Thursday, December 01, 2005

Yours, Faithfully...

This will be our final post for a couple of days as will be "going silent" to head out of Trichy in various capacities.

Rob will be finishing 201 this afternoon, and will be boarding a train back to Chennai (Madras) at about 4 p.m. to head home to the States. Sami and i will catch up with Randy Haycock on the overnight train to Kanyakumari tonight (our train leaves at 10:40 p.m) and we should be in the village by around 9 a.m. or so.

To date, we have tried to keep you informed as best we have been able (what with dial-up and all being fairly slow), but are unsure of what the Internet facilities in Kanyakumari will be like. If they are similar to the ones here in Trichy, then we should be able to post regularly and stay in the relatively same tempo that we have been able to do thus far. If they are a little more "challenging", then you will at least know why.

At any rate, please pray for Rob as he departs (Mark and Amber should be back with you now), Sami, Randy and i as we head down south to the tsunami zone, and for the remainder of the trip that it will continue to serve its purpose.

In the mean time, please know that we love you all, think of you all the time, and pray that you are well, and that we are faithfully, your humble blogger and photographers...

- Samurai Jack & The Gypsy

Shaming Your Maytag!

These ladies work diligently every day in conference settings to feed the guests. After each meal, they then scrub until each utensil is squeaky clean. And they do it with a smile and a cheerful attitude! Bet your Maytag can't do all that!

Stop That Chicken!!!

In America, we sometimes have to negotiate crying children in our church services. In India, you may have to deal with other things… like runaway roosters. As Rob dove into the thick of teaching 201, a local rooster felt so passionately about the subject matter that it decided to engage him directly by “cock-a-doodle-doing” loudly and at about 5 second intervals. The cool teacher that he is, Rob initially just spoke louder, but evidently, the rooster was so impressed that he simply turned up the volume with each “doodle” as well. Eventually, the rooster needed to be ushered politely from the premises. In India, that means that Raj picked up a brick fragment, beaned it in the wing, and then chased it from the yard until it flew over the fence. Having successfully accomplished the “escort”, Raj then returned to translating.

As I write this, crows are cawing behind me, children are playing and screaming, large, diesel engines are grunting down the road 20 feet from our pavilion, autorickshaws are put-putting like octane-fueled lawnmowers, and dogs chase, run and fight with each other not 10 feet from where everyone is sitting. I even heard a “thumpin’” autorickshaw blaring a fusion Indian rap-music drive by a little while ago. I tell you, you have to “want it!” to get the information here sometimes… but it’s all part of the “spice”… it’s what makes it such a fun place to visit.

201 Reloaded...

After the conference, Rob spent a day teaching 201 to a group of 100 or so currently enrolled planters who are engaging the Core Class PDC training. Raj shared the translation work (his voice was beginning to tire) at various points, but also jumped in regularly to fill in. The 201 training took place at a local Episcopal bishop’s house called the “Jesus House” that the Bible League rents regularly for training and small conferences, and was held in an outside pavilion.

Well, Blow Me Down!

As we have had the opportunity to speak with several of you either by phone or e-mail over the last couple of days, I wanted to help ease any fears that may be lurking about the hurricane that is approaching Chennai. First of all, as I write this, it is a balmy 85 degrees here in Trichy with ne’er a rain cloud in sight, and no prospects of such for the remainder of the day. Most of the flooding that occurred before we arrived has already drained, and while there are still several homes that are being repaired from the damage, everything is pretty well back to normal. I have not heard yet whether Mark and Amber have successfully “touched down” in the US, but I know that things were fine when they left and that they were able to touch off without incident. I’m sure we will get more info as we go, but for now, it doesn’t appear that anyone is any risk of being directly impacted by the storm.

In addition, here are some quick clarifications: 1) Mark and Amber were not evacuating. They were sticking with their standard flight arrangements. While the hope was that they would be able to fly out before the storm hit, we hoped that it didn’t sound like we were rushing them out of the country or anything. When we saw them off, everything was still proceeding as planned. Please remember that things tend to be “inflated” in the media a bit, and most of the reports indicated that if the storm reached landfall, it would do so some hours after Mark and Amber had already taken off. 2) To my knowledge, everything is still proceeding otherwise as planned as well. I have not yet heard whether Randy Haycock’s flight will be delayed, but we will be checking on that. I spoke with Immanuel (Bible League staff in Chennai) a few hours ago (Thursday), and he said that it’s actually 85 degrees, pleasant and cloudless in Chennai. 3) Rob is currently scheduled to leave from Chennai (Madras) on Saturday morning at 4 am, and we should know more about the storm by then as well as its intensity and duration. 4) We are currently scheduled to travel to Kanyakumari (which is on the coast in the extreme south) on Friday night (arriving on Saturday morning), but will primarily be working on the southwest side of the coast. At this point, forecasts do not indicate that neither Rob nor the rest of the team will be delayed or significantly impacted by the storm, but please keep praying to that effect.

Thanks again for all your prayers!!!

Doping Out the Tools!

As soon as the conference ended, scores of planter/pastors rushed out of the auditorium to get in line to receive their materials. Within seconds, more than a thousand men and women crowded tables containing the materials (see previous post) they were to take home to use to implement the principles they had learned at the conference. Many of these men and women needed to leave quickly to catch trains or buses back to their home towns, but none left before receiving their packet from the tables. I have to tell you as a rather personal “first person” aside, I have never seen such enthusiasm at a conference. These men and women were literally calling their friends and co-workers on their cell-phones at the breaks to tell them what they were learning, and the phrase “you should have been here!” echoed frequently throughout the throngs of people as they phoned back home. It has been an intense couple of days, but I will tell you, these people won’t return home with this as “just another conference” under their belts. These people will be charging the lines and storming the gates with fresh energy, fresh tools and new enthusiasm. Wow!

Prepping the Loadout...

At the end of the conference, each pastor/planter was to receive the following materials to take back to their village:
* 1 Copy of Purpose Driven Life
*10 Copies of Core Class 101
* Additional literature for church growth and development
Pictured here is the “packing process” for gathering each of the above materials into a single bag for each planter/pastor to take home. You may recognize Jayanthi Sam (from the previous entry) holding a copy of Purpose Driven Life in Tamil. Steve Komanapalli is also holding a new copy of the translated 101 materials, the final picture is of the stacks of materials on the tables, waiting to be packaged.

Workshopping the Workshop

After the conference began to wind to a close, significant time was allocated to allowing each of the planters/pastors to gather by region in small groups to discuss what is currently going on in their regions, as well as how the new PD principles will be implemented both in their own individual churches, as well as how they will work together as a network.

Habitat Man!

Before heading down to Kanyakumari to join the Habitat team that is preparing for our visit, Samuel Peter stopped by to talk for a couple of hours to make sure we had all of our details together and that we would be operating on the same proverbial “page” when we arrived. Samuel is a very soft-spoken but confident man who worked with EFICOR before joining Habitat for Humanity’s India staff under Mahesh Lobo (India Director). He now serves with their church relations department, and definitely “gets” the concept of the type of holistic, local-church-based ministry that we are attempting to promote through partnerships with organizations like Habitat and others. We will be looking forward to seeing him again in Kanyakumari along with the other HFH staff, and to spending time with him next week as we document and participate in the build that will be going on there.

A Little To the Left…

Raj spoke, translated or “added spice” from early in the morning until late at night throughout the conference. He would have already been speaking before we arrived in the mornings, and he would often continue for two to three hours after we would leave. He’s a machine. In a good way. But even machines need a little maintenance now and then, so a short break for a quick massage helped to keep him loose.

Hey, Hey, The Gang’s All Here!

Here is the totality of the GCC crew flanking Rajendran and his wife Brema for a final parting shot before one of the last sessions of the conference.

On Your Mark... Get Set... Wet!!!

We needed to make a quick run to the pharmacy, so I hopped on the back of a motorcycle with Solomon (one of the Bible League’s staff) and prepared to wet my pants. Traffic is, suffice to say, considerably less than orderly, predictable or even safe in India (the only rule of the road appears to be: “The bigger you are, the more right-of-way you have”), so being rather “open” and unprotected on the back of a small motorcycle that I wasn’t driving was probably close to the thing I fear the most (with the possible exception of diving off the tip of South Africa with Great White sharks with a string of freshly speared tuna attached to my waist). I gave a solemn salute to my wife as we took off, thus signifying that I would do my duty regardless of the danger to life or limb in the process, and as we revved up to take off, Dave Arnold’s admonition was simply “Just don’t come back with a tattoo.” Sami’s, on the other hand, was simply “Just don’t die.”

You Can’t Get Much More Purpose Driven Than This!!

This picture shows the team from Purpose Driven International who have joined us here at the conference. Purpose Driven donated 2,000 copies of Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life (translated into Tamil) for the conference participants, and has contributed thousands of dollars through GCC to rebuild tsunami-affected areas in southern India. The team from Purpose Driven International is represented here is as follows (left to right): Steve Komanapalli, our very own Amber Cox (Beeson) as our representative from GCC (she doesn’t work for Purpose Driven, but she’s definitely Purpose Driven), Shamira Philips and Dave Arnold.

Heroes of the Faith: Sam and Jayanthi Sam

This is Sam and Jayanthi Sam. They are a husband/wife church planter team who have spent the last few years successfully planting 6 churches in Tamil Nadu (the largest of which has some 200 members). By day, Sam is a government official who serves in the local Trichy administration, but the interesting thing about both he and his wife is that they have successfully employed their entire family in their church planting efforts. While Sam works for the government, Jayanthi pastors the teams of pastors who work in the churches they have planted. In addition, they also have 3 teen-aged children who are working with the church plants as well, thus successfully employing every member of their family in the church planting effort.

When we asked Sam and Jayanthi Sam what they had learned from or benefited most in receiving the PD training over the past few years (they were in the first group of 50 that graduated from PD training in 2004), they said that it was only through PD training that their concepts of women in ministry had been revolutionized. Before PD, Sam was the only one who worked in the planting effort. Jayanthi Sam, however, was not allowed to participate. Through GCC enhanced PD training, however, they both realized that Jayanthi Sam should be liberated to do ministry with her husband, and now, having herself completed the PD training, actively engages in the ministry with her husband, and has helped all of their children to engage as well.

Talk About Your Camera Not Doing It Justice!

I thought that the “Night Mode” on our little Sony Cybershot did a great job capturing the azure hazes of this Indian sunset, but it still didn’t really do it “justice”. This was taken at about 6 p.m. just as the sun was going down, and a cool breeze accompanied it as well.

And It Even Has a Self-Cleaning Feature!!!

Yup, this is a picture of a cow eating garbage. It’s the equivalent of our “trash compactors”, I guess you could say. Most notably, two things stand out in this picture that you will see often in India. 1) The livestock literally roam free, unhindered and unharassed in virtually every context that you can imagine. They fear nothing, and in two instances in this trip, we have almost had “close encounters of the head-on kind” with one or more cattle who decided they may want to test their horns and clash-rating against the autorickshaw we were riding, and 2) Not only is the trash simply discarded by the roadside (you will have a hard time finding a garbage can in India… the entire earth is just one big garbage can), but the livestock mentioned above feast on it continually. This cow (we were zipping along in a rickshaw, so the blur factor is a little higher than we would have liked) is actually chewing on a 2-liter bottle of water (or rather, the paper of the 2 liter, with the plastic hanging from his chin as he munches), and goats, dogs, pigs and other animals also avail themselves of whatever is discarded as well.

Rub A Dub, Dub… 7 Men in an Autorickshaw…

This is a classic (and prevalent) mode of transportation in India and is called an “autorickshaw”. Like images of manually pulled rickshaws in China, before the prevalence of internal combustion engines in India, these would have been pulled by men on foot as well. Now, however, a 2 cylinder “scooter” engine pulls these little jobs, and you’d be amazed at how many people you can actually fit into one if you have to. I have personally been in one with 6 other men, but my record count was 9 people. You know those “clown cars” at the circus? For some first hand experience, just come to India!

Heroes of the Faith: Oscar

Oscar’s passion is to bring the Gospel to Muslims, and he is exceptionally good at it. A former Muslim himself, Oscar now dedicates himself to defending his Christian faith in Muslim areas that neither you nor I would be able to access. I sat with Oscar for about an hour and asked him about his faith journey, and he told me the following story.

He grew up in a Muslim home and was dedicated to his faith. Following harder and harder, he bent himself under the weight of Q’ranic teaching searching for the peace in his heart that the Q’ran promised, but never seemed to find it. As tensions in his family eventually forced him to a breaking point in his faith, he abandoned God altogether and “began to walk with friends who were not my friends”, and who eventually attempted to frame him for the murder of one of Oscar’s neighbors. In the depths of despair, Oscar eventually prayed for God’s deliverance, and after being acquitted of the murder charges, Oscar heard about Jesus from a friend (who also works with the Bible League as a pastor/planter). Oscar gave his life to Christ, and has dedicated himself to becoming a phenomenal witness to his Muslim heritage.

Oscar can quote either the Bible or the Q’ran with an accuracy and fluidity that would put most Bible scholars to shame, and he also walked me through some exceptionally well-reasoned apologetics tactics that he uses regularly to open dialogues with Muslims.

Heroes of the Faith: VK David

The gentleman featured in this picture is named VK David. You have probably heard Rob and I speak of him if you’ve heard us talk about India for very long. Ron Vandergriend first noticed VK when he saw him diligently copying notes from the book of another church planter a few years ago when Rob first began teaching PD/GCC training materials, and when Ron asked another planter what VK was doing, the planter smiled and told Ron VK’s story.

When VK was born, he was mildly deformed in some fashion. As a result, his father believed that VK was a curse upon his family, and so attempted to kill him by pouring boiling water all over his head and body, thus rendering him severely mentally retarded for the first half of his life. He was confined to a wheel-chair and was unable to care for himself on a daily basis until a man came to his village as a missionary. The man told VK about Jesus and prayed for God’s miraculous healing of VK’s body. Shortly afterward, VK was miraculously healed of his physical and mental disabilities, and now is one of the most aggressive church planters that currently operates within the Bible League network. He is humble and unassuming, but when you stand with this man, you know you’re standing next to a giant.

Lunch Interviews...

During lunch time, Sami and I attempted to interview several of the church planters and pastors who have been attending the conference. Along with us was a Bible League staff member named Anan (which means “joy” in Tamil), who was gracious enough to translate for us. In the pictures and entries that follow, Anan and myself will be standing “book end” fashion to the people being interviewed.

Coooome Aaaaaand Gettit!!!

Want to see how you provide lunch for 1,400 people Indian style? Here you go. Similar to check-in, you go to the colored kiosk that represents your regional affiliation for residency. Then you follow the listed procedure of:
a) Take a small plate/bowl (it’s as big as a plate, but has “lipped” edges like a bowl).
b) Fill it until it is almost brimming over. Most often, the contents will include a rice base (a kind of rice “grits” with little bits of veggies, mutton or other meat), a “pepper water” sambar (think REALLY spicy/hot chili peppers and other things boiled together into a kind of soup to pour over the rice), and a kurd and onion salad… or something similar to that.
c) Consume the entire contents.
d) Repeat several times until you feel that your stomach is going to explode.
When you’re finished, you take your plate to the wash line, wash it, then stack it up to be used for the next meal. It’s efficient… and tasty.

How "Logo" Can You Go-go?

Thought you would think it was fun to see close up of the “banner” behind the speakers at the conference, in particular the various logos and names of the people being featured there.

It's Like Granger Notes... But in Tamil.

Check these guys out! By the time this picture was taken, these guys had been packed into a single room with no air conditioning (in 90 degree weather) for nearly 8 hours, and they were still frantically writing as fast as they could to keep up with Mark, Rob and Raj. The great thing about being around these pastors and church planters is that they are not the “established religious elite”, but rather the guys that are genuinely pioneering new ministries in places where the Gospel of Jesus Christ has never been before. They are eager to learn because they genuinely have a passion to see the sapling churches under their care grow. They take thorough notes and you can see the sparkle in their eyes when they talk about the lost in their communities. And most of them (believe it or not) spend their 30 – 40 hours per week as pastors of small churches in their “spare time”. Most of the men and women featured here have regular “full time jobs” elsewhere.

Got Worship?

One thing you will notice immediately upon coming to India is that whether they are Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim or Christian, Indians “get” the concept of worship. In a culture that claims 33 million gods through the Hindu religious system, there is literally a god for everything. There is a god for your home. A god for the street corner upon which you stand. A god for the street. And another god for the next street corner. There is a god at your workplace. A god for your taxi. You get the idea. As a result, Indians are ALWAYS worshipping SOMETHING. From the outside, that appears tragic to us… and it is, until you see an Indian Christian. When that cultural innateness to the concept of “always being conscious of worship” focuses itself centrally onto the person of Jesus Christ and bringing of the Kingdom of God, then there are few things more powerful. Indians “get” worship. And when they “get” worship centered on Jesus… well… there’s no wonder that God is doing such tremendous things in their midsts.

The Dream Team!

Honestly, I know I’m biased, but if you could assemble a cast of anyone to speak and lead a conference about Purpose Driven church basics in India, I don’t believe you would find a more desirable cast than the one assembled here:

The Pioneer: Mark Beeson
Mark has adapted quickly to Indian culture and has been able to win the hearts of people already by presenting both transcendent principles on church development, as well as his personal stories and interaction to bring the principles “home”. Mark also did a fantastic job lending his “status” as an American to the ministry of Raj and the Bible League crews, and their “tag-team” combination worked wonders with the pastors and church planters.

The Shogun: Rob Wegner
Rob’s seasoned and continual cultural expertise in India along with his innate speaking and leadership skills combine to make him a hyper-refined “edge” for presentation and communication with church planters and pastors. Rob’s experience with GCC gives him real-time credibility with the pastors who are in the trenches, and his expertise with Purpose Driven (PD) basics and seminars allows him to also provide “theory” as well as “practicality”. Rob and Raj have learned over the years to “play off of” each other so well that often, Rob will say something, and then Raj will translate both it and Rob’s next thought without Rob even having to verbalize it.

The Spice: Rajendran
Raj is known both to us and to his own culture as “the spice”. He can instantly and “on the fly” provide culturally sensitive and contextualized translation of the information being provided by Rob or Mark, while at the same time amending, adding and “owning” the information as well so that it provides the maximum “wallop!” when it is received by the planters and pastors.

Pardon Me, Sir… Could You Spare a Large Flower Boa?

Upon arrival to the facility and before the start of the conference, Ron Vandergriend, Rob Wegner and Mark Beeson were greeted with the traditional flower “garland” boa’s that denote honor for guests. In times past, these boa’s have weighed anywhere from 5 pounds to 15 pounds, and are made from fresh flower petals that smell so sweet that they will deodorize one’s room for days. Suffice to say, each of these gentlemen took the boas off before they began speaking.

Definitely Not "Sari" That They Came...

These two lovely ladies, Amber Cox (Beeson) and Samantha Magruder have been newly fitted by the traditional Indian women’s garment. It is called a “Sari” (sahr-ee) and consists of three primary pieces: a midrift blouse, a long skirt, and a “wrap”. The midrift blouse is custom sewn (in about 6 hours) after being measured for dimensions, and the long skirt resembles a “slip” that reaches the ankles. The “wrap” is some 30 feet of highly colorful and embroidered cloth, and is tucked, wrapped and pinned in an intricate and highly regionalized fashion to yield the end product as shown here.

If Three's Company... Then What Is 1,400?

Tony Morgan’s worst nightmare: 1,400 men who don’t know each other packed skin to skin, shoulder to shoulder into close proximity for several hours for sleeping arrangements in an open environment with no air conditioning (i.e. sweat city!). And yet, the 1,400 pastors and church planters happily place their straw mats down on the cement floor and hunker down to relax for the evening as shown here. You will notice that most of the men are still out in the courtyard socializing (hence the relatively “empty” look of the room at the moment), but when it comes to actually sleeping, the floor will be covered with bodies no further away from each other than their own skins.

Checking In...

As a testimony to the thoroughness and excellence of our Bible League compadres, these pictures show the “check in” process for the event. First, a pastor goes to the colored kiosk that denotes his region of residence. Then, he gives the attendant his name. After that point, he is given a “file” (what we would call a “binder”) with the conference notes, a mat upon which to sleep, and a bottle of drinking water to use (these lovely Indian ladies were serving as attendants for these procedures). Most pastors come with either nothing or only a small grocery bag with some basic belongings (i.e. comb and maybe a spare shirt), and so are some of the most efficient and “lightest packers” on the planet.

And Do You, Pastor, Take These Principles To Be Your Lawfully Biblical Truths?

Interestingly, the conference is being held in a wedding facility. Why, you ask? Because in India, the wedding feasts are HUGE productions and they go on for days… and days… and days. They can go on for as few as three and as many as seven or more (whew!), and can involve relatives and friends from all over the country and beyond. Usually, the guests stay in either large rooms like the one here, or in little “cottages”, and the main activities go on in a room large enough to seat approximately 1,000 people. Like many things in India, the Bible literally comes “alive” as people here still do things the way they did them 2,000 or more years ago, and when we read about such things as the parable of the wedding supper in the Gospels… well… this kind of facility makes what that might look like in a Near Eastern setting seem much more “real”. For our purposes for the conference, however, the facility’s main “auditorium” is being used to seat pastors and church planters from around India as they gather to be trained in Purpose Driven Church basic principles and also on how to teach the first two modules of our GCC core classes (101 and 201) to their churches and congregations. The pastors will sleep here, eat here and learn here for the entire time that they are present, and the entire place becomes a community of considerable hubbub.
(Note: these photos are courtesy of Shelley Arredondo from her recon trip to the facility in October)