Impressions from a Modern Missionary Journey
First impression – India is BIG – VERY BIG My journey started in Delhi, where I arrived from London on 30 September. I first visited Kullu and Manali in Himachal Pradesh, a return journey from Delhi of 674 miles by road, much of it indescribably rough! Next I flew 1164 miles to Guwahati, plus 72 miles by road to Shillong, Meghalaya, with a short 40 mile return road trip to Mairang. Back to Guwahati, still 72 miles by road! followed by a flight of 1645 miles to Bangalore, the headquarters of my hosts, the Indian Evangelical Mission (IEM). From there I visited the IEM cross-cultural missions Training Centre, 50 miles down the road into Tamil Nadu. A major chunk of the journey then started with a flight to Hyderabad, 350 miles, followed by a road trip of 183 miles to Chennur in Andhra Pradesh, where I visited a number of teams working in very remote villages. Here I managed to pick up a dose of Amoebic Dysentery, which causes diarrhoea and general weakness, and which followed me more or less to the end of my journey in India. A doctor in Bangalore said ‘Welcome to India!’ What could he mean...............?? Then back by road to Hyderabad, taking care to have regular toilet stops, and by air to Bangalore. After staying with friends for a few days, it was time to embark on the final stage of my journey, to attend the IEM National Convention at Ukhrul, near Imphal, Manipur. This required a flight to Calcutta, 1190 miles, plus a flight to Imphal of 566 miles, and a 75 mile journey by a narrow winding road to Ukhrul. At the close of the convention, I retraced my steps along the same road to Imphal, then flew to Guwahati, 321 miles, followed by my final flight of 1170 miles to Delhi, where I caught my flight home to UK.
If you’ve followed the story so far, and added up the numbers, you’ll get a total mileage of 8230 for this missionary journey in India! I was surprised to find it adds up to such a big number, but as I said just now, India is BIG!
But it wasn’t all travel – I visited some 14 places where there are IEM teams at work, serving the people and demonstrating the love of Christ, some in very remote villages. So my second impression is the total commitment and dedication to the task by these people. They are all well qualified, and well able to hold down good jobs in the growing economy of India. But they have turned their backs on this for the sake of the Gospel, and I am full of admiration for them. People like Yoke and Yofeeca, at Christ Church Kullu, where they have two congregations – Hindi and Nepali. They presented me with a Kullu hat, which is worn by the men of the district. Or there is Naresh, who works as a counsellor with the medical team at Lady Willingdon Hospital in Manali. Manali is well-known as a tourist venue for trekking in the nearby mountains, and we went up the Solang Valley in a ski-lift, with breathtaking views!
Moving on to Shillong, Meghalaya, where I was met by my good friend Kharchandy (GP), a retired civil engineer, who works for IEM as their State Secretary in Meghalaya. The Khasi people live here, and GP is always reminding me how Thomas Jones brought the Gospel here from North Wales in the 1840s. With the Gospel came an alphabet and the Bible in a written language. This transformed them from almost savages, to what they are today, a highly civilised and educated society. On the Sunday, we went to a large church where there were over 500 children and young people of all ages, being taught in over 50 different classes. In the afternoon we went to a church in a remote village, where there were over 200 people at worship. Incidentally, it was raining, and all the umbrellas were lined up outside the worship area. This leads me to my third impression – the wide range of temperature and weather in India. Delhi was hot – around 30, and so was Bangalore. But the North-East climate is more like the UK, which means you may get rain! Fortunately, I had brought an umbrella and a light sweater.
Moving south to Andhra Pradesh, I spent the next few days in the Chinnoor district with my old friends Joseph and Amukutty, whom Joyce and I first met during our visit in 1996. There is an IEM church in memory of Joyce in Asnad, one of the remote villages in the Chinnoor area. It was great to join in worship here with these simple, very poor folk. It was also good to have lunch with the local landowners, who are very supportive of the work of Amukutty and joseph. They have been working for IEM for at least 17 years – counting from the year Joyce and I first met them – this calls for real perseverance!
Next, come with me to Babbarchilka, a very remote village about 12 miles from Chinnoor. The only way in is via a narrow concrete road, whose surface varies from very rough to indescribably broken up with deep potholes guaranteed to shake the living daylights out of any vehicle daring to set foot on it. Eventually we arrived unscathed and met Sathyaraj and Jenita, a delightful young couple with two children – Jeswin and Jerusha, aged 5 and 2. We went to their small church, which has about 100 people attending, and there are 8 other villages nearby, with a total of about 200 believers.
We visited the home of a believer, and before long the word had got around that we were there, and a crowd crammed themselves into the tiny room, and we had an impromptu worship session. I found this very moving.
So my next Impression is that much of this work takes place in very remote villages, which, under normal circumstances are totally unapproachable. This means that visitors are very rare, and are limited to only the IEM support person, and someone from further afield is unheard of. So it was worth all the agro to make this visit, and others like it.
Finally, we’ll go to Bonagiripalli (try and get your tongue around this!) There I met Vijay and his wife Prameetha Sharon, who took me to an even more remote village, called Dudekullapalli. (Got it?) There we saw a so-called ‘shelter’ where about 20 people meet for worship each Sunday. This is a simple wooden skeleton, with a roof of leaves. OK when the weather is good, but not so good when it’s raining! They desperately need a more permanent building.
Before we leave Andhra Pradesh, I must show you a very moving baptismal ceremony which I witnessed – 11 people confessing their faith and being baptised by Joseph and Vijay in the river Godaveri. In the West, we baptise infants by sprinkling in a font, and adults by immersion in a clinically clean specially heated pool, but they chose the dirty river! This brings me to another impression – the deep faith of these simple, very poor, people. They have nothing, but they know God, and become active members of worshipping groups, often facing persecution, but making a difference in their communities.
The final stage in my journey was to Manipur, a far North-East State next door to Myanmar. This was by air to Imphal, the capital, and by road to Ukhrul, where the IEM National Convention was held. Manipur has a very high proportion of Christians, so the churches are large and vibrant. But the State is plagued by insurgents, who only want to cause trouble. So there are a lot of armed police very visibly around the place. I was there for three days, and I experienced being interrogated by a security team at the airport, and escorted out by a vehicle of armed police! (This latter was for my own benefit, to make sure I didn’t miss my flight, due to being delayed by crowds of striking workers. In the event, I saw very little of this, but the support was appreciated, and I did catch my flight.)
The meetings were held in Union Baptist Church, which holds over 1,000 people, and was packed solid when I came for a 7am (yes, 7am!) meeting. Over 800 IEM missionaries and supporters came from all over India, and descended on this small town, so the occasion made a big impact. They were accommodated, some in hotels, but most in peoples’ homes. This presented a huge task for the organising team, who worked tirelessly to meet everyone’s needs. I stayed in Beulah Cottage, a delightful holiday home. I was still plagued by my amoebic dysentery, so was unable to attend many sessions. I was nursed by Nimshim and Philava, two post-graduate students from Delhi, who fed me a diet consisting of green tea, vegetable soup and porridge! Ugh! But it kept me going, and I was able to get out to one or two sessions, and brought greetings from Friends of IEM UK and from my home church, Springfield Park Baptist Church, Chelmsford. The name of the place, Beulah Cottage, was appropriate, as I think Beulah is one of the bible names for the Promised Land, and I’m sure God sent two ministering angels to look after me!
So that’s my impressions of India from this latest visit – noisy, dirty, suicidal driving, archaic plumbing, no plugs for sinks, no guarantee of toilet paper and food that burns a hole in your stomach. But loving, caring people, and a deep spiritual experience that will remain with me for the rest of my life. I’m signing off now and I hope you have found this account interesting. Who’s coming with me on my next trip................?
4 November 2013.
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From our Foreign Correspondent
See an account of John Lancasters 2017 visit to India here.
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