Saturday, March 28, 2009

Teaching the Teacher... I’m Still Learning!

News Bulletin!.... I’ve always felt the compulsion towards education. I don’t know if I mentioned it before, but a teacher in my old High School once told the class, “Never let school interfere with your education!” Those of you who are school teachers will have a sense of that truth, but also the idea of how dangerous such statements could be to the person who doesn’t like school. There is just something about learning new things that draws most people. While there are those who are perfectly content to remain static, or the same without any new challenges, there are also those who just love a new experience. I guess, in my experience, I feel that there are more who like a challenge, than those who just want to be left alone. I’ve met lots of folks who say “NO”, I want to live life like it is, but have their personal challenges which they would never identify as such. A may who golfs but would never go on a trip, may be seen as someone who doesn’t like challenges, or change, but in the event of the game being played, is challenged on every hole. We like different things and may be in somewhat of a rut, but very few are not open to new experiences or challenges at one level or another.

Well... where did that digression come from? Yes... I am known to do that from time to time, but they generally flesh out the point somewhere in the theme for the day. I’ve been thinking this week about a friend in India. He is Shakti, the man I may have mentioned, who is starting a new ministry in West Bengal and is being supported by Far Corner’s Ministry here in Canada. Shakti is the kind of an individual who is searching for training and is up to almost any challenge. I have been challenging him a bit to remain focussed on the original gifts that he has been given, as well as the new ministries. Like an old sage, I spout the wisdom of some of the mistakes that I have made in the past, with absenteeism from family, a myopic sense of direction and constant need to curb energies that could lead me away from the issue at hand. The price paid for such mistakes has taught me much and I will often remind others of the dangers of treading some of life’s paths with out someone who will keep me responsible for my decisions.... accountability has become a large part of life in ministry.

On arrival at HIM CORCE BHAWAN, the Christian Compound where I was to give my first lectures, I found many eager students. They were varied in age and education and this wasn’t going to present a great challenge, as many of my students in Halifax fall under this same category. The thing which soon became apparent was the depth of the forethought that many of the students had put into preparation for this conference. These people were looking forward to new thoughts, new strategies and answers to questions that they felt only an outsider might answer without bias. Well... it was an eye opener! Lecturers are given “some” insights and reflections on the audience and we were with this tour. One could say that insight can be blind if the homework is not complete, and our information was lacking in some areas on foundational concepts. We found that when it came to discussion in talk-back sessions. The Pastors and lay leaders who attended had much on their minds. This included everything from structure of theological process to administrative concerns, within the organization of Church, and they delighted in asking these questions. These deviations from the lecture subjects seemed to indicate that they got much from the lectures topics, but wanted any information that our experiences could offer for other ministry themes. They hunger for training.

How and in what depth you answer, may make all the difference when it comes to the interaction you continue to get. I think I also mentioned that they loved to stop you and give more challenges to chew on. I was amazed at how deep-rooted and fundamental to their ministry most of these personal requests were. I took a lot of time to listen and little time to speak most times. I am known to be wordy (ah... ya you can laugh because you read my stuff!) by times, but I know enough, when in situations like these, that intensified listening can give meaning to much of the topics considered. I have too often, in the beginning of my work in ministry, taken too little time to listen and thought that I knew what people wanted, only to find out that I was way off base.
Due to the challenge of language, some of the topics were difficult to take in, but God never lets His people remain in the dark. I really feel the work of the Spirit was there with us. Together in a sense of unity and love, we found common words, thoughts and illustrations and worked through the questions, that for the most part the participants had answers to anyway; just needing affirmation and support.

In other words, I soon found that we were not the heros coming to save the day, but merely the back-ups for the workers already present on the scenes. I would liken it to being a skilled operating room nurse, who hands the tools to the surgeon... well you can see what I mean, I hope. These leaders are on the forefront of the work already started. They know the people that they are working with, the conditions under which they participate in ministry and the cultural methods which are necessary to maintain that ministry, in a non-supportive government and multi-ethnic environment. We do not move in to give them great insights, but to hand them the tools they need, only as they are requested. Maybe there are moments when we can give some insights from the outside... like I do with my friend, on issues of personal accountability within the work and family. Yet, to say that we come as the professionals to the common folk, is a true misrepresentation of the case.

I learned so much while in India. Worship with tribal believers is fantastic. There may be an overwhelming sense of the Charismata in some contexts, but we never felt the lack of real zeal in worship for the God who loves and came to save, in His Son the Christ. We can learn a lot about their sense of deliberate ministry, as they face the challenges everyday of cultural rejection and in lots of cases, discrimination and abuse. I not only saw how the other half lived, but saw that they are a happy people. They are content to spend their time doing what it takes to live, worship, teach and evangelize the lost, withing the context of their daily labour to maintain presence. They have a sense of purpose and direction that many North American Christians could learn from... including myself most days. The very poor and disenfranchised are a separate story. I will never get over the sense of helplessness that they had and that I felt, everyday in their presence. I will however, strive to continue to work for them through Shant and “Far Corner’s Ministry.” I’ve been asked along with others to assist Shakti, in his new ministry, who also represents Shant on the ground there. Lord, let me never forget that learning is a lifelong exercise and let me use my education for Your purpose... with these wonderful people, if that is Your Will, from time to time.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

On Solid Ground With A Sinking Feeling

It is hard to imagine some days, the view from a different perspective. We get used to seeing things in familiar patterns. We get up each morning and learn to expect that our days, though not always managed by schedules, to be at least somewhat planned in advance. I like to think that I am ready in any occasion to expect the unexpected and therefore shape myself around anything that might arise... you know the feeling perhaps... I think of myself as somewhat spontaneous. I do like order and though change is good, I would not want my life to be a constant view of the strange or unfamiliar for the rest of my life. I guess I have just become a creature of habit. Does that happen without us realizing that it is happening? Maybe so. I had tried to prepare myself for the shock of a different culture. I did my homework by looking at pictures, collected them in my favourite bookmarks to check and recheck again, on the internet. I read the stats and tourist info on the various places we would be traveling and figured that I was ready for the idea that things would be different but manageable.

The planes in major airports often have to sit out on the tarmac and unload. The terminals are often too small to accommodate the numbers of aircraft coming into international airports. We got off the plane and made our way to an awaiting bus... One of several, I might add, to carry the 240 + people on board, to the terminal. For the frequent traveler, this is just a walk in the park, but for a young 18 year old, who has never been out of Novas Scotia, the daunting task of keeping up and being forceful was a huge task. Young people travel at “their” pace and our youngest member missed the bus. Everyone else made it on, but he was carrying a large bag and was told by a local, that the bus was full... not knowing that he just had to say, “Hey, I am with that group and we travel together!” Poor Kalen was left alone, with hundreds of strangers, all speaking a foreign language and went into a panic. On my arriving at the terminal and finding that he was missing, I announced to the others that we had to wait, only to be told that he would be OK ... we needed to rush to get our rides to the hotel. I said that I was not leaving without Kalen and rushed back out toward the tarmac to await the next bus, to see if Kalen was on board. The first bus arrived and no Kalen. But the worst part was that as I rushed out through the first glass door, a man started yelling at me to stop. An armed soldier, with an AK-47 machine gun, pointed his rifle at me and yelled stop. A hand grabbed my collar from behind and pulled me back and I heard his voice yelling, “Stop, you can’t go out there, he will shoot you!” A kindly airport control officer heard my plea and stood holding on to me just inside the outer doors, while the soldier with the gun continued to point the rifle at me, while continuing to hold his icy stare focussed on me. The control officer, dressed in a nice suit, mumbled a few sentences to the soldier, but he never changed his demeanor; but for the several incoming workers all carrying identification, some of whom were spontaneously searched, at what seemed like the soldiers personal whim, just to make the point of his control over the situation. Kalen did arrive in tears and I promised that I would never let that happen again... not on my watch. A catastrophe was side-stepped and a lessen well learned... Always stick together in a foreign land.

We arrived, as I stated, late at night in India, to the city of New Delhi. The fan fare was extraordinary. People everywhere and this was not the peak hour... how many people would there be if it was say 4 o’clock in the afternoon? I mentioned, I think, that the coolies (people who carry and push things for a living) all wanted a piece of the action. They jockey for position, amid the foreigners, to get the best jobs. Tours and groups, they think are the best bet, as they need more help, but most often they are the ones who have pre-arranged drivers and their own people doing the job already. Therefore there is a high level of disappointment, yet they dive in and will take over, if they can. We finally got to our cars (actually the first of many 4-wheel drive jeeps) that hold 7 passengers each, and they loaded our luggage on the racks on top. No covers needed, as it is winter and no moisture in the air. Old bungy cords and some old rope to held everything in place for the ride.... and what a ride it was. No one could prepare for the traffic and the noise just by reading about culture in an Indian city.

Everywhere there were trucks, cars, auto-rickshaws and people, walking, sitting, gathering and yelling and meanwhile our drivers wildly swerving, honking, and sped to get out of the city and to our destination, so they could get home and sleep for another day. The hotel for our first night was chosen to give us the best rest after so many hours in the air, as our next stop in Siliguri would be in a busy downtown hotel, where minimal would be the watchword for the day, There we would prepare for the next week of lectures and the dorm style living that had been planned for us. The New Delhi hotel was, by the standard for local digs, one of the best. We were treated like kings, the food was as varied as it was plentiful and we couldn’t get a sense of the poverty surrounding us until the break of day. The next morning, from my window, I viewed another hotel surrounded by the impoverished, living and working in tin huts, built on the new excavations for future modern expansions. They move in almost overnight and will camp until the developers dislocate them for their growing needs.

A metal shack, of some expanse, was filled with smoke. Near the door a broken down bicycle was standing at ready. A make-shift table with benches was made from what looked like dirty planks, perhaps from cement forms salvaged from a building site. Dirt, garbage, old clothes and filth was everywhere and this was one man’s home and shop. There was a forge of some type with what looked like hammers and tools, likely hand made, tossed near it. Not far away was a single row of tin shacks; likely domiciles for the poor and other scavengers. The poor of the city were gathering piles of more tin roofing, being brought in by daybreak on the heads of some of the women making their way past the modern hotel units... well hidden from view by high concrete walls... except from the view afforded us from our windows overlooking the empty lots. It is a matter of standard fare and no one seems to pay attention to the tasks, being carried on by those building their tin shacks next door.

Meanwhile, down in the hotel restaurant, meals are being prepared by a master chef and served on the finest china to paying consumers of all nationalities and languages. You name that dish and it was being prepared, on demand, at no extra cost... but no locals allowed. At the gate of the hotel stand several armed guards. Each vehicle is searched for explosive materials and drivers had to show identification with pictures, and our passports were checked once in the hotel. I found that hard to get used to. It gave me sense of the fragility of this country and those foreigners who may be seen as a target for terrorists, much to the embarrassment to the country... it all very divisive. After breakfast and time for a short walk around the hotel garden for some photo ops, we were loaded back into our vehicles and whisked off to the domestic airport for the next leg of our journey to Bagdogra Air Force Base and the city of Siliguri. It was a repetition of the trip the night before, only now with increased speeds and even more noise, including the honking of horns and the voices of people yelling their instructions for the days work. I would be tired after an hour of that din, but we all knew that it was just the beginning of the day and there is still another airport to face and a plane to catch, for the beginning of more exciting experiences to come.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Up In The Air

We would all like to think that our lives are never going to be “up in the air”. Ha! Well, welcome to life as it is, everyone! I remember in my childhood that our family often tried to make plans to do certain things and, as Mom would say, “Well, things are a little up in the air right now!” That was always bad news for me. It could mean that there was something stewing with one of my parents, or maybe a grandparent was not well just now, or it may even be some minor tactical glitch that needed some fine tuning, but it always created a sense of anxiety for me.

As the moment to step onto the plane at Halifax arrived, I knew that this was it. The adventure was beginning and would too soon be over and things would return to what we all like to call normal. How we come to that conclusion seems to be a matter of personal definition, but like I usually say, all things are relative in any case. What is normal for some may be extreme for others. Take this trip on which I embark for instance. Not everyone can step on a plane and feel totally comfortable and when asked how I would handle it I usually gave my pat answer, “ I can sleep on a rock!” and would leave it at that, unless of course the next larger question arose. “Aren’t you a bit afraid to fly with the latest crashes on everyone’s mind.?” I guess I live a little too lightly, hmm... maybe strangely then, but I am just comfortable with someone else at the wheel, even when it comes to flight? The only time I was really ever nervous was when a friend invited me to join him in his first new helicopter. It reminded me of a yellow casket and I refused his generous thought with as much class as possible. It wasn’t until he got a beautiful Robinson, and offered me flights in it, that I took him up on his offers... frequently too, I might add!

I digress... back at the airport in Halifax I was already missing having Karen and Ben there to see me off. I put my mind to the activity of taking it all in, trying to keep up with the latest security preps, and watching my fellow travellers as they made their way to the line-ups and into the fray. You never know how to take it all when it comes to security at airports. The constant putting on and taking off of clothing and accessories. Some airports want your belt, shoes, jackets and other items. That, along with scans, wands, widgets, questions and, always.... very sober looks. It is amazing that some people, in a rush to get to the lineups, will push and shove, barge in line and we even had a man running to take a spot at a custom’s counter. Shaking my head in disbelief, I just waved a go ahead to the disgruntled agent and later found that he was taken off for a more thorough search.... one person said, “ a strip search... serves him right!” while I am a little more lenient and just smiled. Boarding a plane, in terms of what we are really doing, is interesting. In the words of Mike Warnkey we are putting our lives aboard a cigar tube type missile that has all the potential of being unable to fly... kind of like the bumblebee. If your engines stop it is a long fall... up to 42 thousand feet at some times... but that isn’t bad... it is the landing......!

Halifax to Toronto, Toronto to Brussels, Belgium and on to Delhi, India. The last two were very long flights and were a bit tiring, as we flew across lots of time zones. Flight is interesting though. There is lots to do and I loved to watch the wings bounce up and down, as we hit air pockets, and the sounds of flight are as varied as they are many. I often wondered how families with small children made long flights. Not everyone likes to hear children crying in confined spaces and after 4-5 hours of nothing for a small child to do, their nerves can grow weary and tears begin to flow. I was amazed at the attendants on our aircraft. They quite often came, even when children were quiet and offered to hold them for a while, to give the parents a rest. One of our guys, Steve Hiltz, chipped in once and a while, as he had an aisle seat and loved to share the love with whoever needed a rest. There are movies to watch and, if I haven’t already mentioned it, lots of food to be eaten. I always knew that people seemed contented to fly, but figured like most, I guess, that it may have been what you went through to travel half way around the world. God is good, and even though the time on the ingoing flights did drag, I think it was because we were all anxious to get there and be about the work at hand.

Like most “up in the air” situations, flying has its come downs. Landing each time, whether in Toronto or in more exotic airports, had its moments. When we landed in Delhi, the crowds meeting the plane were minimal. The airport was crowded, but we were told that, if we had arrived at, say, mid-morning or afternoon, the place would have been packed, not only on the inside, but the outside as well. People there are anxious, due to their impoverished state, to have bits of employment and they all want to move your luggage (though you have to be cautious in this situation... there are thieves afoot) from one area to another, especially to the vehicles in the parking lot, and will expect lots of Ruppies to do it. If you don’t offer enough, they will argue with you. The drivers of the hired cars transporting us, allowed this for a while, but soon stepped in when it go to be a feeding frenzy with too many people competing for our luggage. Our hearts were often saddened by the poor jostling to have a piece of the rich men’s wealth, just by carrying our baggage. We don’t know how the other half lives and it didn’t matter that the luggage was tattered and old... they didn’t have baggage and most of them lived on the streets, some not even in shelters. God sees their needs, but humanity often doesn’t, and when we do... which one gets the favours... there are so many!

Delhi is a massive city and, like the others in India, is growing leaps and bounds. In fact, there are two cities, Old and New Delhi. There are also Old and New Bombay, Old and New Calcutta, though they are not always identified as such on the maps yet. The new cities are taking on the very commercial and urbanized look of modern urban centres. There is tension over who will live there and I am afraid that these areas of new growth are leaving behind the poor and the disenfranchised of the country. You ask yourself about the democratic type of the government, but you soon become aware that many of the local and provincial governments are still communist in nature and direction. People are the same everywhere, no matter where you travel.

The economic and social stratification of the people is clearly seen, and attempts to cross those gaps are difficult. We often saw how easily people overlook others or exclude them all together. It was hard not to fall into that mode, for instance, while shopping on the return home. In the milieu of the markets, there are thousands of people and, in some places, they are shoulder to shoulder. You have to hold on to everything tightly because white foreigners are open to being robbed. Everywhere, people want to get something from you; people selling items all want your attention and your money and the beggars are everywhere. They are relentless in their efforts and will not take no for an answer. Young boys carry babies that are crying. They hold out empty milk bottles and plead for your sympathies. You have to understand their motives and who has hired them or you would go crazy with guilt. One lady followed me for blocks, holding on and often grabbing or just circling my every move. We were finally saved by a street merchant who knew the woman and her efforts and, gladly, he was offering the merchandise we were looking for. It is easy to ask the question, “Why does God allow such poverty?” Then it strikes you... God watches, we allow it to happen and continue... and then we go on... it is humanity’s trouble.

I would like to say that the whole trip was like flying... up in the air, but secure, so to speak. We were catered to and pampered, but on the ground in India it is a different story for the nationals. Mankind must soon take a look at what faces the many millions (perhaps billions now) of those others whose battle to survive is a daily quest. I long to go back and spend one day at a time to do what I can to help. It may seem like a small spoon stirring in circles in a corner of Lake Superior and expecting to create a giant vortex, but, one mouth fed, one life changed or saved, means there is hope at least. I will be looking at the exercise of the doing of ministry in the days ahead, along with plans for the future. I hope you do not get discouraged, God is not finished with humanity yet! I know He is faithful to me and faithful to His creation... it is now our turn! But, maybe that is still a bit, “Up in the air!”for some.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

To Fly or Not to Fly

One of the consequences of being a human on this earth is that the planet and life itself has storms. I used to think that storms were great. In my youth it often meant that it was a day inside, or in my teens a day off school. As it turned out storms later in life often meant something missed, like an opportunity to go for a special visit in a nearby community or to an occasional outdoor event or maybe even camping with family. Storms also happen in life and when that takes place and no one is happy. Death and illness in our family, in my childhood, were the biggest storms. Second to those came the idea of limited funds and the disagreements over what was a priority for family needs verses keeping up with other families and how they lived. Storms even included most importantly, as it turned out, those moments when my heart was torn over decisions. As a young Christian my life was different. Others outside the faith judged my faith as a weakness and I often fought back, proving nothing except that I still had much to learn. Storms can be harsh and frightening.

So the day of our departure to India grew nearer and I dutifully watched the weather systems, just as though I could change the plan of forthcoming weather patterns. Karen, bless her heart, got the items together that I was to take and methodically packed my bags and we hoped for the best. Our son Benjamin had told us that he was driving us to Halifax and would take his 4 wheel drive truck if the weather got bad, but I knew that if the weather was that bad we would not fly. When the news of an impending storm on Thursday was announced, my heart made the decision to go to Halifax early, in hopes that we could leave before the storm hit too hard.

You may ask the question; “What about God’s divine care over such an important ministry?” Well, that is a great question. Need we worry in such a situation? The human heart is still the “human” heart, no matter the connection to God. We understand that we still feel fear, face disappointment and many of the other emotions in the spectrum of life’s trials. God has created us with the ability to think and once the doors were open to the fullness of that potential and we knew the difference between what was right and wrong, we saw the consequences of what could or might be. Now, like Paul, God want us to stand in constant need of him, yet be able to stand independently, ready to live for Him. This stress in our lives causes many an hour or day of questioning, for those who know that God wants us to respond to His call, yet sees no evidence in human terms of the way ahead or the light at the end of the path. We know the light is there, but how far we must go to see the light and the energy we need to expend to get there scares us, as we long for God’s words of assurance.

Well, I arrived in Halifax and was instructed to come to the home of our Mission Leader, Rev. Dr. Shant Manuel. On arrival there, his wife Ginny told me that yes, in fact there had been the opportunity to leave early the next day before the storm hit, but in the time that she needed to contact the others going on the trip to give them the heads up, the seats were gone. Everyone had the same idea of course.... get out of Halifax before the storm... and booked earlier flights. I settled in for the evening and several times was asked the question about whether or not I felt it was a good idea to try again.... each time I said yes. On the next computer search Ginny found 7 seats, all in the same row on a flight out of Halifax to Toronto at 6:30 am Thursday morning. She tied up the system by auto resetting the request for the seats and called her travel agent, who then in turn after 2 hours got the seats for us. Ha! Shant was not sure that it was such a great idea as he felt that the storm would pass us by and some of the travellers with us wanted to sleep in that morning.... imagine. We are going to go to India, we needed to be there and in top shape by Saturday and they wanted to sleep in on Thursday and wait for the 3:30 pm flight. If it was missed we would not get to India until late Sunday and we needed to start lecturing on Monday morning. My heart kept saying, “We needed to get there and be rested before we begin our teaching sessions.” So, up we got on Thursday morning at 5 am and we were in the air before the storm hit the city.

In Toronto, the group faced a long day in Pearson International. The decision was made to go into the city and do some sightseeing, shopping perhaps and just make the best of it. As the time of the pre-scheduled flight came and went we soon learned that all flights out of Halifax had been cancelled. Ha! Guess the Lord was looking after us. 7 seats on the same row and an early flight out got us to India on time and allowed us a night of good sleep to prepare for the week of lectures.

We often do not remember the words of a great missionary Mr. William Carey, who said, “Expect great things from God, but attempts great things for God.” I often wonder if I am truly convinced that I can attempt great things or if I am merely willing to paddle the known brooks and streams or walk the familiar and safe paths of life so to speak. This trip was to be a new path, unfamiliar to me in the stream of my life and I was expecting great things from God. But, I guess I was attempting something great for God too!

The attempt was for me not so much the travel to a foreign land half way around the world, but the huge task of both meeting the acceptance of the Church and community for such an undertaking at this point in ministry. My family cheered me on and I soon found out that so did my community, friends and to a limited degree so did many of my Church family. There was still that gnawing fact that I was off again and there is ministry to be done here.... why go away to do it in India?

I was amazed at the love and support that came from some very special people and families. I relied on Karen and others to get me ready and I was relying on God to make it possible and everything went perfectly according to His plan. He called, I responded and He made it happen through His people who saw the vision of ministry to this Country in great need of training in the Christian faith.

To fly or not to fly was never really the question. It was, “How faithful to the task of going was I prepared to be?” Being early and not just on time made all the difference and should I have waited till Thursday Morning, to travel to Halifax, I would never have made it on time for that 6:30 am flight that had become available. The Lord knows our needs and He made it possible to get to India on time.... as I look back I believe it was really “just in time”. A great mission was begun there with a great National, who has great vision and leadership skills, to lead the way in that part of India.