Countdown to India
We had a very busy three weeks in September before leaving for our trip. The beginning of September found us in Denver, CO for the Bear Valley extension school retreat. This is a time of planning and swapping ideas about the different schools and a time of fellowship. Since we had a few days time before our overseas trip, we met Jerry’s brother and his wife for a few days vacation in Breckenridge. We did not immediately return home; rather, we went to Nashville on Monday and met Philemon, one of our Indian co-workers who was visiting in the states. This led to a whirlwind week of activities. On Tuesday, September 10th, we had a meeting at the Strickland congregation in Corinth. We continued home that same night, arriving about midnight. We were in the office the next day, unloaded the Voice of Truth, and we and Betty traveled to Greenwood and Indianola, MS that night. We were late arriving home again. Of course, Philemon was still suffering from jet lag, so he spent some time sleeping in the car. We kept him busy in the office for the next few days, visiting two churches on Sunday, and the next week, Betty took him to his next stop in northern Florida. There are always many things to do just before a trip, thus the next few days were hectic. We also celebrated Paula’s birthday with our children. This was the first time we were in the states on her birthday in six years.
On September 26th, we left for India and had an uneventful trip as most of them are. We arrived in Delhi about 1:30 am after many hours of flying, and Vinay David was supposed to meet us, but he was late. We called him, and he said he was on the way, but it still took him about 45 minutes to reach the airport. We finally were able to get to bed for a few hours rest about 4:00 am. Needless to say, we did not have to be rocked to sleep. Saturday was literally a day of rest. On Sunday we were able to see the new church building at Delhi for the first time. It is a beautiful building, very unusual for India. The church is now very visible, which has led to people just dropping in to visit. Hopefully this will lead to growth.
Our next stop was the extreme eastern state called Manipur, which borders Myanmar. The difference between Delhi and Manipur is like night and day. This region is very poor, has very little electricity, and bad roads, yet the church has found a foothold in the beautiful hills of this state. It seems that the central government considers this region almost like step-children. For example, one day we visited a small nearby dam that was initially built to produce electricity. However, it has been built for about 20 years, and still no electricity is being produced.
In contrast to the rest of India, which is largely Hindu, this region is mostly “Christian” with Baptist being the predominant religion. We spent an entire week with Thang Lien visiting churches in this region. He is one of our newer team members, translating the Voice of Truth into Paite. The third issue has just come from the printers. He is experiencing some difficulty even among fellow preachers. He had arranged meetings for us with some area churches, and at the last moment a couple of older preachers persuaded the other congregations not to attend the seminar. In our opinion this is due to a power and leadership struggle of these older preachers. They are afraid they would lose some influence if we and Thang were allowed to teach. Since the church in India is still relatively young, jealousy, envy, and power struggles are all too common. However, one congregation was not going to be influenced, and we preached in this small congregation every night. Thang also cares for about 50 children, and we taught lessons to them on two days.
One day Thang arranged a seminar with area churches in the Imphal area, the capital city of Manipur. The congregations in that region are small and are experiencing bitter opposition from denominational groups, and they need much teaching and encouragement. We were the first Americans that had ever been to the place in which the seminar was held, which was under a very small tent. It had rained hard the night before which made travel difficult and the place muddy. On the way back to our hotel it again rained very hard, but fortunately, no rain fell while the meeting was occurring. About 50 people attended the seminar and all seemed to really enjoy the fellowship. Plans were made for further seminars in this region. On our spring trip, we plan to once again travel to this region for a few days. This area has been closed to foreigners for many years; therefore, we feel compelled to teach and edify these churches as much as possible. Hopefully, the Voice of Truth will also help in that regard. Furthermore, we left some money to reprint the Church of The Bible in that language.
Many ask us if we ever encounter any opposition or violence, and fortunately, we seldom have any problems. Our native brethren know what can or should be done, so they do a good job of keeping those problems at bay. Of course, one never knows when something might happen. For example, this time we encountered a potential problem in Manipur when we were traveling to the airport to leave the state. Thang’s brother-in-law had traveled early that morning to his home, and he reported that there was a ban on travel. A portion of the population was protesting, and in order to make their point many businesses closed, and all travel was stopped, except for medical or airport travel. We were advised to leave early, which we did. Providentially, we encountered no problems, but we did make the trip with an airport sign posted on the windshield. This made Paula a little uneasy, especially considering the violence filled history of this region.
Our next stop was in south India with P R Swamy. He is one of the greatest evangelists in India, constantly traveling and teaching wherever he has the opportunity. Even though he is now about 70, he has slowed very little. He had arranged three days of seminars covering Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The first day was a meeting with some independent denominational preachers, several traveling a long distance. This was the third time Swamy had met with them, and he hoped that a few would be baptized. Unfortunately, such was not the case. Jerry taught about the church and ended with a discussion of the purpose of baptism. They seemed to understand and accept the truth, but they insisted that they did not need to be baptized again, since they had already been baptized. Some lively discussion ensued and plans were made for further study.
Paula taught about 50 ladies all day on the second day, and Jerry taught a mid-week Bible study that night. Thursday was another seminar composed of Christians and their contacts. This was a good three days, and altogether seven people were baptized.
This was a short weekend stop with P K Varghese at the extreme southern tip of India in the state of Kerala, called the coconut state, since there are so many coconut trees. He preaches for two congregations about twenty minutes apart. One congregation has a Friday night Bible study every week, and we met with them that night. On Saturday, we had a meeting with the three congregations that meet in this city, and Saju George from Kochin traveled about five hours to attend and preach one lesson. We had met him twice before, and we were glad to see him again. He is a very talented and dedicated preacher. P K and Saju also talked with us about their plans to start a preaching school within a year or so. This is greatly needed as there are none in the entire state or language group. They will supply the building, so we just need to supply funds for teachers and food for students. These men are seasoned preachers and would do an excellent job training younger men to eventually take their places. We desperately need some congregations to step up and help with this specific work.
We feel a special bond with one of these congregations, Kovalem Beach. On our first trip to India in the spring of 2008, we preached in a gospel meeting there, and this congregation had just begun at that time. A very small group from the larger church decided to plant a new congregation in this area. It has been very effective, primarily due to the evangelistic mindset among the members. On Sunday morning the building was filled to capacity, probably close to 75 attending, and there are plans to expand the building. This growth is all due to work done by the local members.
This was a short stop to attend the 16th annual Bible lectureship. The lectureship is a two-day event with over 400 attending, although we did not arrive until noon of the first day. However, since all the speaking is done in Tamil, of which we understand nothing, we missed nothing. It is good to see a large crowd like this, but it can be rather monotonous and tiring to sit through native speakers when you understand nothing that is being said. I spoke once each day, and Paula taught about Esther to approximately 100 ladies one day, and taught parables to nearly 50 children the next day. Two people were baptized at the close of the lectures. It was a short but encouraging two days.
Hop, Skip, and Jump
This phrase could describe the activities for the next week, staying a maximum of two nights in any one place. Arjunan picked us up on Wednesday for a series of meetings over the next three days. We conducted a small meeting Wednesday morning in route to Trichy, a travel time of about three hours. There, we visited with a small congregation that had begun one year ago in one man’s home. He was converted through Arjunan’s TV program, and he had arranged a street meeting, which was literally in the street. Hang a curtain, install a microphone system, put some chairs in the street, and you have an auditorium. We did not have a large crowd sitting, but there were others in their homes sitting on their balconies listening. We were a great encouragement to the young Christians there.
From there we traveled about five hours to a hill station. Here we saw primitive living conditions and had a day of meeting with the area tribal people. There was no New Testament church meeting here, but Arjunan had been teaching in this area for a long time. We had separate men’s and ladies’ classes to several seekers of the true gospel and at the close seven people were baptized, thus beginning the simple New Testament church. Two young men were baptized. and Arjunan is planning on personally training them extensively over the next few months.
We next met Philemon who transported us to another hill station, Coonoor. Everyone thinks about India being hot and sultry, which it usually is; however, we saw much rain on this trip, which cooled the temperature, and the hill stations were especially damp and cool. We had to wear a jacket and sleep under a thick blanket at night. Coonoor was the location of the J C School of Evangelism. About 20 motivated students have been taking classes for several months in order to better evangelize their community. Many of them take off work in order to attend these classes. Jerry taught a series of lessons on the New Testament church and worship so they could better explain the importance of the church to their contacts. Paula encouraged the women to be a part of the evangelism process.
Only a few miles away was our next stop, a hill station called Ooty. This was a two-day preacher’s seminar. Many of the preachers lived a long distance away, and they rode the train all night, yet were ready to begin class about 9:00 am. Jerry presented some information about Christian Evidences. This was part of the material normally presented in the master’s course from Bear Valley. The preachers were very pleased to hear this information. Of course, they were all convinced of the truth, but this material greatly enhanced their belief and gave them much needed information to combat false teaching, of which there is plenty in this predominately Hindu and Muslim country. Several of their wives also came, and Paula taught them the entire time. The two rooms were each filled to capacity. A personal highlight for us was a meal at Domino’s Pizza in a heated restaurant. It was SO good. This was a good two days, but since it was so cool, we were glad to get back to warm temperatures.
Here is where our trip was derailed. We had planned to spend nearly a week in Orissa, but as you may have heard on the news, a severe cyclone hit that region in mid-October, about two weeks before we were to arrive. The town to which we were going is located on the ocean. As expected, there was quite a bit of damage to homes, crops, infrastructure, etc. For example one preacher we were going to visit earned his living from a coconut farm, and his house was heavily damaged and all his coconut trees were blown down. Therefore, we were forced to cancel this portion of the trip. This is the first time we have had any real problems with weather cancellations. The money that we had planned to spend for the trip to that area we left with our brethren, Philemon and Joshua Gootam. They were going to make a trip to that area in a few weeks, so they could take the money and use it to help the needy Christians in that area. This amounted to several hundred dollars. We plan to go back to this area in the spring.
You might say we went to Plan B. We were going to be in Visak to visit the school for only one day, but since our plans were changed, the school staff was very willing to work with us. For about a week before we arrived, it rained almost constantly in this region. Naturally there was much flooding in the surrounding areas. For a few days, all trains in and out of the city were cancelled. The students were going to go out on a campaign for two days, and they had arranged an area preacher’s luncheon for us, but due to the incessant downpour these plans also had to be cancelled. So I guess you could say we went to Plan C. We had a small preacher’s luncheon for the school students and some of the local preachers on Friday. Nevertheless, we still had a good crowd of about 40 preachers.
The following week Jerry taught at the school every day. This was an excellent way for us to utilize our unexpected free time. He taught the book of Acts and Paula had a couple of ladies classes. It finally quit raining on the Sunday after we arrived on Thursday, and we had pretty weather for the next week. We really appreciate the school for being so willing to change its schedule.
We left India on November 1st, traveling to Colombo, Sri Lanka. Since this newsletter is an October-November report, we will hold any reports on that part of our trip until our next report. All is well with us and our work, and as always we continue to thank you for your support. The requests and needs continue to grow, outstripping our financial capability, but glory to God for this growth. May God bless you all.
Jerry and Paula Bates