Saturday, February 4, 2006

MOTHER TERESA, GANDHI, AND UMRI

Photo: I stand behind the single-speed, Indian-made Atlas bicycle that I rode, along with a Bishop and 12 tribal pastors, 120 km on February 2 & 3. After these days in the saddle, I will forever be grateful for multiple gears!

Bishop Joe James and I just completed four incredible days. Having finished our teaching at the Immanuel Conference in Kolkata by Monday evening, we visited several compelling locations in Kolkata on Tuesday. We visited the Victoria Memorial with it museums of Indian history (told from India's perspective, not a Eurocentric one!). We walked the Howrah Bridge, which rivals the size of the Golden Gate Bridge. Over 200,000 people cross this bridge each day, most by foot. Such a sea of humanity, many bearing heavy burdens on their heads. We also visited the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity. This is the home of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. We stayed a while by her crypt and walked through a room of tributes to her work among “the poorest of the poor” of the world.

BAPU SETU. On Wednesday left Kolkata and flew to Nagpur, which is the exact center of India. We drove to Yovatmal, a small town which is the historic center of Free Methodist missions for over 100 years. On the way to Yavatmal, we made brief detour to Sevagram to visit the ashram and home of Mahatma Gandhi. It is called "Bapu Setu." What a deeply moving experience. This simple man led India to its independence from this extremely rural setting. Here the "Quit India" campaign was conceived. Here Gandhi welcomed leaders from all over the world. The ashram continues as a center of learning for children, youth, and adults. I will have more to write about this later.

CAN THAT BE TOPPED? Having seen the homes of Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi on successive days, I wondered if anything could match that? Thursday and Friday surpassed it. A tiny Free Methodist Church in Niles, Michigan contributed $500 for bicycles for pastors; riding a bicycle is an essential tool for ministry here. 15 shiny, new bicycles were awaiting when we reached Yavatmal. On Thursday, 12 of the pastors to whom these bicycles were given cycled with Bishop James and I the 60 kilometers (approximately 45 miles) from Yavatmal to Umri Christian Hospital. When we arrived at the hospital campus, all the hospital staff, nurses training school students, and local church officials greeted us extravagantly. The nursing students lined up on both sides of the long drive way and when we dismounted, we received garlands and way too much adulation. It was rather humbling.

FOR THE FUTURE OF INDIA. In the next few hours we were given tours of the Helen Rose Nursing School, Umri Christian Hospital (he facility our 2007 bike ride is intended to raise funds to rebuild), and Bethel Christian Children’s Home and School. All these are ministries of the Free Methodist Church. The dedication of the staff of these organizations is amazing. They do so much with so little, keeping a focus on providing medical care, medical training, and education for the most disadvantaged people of India. In an evening service at which Bishop James preached, 80 children and the nursing students sang beautifully. For me, this represents the hopes for the future of India.

THE "PROLOGUE" OF "TOUR DE INDIA" On Friday, the 12 pastors decided to ride with Bishop James and me the 45 miles back to Yavatmal. What a good fellowship we had on the road. These pastors, mostly in their mid-twenties, do outreach in little villages all over the state of Maharashtra. They were so happy to receive their bikes and honored to be riding with the Bishop. They inspired us and I think they were inspired by this unique effort. This has been the highlight of the visit so far. The three Bishops of India indicate that they could use 750 such bicycles for basic transportation for pastors across India. Such bicycles cost $50 and they are rugged enough to last a lifetime. By the way, the bikes we rode over rolling countryside were single-speed bikes; it was hard not having gears to shift down to on the hills. My legs are sore!

HEADING INTO OUR THIRD WEEK. We are heading into several more days of teaching and Annual Conferences. Please pray for our work with the pastors and for Bishop James as he leads three Annual Conferences over the next seven days. After two Annual Conferences in this central India area, we will travel to Bombay (now called Mumbai) for more trainings and an Annual Conference. Our visit is two-thirds over. I am looking forward to coming home and preaching at West Morris Street on Sunday, February 12th.

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