Tuesday, February 28, 2006

WHY I "DO LENT"

To one who asks, "Isn't Lent a Roman Catholic thing?", I may respond: "Yes, but are we Protestants not first of all Catholic?" Lent was not something to which Martin Luther protested. Nor is it a borrowed festival or season contrived to serve shallower purposes of the administered and promotional aspects of the church. No doubt, a lot of crass marketing swirls around the occasion of Lent. Still, Lent is more natural for us to observe than the recently-contrived, market-driven "40 Days of Purpose" at some other time of the year.

CENTRAL FOCUS. For those who take the Bible seriously and who seek to enter into its living story of salvation, Lent offers a simple, 6-week structure around which events most significant to the Christian faith--the Passion, Crucifixion, and Death of Jesus Christ--are lifted up, focused on, re-membered, proclaimed, meditated upon, and entered into anew--and in a public manner. Lent invites us to walk with Jesus and his original followers as he sets his face toward Jerusalem, suffering, crucifixion, and death.

BEFORE EASTER... In the season of Easter we will celebrate, meditate on, and apply the Resurrection. In the season of Pentecost, we will celebrate, meditate on, and apply the Holy Spirit poured out on believers, enlivening and empowering the church. But before Easter hope or Pentecost power comes Passion perspective.

TAKING SCRIPTURE'S CUE. One reason I observe Lent is because so much of the Gospels focuses on these days in Jesus' life. At least one Bible scholar calls the Gospels "Passion narratives with extended introductions." The Gospel of John, in particular, invites us to take our time with the days Jesus spends on his last journey to and in Jerusalem. Lent offers us the opportunity to walk this journey deliberately and carefully. Who would want to miss something we've overlooked before?

Monday, February 27, 2006

A GRAPPLER TO TURN 13


Sam, our youngest child, will turn 13 on Wednesday. Sam, a 7th grader, shown here wrestling today (on top), pinned his opponent in the third period. Hard to believe all our kids are in their teens or beyond (assuming 20 counts as "beyond"). Becky and I feel blessed with our children. We are proud of them all.
GO YE INTO ALL THE WORLD AND...CONSUME

"Society today is a consumer market, not given to much thought about anything--a society with a myriad of answers to choose from, any one of them as true as the next. This society does not question or contemplate meaning, it merely records data much as one would absorb sixty channels of cable TV all at once. It is a society incapable of making any lasting value judgments; whatever is printed or flashed on the screen is true… It should be pretty clear by now that most 'television ministry' has become merely one more channel of passive entertainment."

-- John Fischer in On A Hill Too Far Away

Graphic: one of several hundred traditional and quite peculiar artistic and commercial portrayals of Jesus at Images of Jesus.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

FOUR PRACTICES THAT MAKE OR BREAK COMMUNITY

The focus of our learning conference at Asbury was pulling together and applying the four practices that we have explored and discussed as a group of ministry practitioners over the past three years. Dr. Christine Pohl, author of the breakthrough book, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, initially identified the four practices that make or break community and has a book forthcoming on them; these four practices were explored and worked out as distinctives in our semi-annual gatherings.

TRUTH-TELLING. The first practice that makes or breaks community is truth-telling. This is a matter of being honest and authentic with one another, but it is also a matter of dealing with the tendency of its de-formation: deception. Both truth and deception are often at work in a community of faith. If deception is ignored or unaddressed, community will be stifled or lost. Learning ways to "speak the truth in love" are at the heart of this practice.

PROMISE-KEEPING. The second practice that makes or breaks community is promise-keeping. Will I keep the promises I make to those with whom I enter into the covenant of community? Or will I betray my promises with self-aggrandizing choices, careless behavior, or backing out when the going gets tough? One of the things ripping apart communities of faith today are broken promises. One of the important aspects of promise-keeping is clarifying the spoken and inferred terms and commitments people who would live in authentic community enter mutually into.

HOSPITALITY. The opposite of hospitality is, according to Henri Nouwen, hostility. Our group agreed. Moving from hostility to hospitality includes an honest assessment of our sins, prejudices, preferences, and tendencies to exclude others for one reason or another. Hospitality will only be authentic and creative if we are honestly dealing with our often hidden hostilities. Hospitality, like the other practices, is not easy and is to be practiced as a discipline. Sometimes hospitality seems to come easily; other times, when feelings of warmth and freshness have temporarily dried up, we offer it as a spiritual discipline to our stranger-guests.

GRATITUDE. The fourth practice that makes or breaks community is gratitude. Its de-formations are grumbling and criticism. Gratitude is the practice of receiving life and the graces as a gift. The spirit of gratitude is confirmed and spread as grace through the practice of expressing it. I note that two robbers of gratitude are comparing and competition. If we are always comparing the present with the past, we may never see the small but profound wonder of the present moment. If we are competing for limited resources or positions or to try to secure a future, we will likely bypass the moments, people, and graces that are sent our way. The future will tend to be a sad repeat of the past instead an arena of possibilities opened up because we were able to see the gifts gratitude offers us.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

BIKE HIKING INDIA

Photo: Joe James and I make a brief stop for a photo during our initial day of riding near Yavatmal, India, during the last week of January.

Joe James and I plan to join Bob Yardy of Champaign, Illinois, and two Indian riders for a 3,400 km ride through India beginning December 28, 2006 through the first week of February 2007. The project, "Bicycle India 2007" intends to raise funds to rebuild Umri Christian Hospital, a 55-year old Free Methodist-operated hospital in central India.

Friday, February 24, 2006

AT ASBURY

Photo: The Chapel at Asbury Seminary

Thursday evening through Saturday morning I was at Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, for a Pastors in Community learning conference. I've heard and read about Asbury since I was a child, but this was my first visit to the fabled bastion of holiness theology and evangelical revivalism. It is set among horse farms just beyond the eastern suburbs of Lexington. A quaint place defined by colonial-style architecture. Folks there jokingly refer to it as "seven miles from any known sin."

This learning conference is the wrap-up of study, discussions, and consolidation of findings from the three-year Sustaining Pastoral Excellence project I have been involved in. The group is hosted by Apostles Anglican Church and anchored by Dr. Christine Pohl, Professor of Ethics and Society at Asbury. Pohl is also the author of Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, a book that has inspired me both in my work with homeless neighbors as well as in pastoral ministry. Our group of 12 pastors and Christian workers were joined by lay leaders from our ministry settings as well as invited pastors and staff. It was an insightful few days.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

SAM WINS AGAIN

Sam won another wrestling match last evening vs Lynhurst, his fourth W of the season against a few more losses. It's his first year to try his hand at wrestling and he's doing well. I won only one match my 7th-grade year but was County runner-up in 9th grade. What Sam lacks in technical knowledge of the sport at this point he makes up for in speed and tenacity. What fun to watch!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

TRUTH'S PACKAGES

Photo: Physicist Albert Einstein with Indian poet/philosopher Rabindranath Tagore; photo located via Yahoo!

"YES, BUT." Like you, I could say "yes, but" to just about every assertion of Tagore, Gandhi, and Illich in my recent posts (scroll down). Like you, I could argue for the blessings of industrial progress and compare apparent standards of living and quality of life. As Illich points to the West's hoarding and devastating over-consumption, I could point to India's continuing propensity for a humanity-humiliating caste culture. I am not ready to permanently abandon my VW Beetle for a single-speed, 40. lb. Atlas bicycle (especially in Indiana's February weather!). But I am willing to listen. I am willing to look through the lens of others who reflect deeply and see a different scenario of life. I am willing to look at the downside of the American way of life and the upside of others'. Are you?

TRUTH'S PACKAGES. I cannot dismiss Tagore because he is Hindu (albeit a socially progressive Hindu). I cannot disregard Gandhi because his way of life seems so completely unworkable in American society. I cannot set aside Illich because I disagree with some of his notions or lifestyle. "Truth comes in all kinds of packages." I think that's true. Whatever is true need not be set aside because we think we know better, or think the bearer of truth is not altogether right or names a different source or arrives at apparently impractical conclusions.

HEAD IN THE SAND. I know people who will only read certain authors and articles within a limited stream of Christian publication. I know people who will not listen to anything but Christian radio or Fox TV news. I know people who take their cues about what is real, right, and nationally important only from the religious right's political leaders. There is a sort of head-in-the-sand mentality that seems to have gained acceptance over the past ten years. As if it doesn't come from the mind and heart of a born-again Christian, it is not to be believed, considered, or embraced. It seems to me that this is a fear-based way of ungrace.

WILL WE READ PHILIP GULLEY? I know people who loved Philip Gulley's Front Porch Tales but who now dismiss and disdain him because he wrote If Grace Is True, in which he makes an argument for universalism. They will no longer read what he writes. Why? I think they are, in part, afraid of him. Does one or two--or ten!--disagreeable assertions of a person of reflection and truth-seeking make him or her fit only for the round file? (if so, you've already assigned me my place!). I may not agree with Gulley, but I am not afraid of Gulley or his ideas. Reading his ideas does not weaken or threaten my ideas or my faith. Rather, reading and considering alternative ideas better informs the path before me.

GRATEFUL FOR THE TRUTH. I am not afraid to read Tagore. I do not read Tagore anything like a read the Bible. But for whatever inkling of insight, perspective, or truth has come to or through Tagore, I will be grateful. If Illich gets under my skin enough to make me second-guess my passive consumerism, maybe that's enough truth to change the world a bit. Maybe Gandhi's concept of swadeshi seems unworkable; but does not also Jesus' ideas about the Kingdom? In contemporary terms, it is rather comedic to assert the values and lifestyle of the Kingdom of God. Still, we do--emphatically. And, interestingly, what Jesus asserts about the Kingdom looks and feels a whole lot more like what Gandhi lived than what I as an American consumer live. Go figure.

Monday, February 20, 2006

MIND WITHOUT FEAR

by Rabindranath Tagore (from the Indian poet/philosopher's collection Gitanjali)

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up
into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason
has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action---
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Friday, February 17, 2006

WHAT IS "SWADESHI?"

Photo: this is the original home Gandhi built at Sevagram in central India, far from the places of "power." No electricity, no running water. But world leaders came to visit the small man with the great heart here. Here Gandhi daily lived the principles that India's independence movement embraced to achieve freedom nonviolently.

"Swadeshi." I saw this word at Bapu Kuti in Sevagram, India a few weeks ago. It was posted as one of the 11 "observances" at Gandhi's ashram. Here's what the folks a the Bombay Museum say about "swadeshi."

The overall experiment was towards building a non-violent society. The Freedom was the most immediate Swadeshi. The concept of Swadeshi as explained by Gandhi, the author of this entire non-violent struggle, is employment of unemployed or semi-employed people by encouraging village industries.

The use of machinery is, of course, welcome with caution and proper planning so that it can be useful to the masses rather than helping a few who can monopolise the industry. One is made aware of the violence involved in supporting unnecessary industries, which deprive millions of people of their livelihood and face disease and death. Besides, the use of industrial products which cause a lot of violence due to mishaps, chemicals and materials which involve harm to other creatures, makes the consumer responsible for this violence. The consumer therefore, has the responsibility of choosing the materials which he uses, with great prudence.

Talking to Ramachandran, a student of Shantiniketan on October 10/11, 1924, Gandhi said: "What I object to is the craze for machinery, not machinery as such. The craze is for what they call labour-saving machinery. Men go on ‘saving labour’ till thousands are without work and thrown on the streets to die of starvation. I want to save time and labour, not for a fraction of mankind, but for all. I want the concentration of wealth, not in the hands of a few, but in the hands of all. Today machinery helps a few to ride on the backs of millions. The impetus behind it is not philanthropy to save labour, but greed."

"The aim of 'swadeshi' as such, is a call to the consumer to be aware of the violence he is causing by supporting those industries that result in poverty, harm to workers and to humans and other creatures."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

THE WEEK AFTER INDIA

Photo: dories float in the bay beside the Gateway of India arch near downtown Mumbai (Bombay). This was the point of exit for England in 1947.

I am trying to get back into a routine of service, responsibilities, and life in this week immediately following three weeks in India. It is a chalelnge. Jet lag continues to work on me. I'm waking at 2:30 am each day--ready to tackle the day--and wearing out by 8:00 pm. I'm serving, making visits, participating in meetings, teaching a class and preparing communiques. But even as I do, India, with its wide range of impressions and realities, is still with me. It is not disappearing from the horizon. This juxtaposition with American and daily life is quite interesting...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

SNOW BIKING, ANYONE?

This bike in Manhattan took the full brunt of the blizzard that swept New York over the weekend. Ever tried to ride a mountain bike in the snow? It's fun! Photo posted on Yahoo by Reuters News Service

Monday, February 13, 2006

BICYCLE (AND LIFE) BASIC

I read through a piece written by Ivan Illich after he contemplated Bapu Setu, the rural home of Mahatma Gandhi near Sevagram, India. Illich spoke of the role of bicycles in Indian society. There, bicycles are not for recreation, as they are for most of us in America. In India, bicycles are the common person's basic means of transportation. In most places in India, they are more numerous on the roads than cars and trucks. Here's an excerpt of Illich's reflection,"The Message of Bapu's Hut":

PARADOX OF PROGRESS. "The paradox of the situation is that those who have more such conveniences are regarded as superior creatures. Will it not be considered an immoral society where illness is given more importance and those who use artificial legs are considered superior. While sitting in Gandhiji’s hut I was grieved to ponder over this perversity. I have come to the conclusion that it is wrong to think of the industrial civilization as a road leading towards development of man. It has been proved that for our economic development, bigger and bigger machines of production and larger and larger number of engineers, doctors and professors are not necessary. I am convinced that such people are poor in mind, body and life-style who would want to have a place bigger than this hut where Gandhi lived. I have pity for them. By doing this they surrender themselves and their animate self to the inanimate structure. In the process they lose the elasticity of their body and vitality of their life, they have little relationship with nature and closeness with their fellowmen."

RIGHT MEANS, RIGHT ENDS. "When I ask the planners of the day, why they do not understand this simple approach which Gandhiji taught us, they say that Gandhiji’s way is very difficult and that the people will not be able to follow it. But the reality of the situation is that since Gandhiji’s principles do not tolerate the presence of any middleman or that of a centralized system, the planners and managers and politicians have very little attraction towards it. How is not being understood? Is it because people feel that untruth and violence will take them to the desired objective? No. This is not so. The common man fully understands that right means will take him to the right end. It is only the people who have some vested interest who refuse to understand it. The rich do not want to understand."

TRUTH AND SIMPLICITY. "When I say rich, I mean all those people who have got conveniences of life which are not available to everybody in common. These are in living, eating and going about. Their modes of consumption are such that they have been deprived of the power to understand the truth. It is to these that Gandhi becomes a difficult proposition to understand and assimilate. They are the ones to whom simplicity does not make any sense. Their circumstances unfortunately do not allow them to see the truth. Their lives have become too complicated to enable them to get out of trap they are in. Fortunately, for the largest number of people there is neither so much of wealth that they become immune to the truth of simplicity nor are they in such penury that they lack the capacity to understand. Even if the rich see the truth they refuse to understand it. It is because they have lost their contact with the soul of this country."

PRODUCTIVITY WITHIN LIMITS. "It should be very clear that the dignity of man is possible only in a self sufficient society and that it suffers as they move towards progressive industrialization. This hut connotes the pleasures that are possible through being at par with society. Here, self sufficiency is the keynote. We must understand that unnecessary articles and goods that a man possesses reduce his power to imbibe happiness from the surroundings. Therefore, Gandhi repeatedly said that productivity should be kept within the limits of wants. Today’s mode of production is such that it finds no limit and goes on increasing uninhibited. All these we have been tolerating so far but the time has come when man must understand that by depending more and more on machines he is moving towards his own suicide."

SUFFICIENT FOR THE NEED. "The civilized world, whether it is China or America has begun to understand that if we want to progress, this is not the way. Man should realize that for the good of the individual as well as of the society, it is best that people keep for themselves only as much as is sufficient for their immediate needs. We have to find a method by which this thinking finds expression in changing the values of today’s world. This change can not be brought about by the pressure of the governments or through centralized institutions. A climate of public opinion has to be created to make people understand that which constitutes the basic society."

VEHICLE OF THE COMMON PEOPLE. "Today the man with a motor car thinks himself superior to the man with a bicycle though, when we look at it from the point of view of the common norm, it is the bicycle which is the vehicle of the masses. The cycle, therefore, must be given the prime importance and all the planning in roads and transport should be done on the basis of the bicycle, whereas the motor car should get a secondary place. The actual situation, however, is the reverse and all plans are made for the benefit of the motor car giving a second place to the bicycle. Common man’s requirements are thus disregarded in comparison with those of the higher ups..."

Read the full article, "The Message of Bapu's Hut".
THE SEVEN DEADLY SOCIAL SINS

Photo: A list of the 11 "Ashram Observances" at Bapu Setu, the rural home of Mahatma Gandhi.

In addition to the "Ashram Observances," I saw the "Seven Deadly Social Sins" posted at Gandhi's home, Bapu Setu, near Sevagram, India last week. I have often quoted these seven sins, so it was quite heartening and interesting to see them posted at the home of their orginator. Gandhi embodied a way to not only avoid these social sins, but a positive way to live their opposite:

Politics without principle

Wealth without work

Commerce without morality

Pleasure without conscience

Education without character

Science without humanity

Worship without sacrifice
BACK ON AMERICAN SOIL

Photo: The Indian sun shines through a roadside tree. No sunshine in Indiana greeted us. Just c0ld and snow.

BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA... Our airborne journey back from India to Indiana concluded safely and on time Saturday evening. It was very long, though not unpleasant. I am grateful to be home. My sleep is quite disrupted at this point. After arriving home, I immediately went to a concert for one of our children and then shared gifts with my family. I fell asleep around 1:30 am and was awake at 6:00 am to prepare for Sunday morning service. After a full morning of church activities and lunch with family and friends, I slept for a couple of hours. We had small group in our home in the evening. I fell asleep around 8:30 pm and was wide awake--apparently for the day--at 1:30 am. So, this jet lag thing appears to be legitimate. I don't know whether to fight it or let it run its course.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

CONCLUDING A SOJOURN IN INDIA

Hard to believe three weeks have passed and we are on our way back to America from such an ancient and contemporary land. Here are a few photos that I shot during the past week. I am now wondering what my transition to my "homeland" will be like over the next few weeks...


Joe James stands with the 15 Indian-made Atlas bicycles that were purchased primarily with a donation from the Niles, Michigan Free Methodist Church. We rode with 12 tribal Indian village missionaries 120 km over two days. The kicker: they were every heavy single-speed bikes and the terrain was not flat. Ugh!

One of our stops along the road between Yavatmal and Umri.

This is Umri Christian Hospital, a deteriorating facility, which we hope to ride over 2,000 miles through India at the beginning of 2007 to raise funds to rebuild.

Joe James stands at one of the mile markers along the road -- it says "Yavatmal, 51 km."


Some "RTO's" -- that is, Road Traffic Officers -- keep traffic in check along both urban and rural roads in India. We also encountered a herd of more than 30 camels, flocks of goats, sheep. We saw monkey both in rural areas as well as around the retreat center we stayed at a few days in Nagpur, a city over over a million human inhabitants. Who knows the population of monkeys? As you may know, cattle are considered sacred in India. Many roam freely, but many are also harnessed to produce milk for the nation.
PURCHASING POWER

JOHN RUSKIN. The little book On Art and Life by John Ruskin (1819-1900) is one of my companions during this sojourn in India. This Victorian-era architect and social critic turned a sharp eye and tongue to his English brethren, but it sounds as if he might be speaking directly to a consumer-driven society today. Let us consider the following quotes by Ruskin the next time we go to Wal-Mart:

VIRTUAL STEALING. “Whenever we buy, or try to buy, cheap goods – goods offered at a price we know cannot be remunerative for the labor involved in them, we pillage the poor. Whenever we buy such goods, remember we are stealing somebody’s labor. Don’t let us mince the matter. I say, in plain Saxon, STEALING – taking from him the proper reward of his work, and putting it into our own pocket.”

TAKING ADVANTAGE. “You know well enough that the thing could not have been offered you at that price, unless distress of some kind had forced the producer to part with it. You take advantage of this distress, and you force as much out of him as you can under the circumstances.”

MARKETPLACE MURDER. “The definite result of all our modern haste to be rich is assuredly, and constantly, the murder of a certain number of persons by our hands every year.”

LUXURY AND WASTE. “On the whole, the broadest and most terrible way in which we cause the destruction of the poor is, namely, the way of luxury and waste, destroying, in improvidence, what might have been the support of thousands…”

CAUSE AND EFFECT. “You will find that whenever and wherever men are endeavoring to make money hastily, and to avoid the labor which Providence has appointed to be the only source of honorable profit; - and also wherever and whenever they permit themselves to spend it luxuriously, without reflecting how far they are misguiding the labor of others; - there and then, in either case, they are literally and infallibly causing, for their own benefit or their own pleasure, a certain annual number of human deaths…”

LABORER OR ASSASSIN. “Therefore, the choice given to every man born into this world is, simply, whether he will be a laborer or an assassin; and that whosoever has not his hand on the Stilt of the plough, has it on the Hilt of the dagger.”

Sunday, February 5, 2006

INDIA

I have been working on the following poem off and on for a few days while in Nagpur, the geographic center of India. The poem gathers up disperate observations over the past two weeks. It is still in process, but at least ready to post as a draft:

Ancient Mother
River wide
Flowing onward
Rising tide

Ever seeking
Gods untold
Bows in worship
Yearning soul

Gracious welcome
So betrayed
Meanly plundered
Burden-weighed

Deeply longing
To be free
Confronts power
Peacefully

Modern nation
On the go
Ardent striver
Watch her grow

Many peoples
Tongues and tribes
Past and present
Side by side

Changing faces
Caste aside?
Or revert to
Social pride?

Crucial moment
Now to see
Grace and justice
Victory

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.