I don’t know why God appointed Ken Wheatley and me to spend last week teaching pastors and church leaders in India. It’s a humbling thing to try and teach the very people from whom we have so much to learn. And that’s the way I felt all week—humble.
My assigned task was to teach Romans. I was given a time frame of two days each with two different groups in two different places. Though I have preached numerous sermons from Romans over the years, I hadn’t taught through the book since 1987. That’s a long time ago—my notes from that study are handwritten on yellow sheets of lined paper—even before the days of personal computers. How was I supposed to teach such a deep and wide book in such a short time, a time cut in half by virtue of the need for a translator? And how was I to teach it in a way that actually involved the students in hands-on ways so they could have something they could reproduce in their own churches? I’ve been on numerous mission trips doing numerous things, but I’ve never felt so stressed and uncertain about my task than I did for this trip. I felt weak, inadequate, uncertain, humble about the whole process. And in retrospect, I don’t think I did a very good job. Humbling.
And as if this wasn’t humbling enough, my interaction with those who participated in the study humbled me even more. In a country where most citizens barely make enough money to live, most of the church leaders (men and women) who attended the study had to take two days off without pay from their jobs. Some had to travel some distance just to attend. They had to make a sacrifice to be there. They had to patiently listen to me say words incoherent to them and wait on the translation into words they could understand. This is not an ideal learning environment. But they hung in there, listening attentively, feverishly writing out notes of things they wanted to remember. Like hungry folks sitting down to a banquet, they gobbled up every bite and morsel they could. Humbling.
But the thing that really put me in my place came in answer to a question I asked one of the groups: “What’s it like to be Christian in India? What are the challenges and opportunities for Christians here?” Their answers put a lump in my throat. One old man said that since He gave his life to Jesus, his family has essentially written him off. He’s still allowed to live in his home, but his wife won’t cook for him. Any time he brings home food for the family, they refuse to eat it. After he sleeps on the bed, they wash the sheets as a sign of purging his faith from the linens. This man lives a hard life every single day simply because he put his faith in Jesus. So would it surprise you to note that no one in that group had a better sense of humor, no one laughed more or elicited more laughs from his comments than this man? And when he was telling his story, heads nodded, and no one seemed surprised or shocked at what he had to say. Many face a similar situation. But they continue to move into their future, sharing Jesus with Hindus and Muslims, starting churches, training leaders, doing to the work of the kingdom in a place fundamentally hostile to Jesus. And they do it with joy. They do it with a smile on their face. Humbling for an American Christian like me.
I grow increasingly cynical about American Christianity. We tend to be so self-focused, so materialistic, so acculturated to worldly values, so half-hearted in our commitments to Christ and the church. It makes me fear for the future of the faith in our own country and for the world. But God used last week to remind me that fulfilling the Great Commission doesn’t depend solely upon American Christians. God’s got plenty of people in other places of the world who are getting it done—even against great odds and at great personal cost. I met some of those Christians, and India is one of those places. It’s humbling, I tell you, humbling.
When you pray for the world, would you pray for these people?
For the most part, Indians are rather small of stature. In fact, Ken and I (two people whom no one ever nicknamed “Stretch”) were usually pretty close to the tallest men in the room. But for this one week of our lives, we stood among giants.