Well it has been a good morning for me. It is 11:15 am on Monday here in Siliguri, India.
The various things I have been doing on this trip, and the ministries I have been part of, have been pre-arranged by a man named Athem. Athem is the Asia Director of Vision 2020 Asia. He is a Manipurian from the Naga tribe. One hundred years ago his people were head-hunters; today, he calls himself a “soul hunter”.
Athem is a godly man who is married and has three children. His wife’s name is Indu. Athem not only has a wonderful grasp of the Bible and of the needs in India, but he also has a wonderful understanding of the English language and of Americans. All of these combine together to make him a great partner for our church.
My goal in coming has been to help him and his ministries in any way he sees fit. In addition to his church, he has a small Bible college/seminary, a Christian School, and an orphanage. He has personally trained many church planters scattered throughout this part of India and Nepal.
We returned from Nepal early on Thursday afternoon. Friday was spent resting, reading, and preparing for my final week of ministry. A good portion of Saturday was spent in discussion about the ministry of Vision 2020 Asia and its future. My role is that of an objective, outside party acting as a facilitator of discussion. Many things were discussed and decisions made.
Missions and Missionaries
Regarding missionaries, we often speak of them “working themselves out of a job”. While that is a good and catchy sounding philosophy, in reality, many missionaries are more involved in entrenchment than in release. There are a few reasons for this. First, when we support missions, we tend to invest a lot of money in bricks and mortar. Consequently, missionaries can see themselves as “protectors” of the investment made by generous givers in the United States. Secondly, we make the claim that we’re starting autonomous, Baptist churches. That means that those churches are self-governing under the Lordship of Christ. However, we again see ourselves as “protectors” of the churches we have started lest they fall into error or some other problem. Whether unwittingly or by design, we end up with more of a Presbyterian system with ourselves as the head Bishop. We talk about “letting go”, but, conduct ourselves more as if we have to “hang on”. These are things that need to be carefully and prayerfully thought through. We need a return to a Biblical theology and practice when it comes to missions. Although many have done “good” things, we need to strive to do better; which in some cases, means doing things more Biblically.
Ministry for the Deaf
On Sunday morning I spoke at the Mountain View Biblical Baptist Church where Athem is the pastor. Implied in the name is Athem’s conviction that many Baptist churches are not Biblical. I preached from Acts 15 and 16 on conflict in ministry and determining God’s will.
After lunch, I went to a deaf fellowship started by one of the men that Athem has trained. It meets in a very strong Hindu village on the India/Bangladesh border. I had never preached to the deaf before. It was an interesting and blessed experience. It was the quietest church service I had ever been in. Although, just as people in hearing churches whisper, pass notes, and “communicate”, the deaf constantly sign during the service including raising and shaking their hands in the air in order to “say”, ’Amen’. At one point I told the translator to tell them to not all “speak” at the same time! They thought that was funny. Of course the singing is by sign. During prayer, the congregation did not bow their heads or close their eyes because the prayer was signed to them. The invitation was also conducted with everyone watching the interpreter and them “talking” among themselves. During that invitation they all “said” that they understood the message – a simple gospel message – and understood the gospel; but, they indicated that they were not yet ready to accept Christ. To my knowledge, only one in this group of 25 is a Christian. They are mostly young people – maybe between 19-25 years old.
It was very interesting to hear the story of how God worked within their group to lead them to take an offering. The church planter, named Bimal, told them that they were going to do it; however, they readily began to give. One of the women had brought a cloth, zipper bag one day and it has become their offering plate. They came up with their own system of counting the offering (while everyone waits) and announcing the total after which they all “say” Amen (two raised arms and shaking hands). They record the offering in a book and take attendance. Collectively they then dispense the funds to rent their meeting room (which is actually the one-room home of one of the men). Then, as a group, they pay their simple expenses. I am sure that it will be the highlight of my trip. Pray for Bimal as he is a learner when it comes to sign language. Pray that the people in this church will accept Christ without delay. Finally, pray that the Lord will provide some support for Pastor Bimal. Presently, he gets support from Athem out of his own support funds. Oh, by the way the total of the offering was about $9.00 and that with two Americans in the congregation.
This afternoon we begin a leadership conference for pastors, church planters, and the students at Himalayan Baptist Seminary. I will be speaking on leadership. Jim Starr will be speaking on the church. The conference will be held this afternoon, tomorrow, and Wednesday. That will take me almost to my departure day. I fly from Bagdogra back to Delhi, and then to Amsterdam before returning to the United States.
Thank you for your interest and prayer.