A view of New Dehli as we flew in from Singapore.
A view of New Delhi taken from the plane as we flew in from Singapore.

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.

And we complain about the discomforts we experience in travel. This is how we could have been doing it.
And we complain about the discomforts we experience in travel! This is how we could have been doing it.

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.

Fortunately, porters were available to carry our luggage (60-pounds-plus) up the stairs at Delhi's railroad station.
Fortunately, porters were available to carry our heavy luggage up the stairs at Delhi’s railroad station.

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.

We arrive in Damoh to a typical floral welcome. Manee Massey, who met us in Delhi and stayed with us until he had guided us safely to Damoh, is beside Joy.
We arrived in Damoh to a typical floral welcome. Manee Massey, who had met us in Delhi and  guided us safely to Damoh, is beside Joy. This kind man quickly earned our trust and gratitude. Signs in tourist areas (like airports) are in English and Hindi; few tourists travel by rail or visit the towns that were our destinations, so the signs are in Hindi only. We needed the help Manee so graciously extended.

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.

The festive stage in the convention tent erected to accommodate the 3200+ attendees.
The festive stage in the convention tent erected to accommodate the 3200+ attendees.
This was a youthful convention, with even the youngest happily participating. This youngster is the grandson of the convention president, joining the teenagers in this exhibition dance..
This was a youthful convention, with even the youngest happily participating. Here’s  the grandson of the convention president, joining teenagers in an exhibition dance.

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.

Don't think of India as just another backward. Here's something I've never seen in the States--a drone making a video of the tent crowd.
Don’t think of India as just another backward country. Here’s something I’ve never seen in the States–a drone making a video of the  crowd, both inside and outside the big tent.

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.

This was our home in Damoh. The bungalow was built a century or more ago. Famed missions pioneer Donald McGavran was born in this house. On an earlier visit we stayed in the room he was born in.
The Hat surveys his and Joy’s temporary home in Damoh. The bungalow was built by American missionaries in the late 19th century. It’s indestructible! It’s the birthplace of famed missions pioneer Donald McGavran. On an earlier visit we stayed in the room he was born in. The house is now the home Pushpa Lall, widow of Dr. Vijai Lall, the visionary whose family is still having such a huge impact in this area.

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.)

Conventions are for reunions. Here are old friends Andrew Bajenski of Poland and Martin Robinson of England.
Conventions are for reunions. Here are old friends Andrew Bajenski of Poland and Martin Robinson of England.

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.

The keys of power or torment

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.


  1. So pleased you got to see leonard. We were
    able to sttend Pam’s funeral; it was so inspirational to hear of her Service to God and leonard. I have bragging rights. I met them even before you did…in 1968!

  2. Roy, I’m glad you and Joy could go to the World Convention and that you could see old friends, some about as ancient as you :).
    What you said about Christianity moving from West to East reminded me of a new book I was going highly recommend, Lessons from the East: Finding the Future of Western Christianity in the Global Church, by Bob Roberts, Jr. How they do church where Christianity is growing rapidly is very different from how nearly all churches in the west do it. I’d also highly recommend his other slightly older book, Bold as Love: What Can Happen When We See People the Way God Does. I’d also recommend his other books. Some Christians hate him because he’s friends with some of the people, including leaders, that some christians hate. But being their friend gives him the chance to talk about Jesus and some times that leads his friends to Jesus.
    God Bless you,

  3. Enjoyed so much your report on the World Convention and hearing about the names you mentioned. We became close friends of Alan and Connie Robinson, missionaries to India and parents of Martin Robinson, when we spent more than two years in England, transitioning to Tuebingen, Germany. I love your writing. Glad Martin could visit his birth place. You paint pictures with words and Joy’s pictures compliment the whole report.

  4. A powerful, powerful post. Thanks for your witness in words, making us feel like we were in India for this remarkable gathering.

  5. Thanks for the wonderful photos & commentary. Brings back memories of our many trips to this intriguing land. To visit India is to fall in love with her people and leave a piece of your heart behind!

  6. Roy, your discussion about Damoh brought to mind one of the more memorable experiences of my life when I spent a short time there back in 1979. Fred Brandenfels and I were on a trip around the world. India was on our agenda. During planning for the trip I mentioned to some friends that I would like to find out more about the mission work of the Christian Church out there. Orris Doty suggested that I get in touch with Vijai Lall, which I did. He invited us to spend some time with him and others in Damoh. It was an adventure getting there and even more of an adventure getting out of there! But mostly a pleasant adventure. We were treated royally by Vijai and members of the church there. I was invited to preach at their evening service and Vijai interpreted for me. Fred taught a class of adults, all seated on the floor, including Fred. We stayed two nights with the Lalls, recalling Don McGavrans history with this place. One afternoon Vijai and a couple of other church leaders briefed Fred and I on some history of the Continuing Christian Churches Mission and the latest difficulties with the DOM and explained the controversial situation of that time regarding Peter Solomon. I remember walking around Sunday afternoon making some house calls with Vijai. At one home we spent time with an old man who was dying. I will never forget that he sat up in his bed and with tears in his eyes he expressed his gratitude for the American churches that established mission work in his country and brought the message of Christ to people like him and his many friends. It was a deeply moving experience. The people were all so welcoming and gracious to Fred and I. Even while typing this I can look up and see one of their decorative hand made gifts that I have hanging above my desk, one of many items they showered us with at a large gathering of friends and family in front of Vijai’s house. What an honor to become acquainted with such a great servant of Christ as Vijai Lall and numerous other dedicated folks in Damoh. I recall when it was time to go, six men in an old rattle trap of a van graciously transported us over a hundred miles to an airport in Kahjaraho, with one rifle under the seat as a precaution in case of tigers or robbers. We made it safely and flew on to see the Taj Mahal. Will never forget that time there and all those lovely people. I returned to India again during a sabbatical time from the church at Junction City, in 1990, and helped build some houses with Habitat for Humanity in the southern part of the country. A great time. I envy you and your wife as you enjoy all these travel adventures. Keep safe.

    1. Thanks for sharing these memories, Gilbert. So glad to hear from you. You may already know this, but in case you don’t I should tell you that I followed Fred Brandenfels as youth minister at the St. Johns Christian Church (1957-59). He was such a good one I was scared to follow him. I’m glad also that you got to know Vijai Lall at about the same time we met him and Pushpa. We leave today (Wednesday) to spend almost another week in Damoh, once again staying in the Lall’s bungalow. We’ll be sending out another post from there. You are right about the graciousness of the good people both in Damoh and in Kulpahar. (Another point of contact: in 1975 Vijai transported us also from Damoh to Kahjaraho to catch our plane; visiting the Hindu temple there gave me one of my favorite stories!)

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