospel is little-known, but for the first time I saw with my own eyes the challenges of ministry on the front line of the battle. The darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining, but where so many live under in the domain of darkness, Satan seems to fight the more vigorously. In the somewhat more Christianized south, I spoke with brothers who have been physically persecuted as they serve in regions that are perhaps two percent Christian. Worse than the physical persecution is the spiritual oppression that affects everyone. The spiritual environment creates many challenges for believers in their families, their jobs, their neighborhoods, their governments, their places of worship, their education, and more. Further, there is simply a pervasive and palpable sense of spiritual darkness. Life marches to the beat of the Hindu worldview which is visible everywhere in the form of temples, shrines, idols, charms, and more. Yet, Christ’s people are not deterred. In the face of difficulty, they are laboring as those who are more than conquerors though Christ who loves them.
In the north, which is far less Christian, we visited Rishikesh, a Hindu holy place on the Ganges River as it enters the plains from the Himalayas. There, the darkness was at its deepest. When we traversed the river on the suspension bridge at Rishikesh, it was the farther East I have ever been both physically and spiritually. I had become accustomed to being the only white person in eyesight for the previous ten days, but in Rishikesh, there were many Westerners seeking light in the depths of darkness from yoga masters and other Hindu priests clad in what we would call hunter orange. I wondered how many of the Western seekers had been baptized into the name of the Triune God earlier in life. These along with many Indians came to worship the creation as they bathed in the river. The hollow darkness in the eyes of yoga-posed priests captured the all-too-common spiritual mood of India. Facing the daily reality of pervasive spiritual darkness drains those who are living their lives for Jesus. Life on the front line is hard and often lonely; I was motivated to pray for these saints more than ever.
Second, I saw the necessity of the work. After leaving Rishikesh that day, we went to a nearby children’s home for the children of lepers. American missionaries began the home several generations ago. The children are healthy themselves but are outcasts in society because of their parents’ condition. That night, in family worship I heard the voices of dozens of elementary school aged children lift their voices in praise to the Savior, and I saw the gospel light in their eyes. At noonday, I had stared at the darkness of sin in Rishikesh, but as the sun set over India, the light of life was shining in the eyes of these children. The contrast could not have been more stark.
Yes, graduate students will come to us from other nations and be converted, but with them, we must obey Jesus’ Great Commission and GO, taking the light of the gospel to the teeth of darkness. Where the darkness is most oppressive, light shines the brightest. The saints in India need to be strengthened in their faith. Indians converted while studying in the West need to be discipled to live once again in their old world. Millions of people must be brought out of darkness and be brought into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. So, we must necessarily go and help with a work that began with the Apostle Thomas in India and will be completed in the day of Christ Jesus.
India is developing quickly as a nation. Doors are opening in ways previous generations could not imagine, and I hope to touch on some of those opening doors in coming posts. The true light is already shining. But, over a billion people still sit in spiritual darkness. This is India in 2014. Will you pray for her?