Our last trip worked out well from start to finish, beginning with the island of Sri Lanka, just off the southern tip of India. It had been over a year since we last visited, so it was good to see everyone. We are proud to report that the church has grown a great deal in the meantime. We saw the beginnings of it on our last trip, and it has continued. The new converts have been very active and are bringing many others to Christ. This situation illustrates that one must never become discouraged and quit.
Let us briefly tell the story. The church in Columbo was once a thriving large congregation. However, in recent years it has really fallen off, due to the civil war in the country, many Christians leaving to escape the conflict, and a lack of cooperation with other congregations. Thus, only a handful of Christians were left, with Harold and Lilani Thomas and their family being the mainstay. Lilani has been the volunteer coordinator of the World Evangelism radio programs for many years. Harold continues to be a factory manager and works very hard at his job. In addition, he has been serving as the preacher for the church and often has Bible studies during the week. In spite of their efforts, it seemed that growth was simply not possible, and they often were discouraged. Nevertheless, they kept working, trusting in God and knowing they were doing everything they could. Then, they met and ministered to a family with medical problems that had recently become Christians. This led to contact with another family that became Christians, and this in turn led to other contacts. The church has suddenly mushroomed, all due to the seemingly insignificant act of helping a fellow Christian family. One never knows when or how growth might occur; thus, we must continue to do the best we can without becoming discouraged.
From Sri Lanka, we took an overnight flight to Singapore and then to Yangon, Myanmar. This was very tiring since we had not fully recovered from our international flight from the states. Airline ticket prices can vary a great deal, even for short distances. Paula booked these tickets while I was in India in January, and after seeing the prices, she thought better prices could be found. Sure enough, after working with our travel agent, we saved about $400, yet only arrived at our destination one hour later.
The country of Myanmar is really changing. Tourism has increased tremendously. Construction is everywhere, and an unbelievable number of cars are now on the roads. Of course, this has led to big traffic problems in the city. The hotel in which we stayed was building a new multistory addition just outside our room. Unfortunately, it seemed that construction was occurring in almost every city to which we traveled on this trip. Fortunately, we were gone most of the day, when construction noise was the loudest.
Our primary purpose of this visit to Myanmar was to teach in a bible school about an hour outside of the city. Attendees from all around the country range in age from 15 to 30, staying for 5 weeks at a camp sleeping on straw mats on a concrete floor. Heat is not a problem, since it is always hot. The first week, daytime temperatures topped 1000F. The next week, though, it cooled off, to only 95. These students are eager to learn, beginning early in the morning and continuing into the evening with native preachers also coming to teach. The classes were split with Paula teaching the ladies. Jerry taught on the work of a preacher, and even the experienced preachers enjoyed sitting in on these classes and participating in the discussions. Our two weeks there passed quickly, and we also encouraged the Christians at two local churches.
Shillong, Oldest Known Church in India
We visited Shillong with Philemon from Tamil Nadu in south India. He is trying to start a J C School of Evangelism in this northeast India town. Sometimes he has to make several trips in order to establish the interest in the school. We met with several of the Christians on Sunday and Monday. One interesting fact about this area is that this is the location of the oldest known church in India. This congregation began in the 1940s, long before J C Bailey went to India. It seems that some native Indians simply studied their way out of denominationalism. Presently, this congregation numbers about 200 with a nice building as well as a grammar school. We also met the old preacher for this congregation, 91 years old and in bad health, but his mind was still young. He commented that he would love to go out into the villages to preach, but could not leave his home. We are sad to report that after returning home, we received word that he had passed on to his reward.
There is another congregation in this town, but it is still very small. However, the preacher is dedicated and self supporting, processing milk into yogurt, even strawberry yogurt. He has the cutest little girls you have ever seen, at least Paula thought so. India is filled with children, and there are always many playing, even in the small villages.
Our next stop was in Manipur, also in northeast India. A fairly new work has opened up in this area with TV and translating the Voice of Truth. Thang Lien speaks on TV four hours every week, and this cost is only $200/month. He also translates the Voice of Truth into Paite. Thang prints 3,000 copies of the Voice of Truth and all of them are being distributed. One interesting way he distributes them is by placing them in public areas, such as stores. All of them are picked up, often by members of various denominations, and they comment about how much they appreciate the articles because they are all Bible based. Denominational men all like the Voice of Truth for sermon material. About two years ago, Thang reprinted 2,000 copies of the Church of the Bible, and they are all gone as well; thus, this book needs to be reprinted again. This is a good time to remind everyone that none of our coworkers in India are paid to translate materials or preach. They volunteer to spend their time doing these things in order to spread the gospel in their respective parts of India.
Thang Lien and his wife also care for 58 children, and we spent two days teaching Bible stories to them. They are taught the Bible daily with devotions morning and evening, and they have no TV! Jerry preached at a nearby congregation both evenings that we were with Thang. One evening a severe rain and hail storm hit just as worship finished, but it was no problem as everyone calmly gathered in the family's home on the first floor, whereas the church met on the second floor. Everyone enjoyed the fellowship together, while patiently waiting for the rain to stop so they could walk home.
From Manipur we journeyed to Madurai in Tamil Nadu, taking parts of two days even by flying. It seems that flights in India never connect up as they do here, so it is not uncommon to be forced to spend the night somewhere while in transit. One night we rode the train all night in order to avoid spending the night at a hotel.
Three days were spent with Arjunan, who lives about 11/2 hours outside of Madurai. We left our hotel at 4:00 a.m. in Calcutta and arrived at his house about 3:00 p.m. After resting a short while, and eating an Indian feast of goat's head and goat's brain (yes, you read this correctly!), we set out for a meeting at a small nearby Hindu village. This time, Paula did the work, teaching a group of children, while Arjunan and I relaxed. Arjunan directs a part-time Bible school scattered over the state with different teachers in various areas. Students, teachers, and others came for classes on Monday and Tuesday, during which I taught on the parables of Jesus in Luke 14-16. Sunday found us at worship, then afterwards working with some members of the church to prepare his monthly magazine for mailing. Later that evening we had worship again. One older educated gentleman traveled three hours with 7 others whom he had taught and wanted to be baptized. This man is on fire for God, having been a Christian only a couple of years, yet he has taught and baptized 50 people in the last six months. He traveled back home by bus with these new Christians that night, and to our surprise, he was back the next morning ready for classes.
Wednesday was Paula's day in Madurai, as she was the featured speaker at a Ladies Day. We have been here several times before, and recognized many of the Christians. A large crowd of nearly 80 women attended and several books were given to each as they registered.
Visakha Valley Bible College
Friday was graduation day for 12 proud students as they finished two years of intense study. A tent and many chairs were placed in the street to accommodate the ceremony. A large crowd assembled, including several of the past graduates, to congratulate the graduates on their accomplishments. Each of them received a bicycle to help them in their future work.
Soon after the ceremony began, loud music began playing behind the stage. We thought they were only trying to interfere with us; however, it was actually a wedding in progress down the street, and they also had a tent in the street. You never know what you may see in India, but you can rest assured that a lot of noise will be associated with it. This school is associated with Bear Valley in Denver and overseen by the elders of our sponsoring congregation, the Strickland church near Corinth, MS.
After Joshua Gootam and I spoke at the graduation in Visak, we all traveled south by car three hours to Kakinada. Joshua and his son, Ricky, have a large printing, TV and Bible correspondence work, as well as a children's home. We saved money here by staying in a room at their children's home, which is on the third floor above the church and their offices. We were awakened each morning about 6:00 a.m. by children singing. Sometimes this makes for a short night, since three of the nights we did not return from a evening meeting until nearly midnight!
Two of these churches were composed of mostly women. Normally these meetings are peaceful; however, one evening was far from peaceful. It was in a small village, and we met in the middle of a narrow street. Initially, the electricity was off; thus, it was very dark when we began except for a few portable lights. The power came on after 20 minutes, and shortly afterward, loud music began playing next door. Most of the time, this sort of thing does not bother us, but it did this time. It is very distracting to have loud music blaring directly behind you. Soon after this, a drunken Hindu man walked out of his house and caused a disturbance. Two of the women in the audience proceeded to tell him to be quiet, and soon a rather loud argument was taking place. Of course, they were speaking in Telegu so we could not understand what was said, but it looked like a literal fight was about to break out among the men. Naturally, the service came to a standstill, and we were the spectators. However, before too long, the Hindu man went back into his house, and we continued the service, but the music continued. Interestingly, it was not long before the electricity went off again, so that ended the music, but not the preaching! We never felt personally threatened, but we sometimes think about Christians who are surrounded by Hindu neighbors, and yet they remain faithful and vocal about their faith.
Please remember all these Christians in your prayers.
Jerry & Paula Bates