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Visiting the Villages

“Suffer the little children to come unto me,
for of such is the Kingdom of God.”

 

Even though I spent the morning working on the construction of a church, it was the afternoon I spent in the villages that I am choosing to write about here. I was having trouble writing about the experiences of others, as they tried to describe what they had experienced in the villages, so I took the day and, rather than writing, I visited the villages. It was everything they said, but until you go there, it’s hard to put words to it. I am going to do my best to give you word pictures and some photos of what all of us are experiencing. You will have to talk to each person and get their specific stories especially the ways these pastors and villagers thanked and honored us for visiting them. Each person’s stories are as colorful and unique as their pictures.

 

After lunch, a small group of us left the mission compound heading for a couple villages. The plan was to tell a story or two, pass out toothbrushes and stickers to the kids of the village already gathered for us by local bible worker and pastor. We would then go and visit the homes of villagers, pray for them, and then return to the mission compound.

 

Our first village was about 20 minutes from the mission compound. Sure enough, a local bible worker had gathered the children in his tarp-covered yard. They were singing songs when we arrived.



I stepped out of the Indian TATA (a mid-size SUV rented for our travel), uncertain what my role would be. I walked into the yard and went and stood by CJ and Scott Reiner. Before long, Pastor Tim was pulling toothbrushes out of his suitcase and CJ, Scott and I handed them out to the kids.

            A couple older ladies came up to me, each taking one of my hands, placing them on their heads. This, we had been told, was their way of indicating that they wanted us to pray for them and bless them. So I took both my hands, placed them, one lady at a time, on the neatly combed hair of these short, somewhat stooped, older women. I prayed that God would reveal His love to them in a special way and bless them with long life and health. Following, the women put their hands together as if they were praying, smiled and bowed slightly as a gesture of thanks. I smiled and said, “God bless you.”

            This was all the time we had to spend at this village, as the other village was a considerable distance away. We climbed back into the TATA and headed to the other village.

 

 
(Bicycles, motorcycles, animals, pedestrians, and overloaded hay (rice stalks) wagons are common obstacles to efficient travel)


Before long, the road deteriorated, resulting in a rough, rather uncomfortable ride. Teddy Slayton (4th grade) was sharing the back seat with me and, after I managed to convince him that slicing his knee open just so he could get stitches was a bad thought he needed to put out of his mind, he settled down and became sleepy. The rough ride caused his head to bob aggressively, so I drew his body over to my lap and laid it on my leg. His head bouncing on my leg plus something CJ said to the driver woke him up. Can't win them all!

            It took us about an hour to get to the next village, although I doubt it was actually all that far. The road is shared by every moving thing, including horn-deaf goats.


As we drove, we were increasingly surrounded with neatly planted rice fields ready for harvest. It is likely that the people in the villages work on these farms, explaining why these villages are located where they are. This second village was on a bit of a hillside.


As we came to the village, some villagers and a pastor were gathered by the side of the road, so we stopped and got out.  The villagers had prepared flower garlands, which they placed around our necks. This is the Indian equivalent of an Hawaiian lei. Indian garlands are packed with a variety of flowers and are actually quite heavy. As I was writing this, Braden Anderson referred to them as more of a yoke
:-). But this was a beautiful gesture from people who have no money to spare.

            Following the lead of the senior pastor and a gospel Bible worker in training, nicely dressed in suit slacks and dress shirts, we walked through the village, up a slight rise to an area outside one of the residences. When we arrived, the pastors were spreading a tarp made with plastic sacs woven together. A few feet away, a tied, young buffalo hopped and tugged against a worn rubber tire embedded in the ground. He wasn’t balling, but continuously resisted our presence.

            As the tarp settled to the ground, I walked onto it with the children who were holding my hands and crowding around. The young girls were delighted as I sat like one of them in their midst. The senior pastor led several songs in Telegu (the local language). I was able to join only in clapping and a few hand motions until he led them in ‘Praise Ye the Lord.’ THEN, I could sing, and they all looked at me straining to join in with the English words.

            Pastor Tim, with the assistance of a pastor interpreting, told the story of Daniel and the Lion’s den. Pastor Tim chose 3 boys and a girl from amongst the kids to be ‘fierce’ lions, Daniel, and the Angel of the Lord (the girl). It was riveting, and a somewhat comical rendition.


When the story was complete, there was a void of ideas of what to do next. I heard a voice inside me say, ‘teach them to pray.’ So I hopped up and went to Pastor Tim and asked if the children know how to pray. The local pastor indicated that some of them do, pointing to a girl in front whose hands were together and eyes closed. But he asked me to lead them. So I did.

            As most of their competing ‘gods’ are dead and likely aloof to a child’s needs, I stressed thankfulness that Jesus hears and answers our prayers, asking for protection and assistance in getting to know Him. As we rose from our knees, once again I told them that all they have to do is pray, and Jesus hears and answers their prayers.

            By making eye contact with each child, shaking and holding their hands, praying with and blessing them, we’ve all sought to give them a sense of their importance, as God’s power flows through us to them. As I lay in bed that night, I recalled sensing that God’s power had been flowing through me and wondered what God had sent to each of these children. When you choose to be a vessel through which God blesses others, you never know the full impact and significance of your presence. You just let God use you as He will. God knows what they need and provides it if we are willing to be used.

After receiving hand stamps and a copy of Desire of Ages in their language, the pastors led us up the road, farther into the village. As it turns out, he was leading us to the homes of sick and crippled people. As we walked, I had two sets of hands in each of my hands with about 20 girls crowded around. We were busy learning each other’s names. They did a far better job saying mine than I did with all theirs.

            Sometimes we had to go through narrow spaces and as a crowd, couldn’t. So I started motioning the girls forward saying, “Go, go!” They quickly picked up the English word and it’s meaning, and used it every time we encountered a narrow area where hand holding needed to give way to double or single file. What a joy these girls and boys were! While they were crowding around, their behavior was respectful, gentle and not overbearing.

 

As we reached the first home, a man propped himself up on an elbow. The pastor was showing Scott all the ropes and means he had rigged up for assisting himself up from his leather strap cot and supporting himself as he moved around the room. He could have used a walker, as he was unable to dependably support himself. I never heard what his problem was, as Scott prayed for him.

            As we were departing, I raised my eyes from the children to discover two older women in front of me that wanted me pray for them. The crowding children allowed me to step forward as I prayed individually for these women who were likely family members. They like to have us put our hands on their heads, so I made sure I put both hands on each head and prayed individually, to give them a generous portion of what they were seeking. Following prayer, I gave each a squeeze around their shoulders. I wasn’t sure how else I could help them, but I can give a genuinely warm dose of love.

 

We moved thru the village, Scott, praying for the men, and I, praying for the women. Sometimes, the girls and I would get held up praying for someone. So we’d run to catch up. Oh, how they loved that, learning the English word, ‘run.’ Every time we’d get behind, they ask, “Run, run?”

            Sitting in front of her door along the side of the road, an older woman stopped me, offering me a portion of the uncooked rice in her bowl, about the consistency of uncooked corn grits, to munch on. (Vinish pointed out that sharing grain is something they only do when they want to express gratitude or honor someone. He was quite surprised that she had done this.) She indicated that it was good to eat just like that. I may have been willing to do more touching and hugging than I should have, but eating uncooked food was clearly out of the question. So I let her put some in my hand and I tried to tell her I would cook it. As we went up the road, however, I had just reduced my handholding capacity by 50%, and the children were trying to get me to eat the rice so they could hold my hand. I finally told them to eat it, and they did so as if it was a favorite snack. I finally tossed the last couple grits into the air and returned my hand to the girls beside me. There were smiles and giggles all around. We ‘ran’ to catch up with the men and boys.

 

The pastor took us into the courtyard of an older couple, apparently a little more prosperous than the others. He explained that they were a Hindu couple, learning about God, wanting our prayers. So I laid my hands on their heads, one at a time, and prayed for them while the pastor interpreted my prayer for them. The pastor indicated they had attended at least one of the evangelistic meetings, but the husband said he wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be able to attend that night.

            I had to use the ‘go’ word to get the children to spread out in a line and go back thru their gate. ‘Go, go! They all chimed in, giggling.”

 

The pastors kept remembering just one more sick person to pray for as we walked to the upper end of the village. At the top, we ran out of huts and houses and climbed, with some difficulty, into our vehicles. The expressions of joy never left the children’s faces as they waved good-bye to us. We were late getting home for supper, however, everyone waited until we returned so we could all eat together.

            As I sat down, I began to realize how tired I was. I had spent several hours in the morning, in and out of the sun, in a line passing bricks from the brick stack to the work area at the church. Tired muscles, combined with the energy flowing out in the afternoon as we visited the villages, and I was beat! I decided I had nothing left to give at the evening meeting and decided to take a shower and go to bed. I returned to my room, lay down on my bed to rest a bit before my shower, and my day quickly came to an end.



Village Celebrations

 

As we enter the villages, members of the local church and community provide welcomes that vary from a garland and an escorted walk through the village to processionals complete with tractor or oxen-drawn carts loaded with the ‘americans’ who are coming to build them a church. This often includes drums and dancing out front of the processional through the village, garlands, flower pedals tossed on us and/or wonderful smelling jasmine garlands.



 

 

On Sabbath morning, our entire group went to dedicate a church we’d been working on and received such a welcome. On Sunday, a smaller group doing village visitation received a welcome that added some bottle rockets, one of which started a grass fire a short distance from a tent in which church meetings were being held until a church could be built. To give you a flavor of these processional, I’ve included a video clip.