We are American tourists in India, drinking in the sights and sounds and smells of this eternally fascinating, challenging and rewarding country. We came here the first time in 1975, then returned for subsequent visits. We wish everybody could have this experience. Each of ours has enriched our lives. My words and Joy’s pictures can’t do justice to the teeming billion-plus people who call the subcontinent home.
India’s people are the engine driving great economic development in this land. We’ve seen enormous progress since our first visit here, when famine threatened. The Green Revolution has had a real impact on this largely rural nation. Sadly, though, here as in America the rich seem to be getting richer and the unfortunate poor seem mired in ever greater poverty.
In the two communities we are visiting Christian missions shine like beacons in the night because of the sacrificial dedication of leaders who are doing all they can to relieve spiritual, economic and social poverty.
While here we participated in the World Convention of Christian Churches “Global Gathering” in Damoh in the state of Madhya Pradesh. It was an inspiring event. Over 3200 people registered from 29 countries and 21 Indian states. Most of the attendees were Indians; about 10 % of the total were aliens like us.
You have to really want to go to Damoh; travel to there is not easy, but the effort pays real dividends–especially when a Global Gathering is your reward. I have attended a lot of national and international meetings; I have never been more impressed with the attention to detail, excellent organizational skill, and just plain hard work of the hosts.
Damoh is not a huge city, although half a million people live here, I was told. Still, the setting is rural; everything had to be imported from larger places, things like a tent that could accommodate the huge crowd at a seating and the smaller tents and booths ancillary functions, sound systems, lighting (the whole campus of the mission was aglow in lights), food for three meals a day, and more. Instead of complaining of the difficulties, these workers greeted us everywhere with smiles and offers of assistance.
The messages were inspirational. Their constant refrain echoed the convention’s theme: Breaking Down Walls to Build Bridges. Speakers exhorted us to not be satisfied with just saying we love God; our real job is to love our neighbors–actively! A highlight was hearing from several Christians who had been brutally victimized for their faith. One woman told of the dozen or so attackers who killed her husband and son and then gang raped her. Persecution is an ever-present threat to religious minorities here. One of the speakers was himself a religious terrorist, killing in the name of his god. Now he’s a Christian trying to save others from what he used to do.
That first visit to Damoh in 1975 was at the invitation of Dr. Vijai Lall and his wife Pushpa. When I first heard him speak in Indiana I said to myself, “I must meet this man.” He impressed me with his character, purpose, sharpness and vision. We immediately became close friends and colleagues.
During this week we saw his sons David and Ajai fulfilling their father’s original vision—and going beyond it. Dr. Ajai Lall, a dynamic leader, was the convention president. His brother David oversaw all the technology–and much was required–for the meeting. They were joined by the larger extended family (cousin Vivert, for example, was one of the speakers; he also heads up a significant ministry in cooperation with David’s and Ajai’s), and their wives Sheela and Indu were everywhere speaking and serving. And now yet another generation of sons and daughters is rising up in exemplary service. They inspire me.
Here’s what these intrepid ministers are involved in: evangelism and church planting, education (elementary, secondary, college level, vocational training), medical (hospital, clinics), ministry to children at risk, publications, media production and audio-visual materials, empowerment and advocacy programs, emergency disaster services, assistance for the elderly, village development and well digging, and ministry for persecuted families. American financial support in addition to Indian contributions makes all of this possible, but it would not be happening without these dynamic Indian leaders. (They were so busy we failed to get a picture of them for you. We hope to have one in a subsequent Lawsonsontheloose).
We enjoyed happy reunions with some old friends. Dr. Leonard Thompson spoke. We first met him and his late wife Pam in that 1975 trip to India. I was pastoring with East 38th Street Christian Church (now post Road Christian) back then. The church sent Joy and me to India to evaluate the work of their Indian missionary, this man Leonard Thompson. We were impressed. The church continued their support. Today Leonard is an elder statesmen among Indian Christians. Our faith in him was well placed. (And wouldn’t you know it–we didn’t get his picture, either!)
There were others, like Wayne and Gail Long. We were in college together, then were colleagues with CMF International. They subsequently founded a mission to work with Portuguese speaking people in the States. It was fun to be with them and their son Nelson. They’re on their way to East Timor to explore the possibilities of a new mission there. (Wayne and Gail, as you must have figured out when I said we were in college together, are not youngsters—but they are still seeking ways to serve.)
Well, there were many others (like the two Christian leaders pictured here), but it’s time to start drawing this post to a close. Let me summarize by telling you that this was a time of real inspiration. It was announced that the next World Convention will be Swaziland in a couple of years. I’ve got to keep alive a little longer. This is another meeting I don’t want to miss!
Let me add a couple more thoughts. It’s well known that the center of the Christian faith is no longer in the West (Europe and North America) but has moved to Africa, South America and Asia. Just as white faces were in the minority at this convention, so they are in the Christian population worldwide. In Damoh I felt I was seeing the future—not just of Christianity in India but of the Christian movement worldwide. If the faithful can keep the focus on loving and serving in the name of Christ, that future will be very good indeed.
And now this personal note. Joy calls this picture “The keys of power or torment.” They are the keys to the many doors of the mission that hosted the convention; they represent the multitude of ministries carried on here. But to the Lawsons, who don’t own a single key between us, they are a reminder of the responsibilities we once had and the freedom from accumulated “stuff” we are now enjoying. So we give thanks–for our freedom at this stage of life and for the younger people who use keys like these to open doors of ministry to others in the name of Christ.