Monday, October 30, 2006

Sunday, October 29, 2006

My India Travel Journal

If you want this journal in a logical, contiguous reading, start with October 18th #1 “The Longest Night” and read in order. I intended to maintain live postings on the web but was unable to due to the difficulty of finding internet connections and time to post at slower speeds, both bandwidth and computers.

#1 The Longest Night

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

It was the longest night of my life. It began just after dark when we left Stockton for San Francisco to catch an early morning (1:25 AM) flight to Ahmedabad, India. My wife and I drove to Brian Henry’s complex to pick them up. Our wives, Gayla and Esther, went with us to Pleasanton where we caught the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to the San Francisco airport. We arrived at the BART station about 8:00 PM, Tuesday, October 17, 2006, purchased our tickets, and walked onto a waiting train for the hour and 15 minute trip to the International terminal of the airport.

We checked in at the Singapore airlines ticket counter, left our two checked bags and headed off to find our gate, G93. Even with a modest line for check-in things went smoothly and we cleared security with two hours to spare before boarding. We roamed the shops, picked up a few snack items then found a deli for a sandwich just before they closed for the evening. I tried connecting to the internet from my laptop, but resisted the temptation to pay the access fee charged at SFO. I rather took advantage of the waiting time to catch “forty winks” as the long days of preparing for an international trip caught up with me.

Singapore Airlines flight SQ1 was a 747, the behemoth Boeing aircraft with two stories of passenger space in the first class area. Of course we were in economy seating – back of the plane, row 63, seats D and E. The 747 has two aisles, 10 seats across through much of the plane. I was impressed with the level of service and the professional presentation of the flight crew. They were dressed very nicely. The women wore long fitted dresses reflecting the oriental ethnicity of most of the crew members and the Asian home of the airlines. The men wore complementary suit jackets. The seats, even in economy, were comfortable having good lumbar support, a fold down foot rest, and a shaped headrest to keep your head from rolling off onto your neighbor’s shoulder while you are sleeping. Built into the back of the seat in front of you is a video monitor featuring a full array of “on demand” movies, television, news, and trip information programming. The food was good and the attendants were … well, attentive! They were constantly coming through the cabin, first offering warm cloths to freshen up with, then headsets to enjoy the media programming, offering juices and drinks, then a wonderful dinner. My choice from their tastefully designed menu was the baked fish with vegetables and potatoes. Real metal flatware was provided giving you a sense of “first-class” treatment.

After our “supper” about 2:30 AM most of us dozed off as we began our arch across the Pacific Ocean toward our first stop, Hong Kong, thirteen hours later. We were racing against the dawn and seemed to be beating it. I kept my watch on California time and at 1:00 PM (Wednesday) it was still pitch black outside. The benefit of the long night was that it encouraged people to sleep and keep the noise down much longer than normally would be experienced. Dawn finally began to catch us about 3:30 in the afternoon as we neared Hong Kong. We landed about 6:00 AM local time in Hong Kong after enjoying a wonderful breakfast of an omelet, hash browns, chicken sausage, blueberry yogurt, fruit, and a roll. The coffee was also tasty … or maybe I was just hungry.

I tried to take advantage of the long night traveling to catch up on some much needed rest. We didn’t know we were going to India until Thursday of last week. My life has been a whirlwind of activity since then, preparing our church schedule for my absence (Sunday and midweek friendship groups), planning tests and class sessions with substitutes while I’m away from classes at Christian Life College, and the other business details of bills, financial arrangements, and my last minute extension filing of income taxes. I won’t bore you with the other details of our recent activities.

Daryl Rash called me about 4:00 Thursday with the leading question, “How would you like to go to India?” I know him well enough—having made another international trip earlier this year to Sweden and Norway—to know that there is some substance to his somewhat rhetorical questioning. So I tentatively asked, while thinking about the prospects, “When?” “Next week,” he replied! I laughed heartily. He didn’t. Five days later, with visas in hand Brian Henry and I are setting off for a great Indian adventure to the Western state of Gujarat, the city of Ahmedabad, boasting a population of six million people.

After a brief stop in Hong Kong (about an hour) our plane was boarded for the next leg of our journey, a mere three hour and 10 minute jaunt to Singapore. As I type the first installment of our adventure breakfast is being served in the narrow aisle at my left elbow … so I’ll shut down my laptop, preserve my precious battery life and have another breakfast!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Early morning arrival in Hong Kong after a 20 hour night and a 13 hour flight!

#2 Short Stop in Singapore

Thursday, October 19, 2006
- In flight to Ahmedabad

Singapore was shrouded in a tropical haze preventing any aerial view of the city as we dropped onto the runway in the giant Boeing 747. We taxied to a stop and were thrilled to be able to stand up again and walk. We even avoided the moving sidewalk (which they call a Travellator) to exercise our legs a little in the airport.

It was before noon (Thursday) in Singapore and about 9:00 PM (Wednesday) at home. I passed an area offering free internet service as we came out of the gate area. There you can log on to the internet, send and receive email, whatever, for 15 minutes. San Francisco airport could learn something from them. I quickly composed an email to let my wife and family know that I had safely arrived in Singapore and hit the send button. I logged out and caught up with Brian Henry in a line at the Ambassador Transit Hotel on the second level. The Singapore airport is like a small city with all types of services and business under the same roof. There are the normal food fare places, duty free shops with chocolates, perfumes, and liquors, as well as the currency exchange offices and places to apply for sales tax (GST) refunds for items purchased in the country. In addition to the expected amenities, there are designer shops such as Ralph Lauren and Coach, technology stores with all the latest gismos and gadgets, and just about anything else you might need. There was a gym, exercise rooms, hair salons, massage sessions, movies, and even a 7-Eleven convenience store.

The hotel rents rooms for your layover in the Singapore airport. You can take a nap or spend the night, have a clean private bathroom and shower, and a secure place to lock up your baggage if you want to go shopping or dining. Initially, when we arrived, the hotel was fully booked. However, Brian being the world traveler had called ahead and placed his name on a waitlist for accommodations. We were instructed to come back after 1:00 PM so with 45 minutes to kill we strolled around through the mall area. Brian was drawn into the Mont Blanc store like a bee to honey. He spent a few minutes salivating over a beautiful writing instrument with a floating diamond in the cap. It was only $1800.00. I’m not sure if that was Singapore or US dollars. It really didn’t matter. I drifted over to the electronic gizmos store. For the same money I could get a 20 gig hard drive camcorder complete with DVD burner attachment! I didn’t buy either.

When we checked back at the hotel we were in luck! They had a room available. We dropped off our carryon bags and headed out for some fine Singapore dining. Earlier we had spied a new Burger King on the second level! It will probably be over a week before we get to enjoy a beef hamburger, complete with fries and Diet Coke. The burger and fries tasted virtually identical to that found in the States. The diet Coke was disgusting! Of course, (Diet) Dr. Pepper is my drink of choice. I suppose I’ll be fasting Dr. Pepper for the duration of this trip.

Brian’s hairspray was confiscated in San Francisco. With some of the new security restrictions you are only allowed up to a four ounce size of any gels, creams, liquids, or hairsprays. His super-sized VO5 just didn’t fit the permitted profile. They did give him a complimentary Ziploc bag (the legal quart size) to contain the contraband specific items for the next security inspection. In a panic Brian had found a small pump of Tresemé hairspray in one of the shops in San Francisco. Now, he is concerned about running out before the week is up in India. The 7-Eleven store did not have hairspray. They had assorted gels, lotions, and potions, but no Henry style aerosol hairspray. They recommended a store down the way in the airport named Watson’s.

We found Watson’s without too much difficulty on the lower level toward the other end of the mall area. Sure enough they had all kinds of health and beauty aids for harried travelers (no pun intended!). When we inquired about hairspray, the kindly efficient sales staff (she must have been on commission) directed us to the shelf behind her. Just the thing, she said as she pulled the hairspray off the shelf. Available in either aerosol or pump it had only the best ingredients, natural stuff, not those damaging chemicals! I rolled the can over in my hand and choked over the 33.00 price tag. Hey, it was only about 20 USD. As Brian considered the merits of her sales pitch I strolled around the shelf to find the small travel size, propane laden, chemically-chocked-full can of hair damaging aerosol in the convenient and legal small size. Brian agreed that was the best way to go in view of the fact that he might lose a larger one again on our return to the domestic domain of Homeland Security.
Brian went on back to the hotel to freshen up while I shopped for a tee shirt to change into after showering. There was a tourist shop with novelty tees advertising the virtues of Singapore. I found a color that would match my travel clothes, paid the inflated price, and made my way back to the hotel. We were able to sleep for a while in a quiet darkened room in preparation for the five hour flight this evening to Ahmedabad.

My biological clock told me it was too early to be getting up after a two hour nap, but locally it was 6:00 in the afternoon as we checked out and made our way to the gate area. The Singapore Airlines flight (SQ442) departed out of E20 at 8:15 PM. Everything went on schedule.

The biggest difference I observed in the flights earlier today and this one is the people. People of Oriental ethnicity dominated the flights into Hong Kong and Singapore. Now, obviously, the majority is Asian Indian. Catering to the tastes and culture, the airline adjusted the menu to reflect food fare from India. The Hindu influence was immediately seen in the menu selections. Most meat items disappeared on this menu. I suppose the Lamb masala was there for the Muslims. I couldn’t identify either selection so I asked for the vegetarian offering. It included rice with some stuff on the side containing green peas. On the other side some other stuff featured kidney beans. The salad was basically garbanzo beans with something spicy. The taste of curry was evident as well as some other unknown spices. This will be an adjustment to my taste buds. No doubt this will help me understand how international students feel coming to America and adjusting to Mexican food!

There is something to be said about the irony of riding an American made plane with a Singapore flight crew, eating Indian food, listening to Dave Brubeck’s jazz hits on my stereo headphones, typing on a portable laptop computer made in China, flying 38,000 feet in the air, and traveling at over 500 miles per hour. The aircraft we are flying now is a Boeing 777. It’s a wide body aircraft, just not as large as the 747. There are two aisles but only nine seats across in this one. Everything seems a little closer as well. Brian and I got aisle seats across from each other in the 40th row. To my left is an Indian man from Malaysia. He and his family are traveling to India for a holiday. For the next few days there is a great India festival of some kind (later I found out it is Dawali, a Hindu festival) and following that is a Muslim celebration. He encouraged me to see some of the temples. That seems to be their biggest attraction and source of inspiration. I hope to have some more inspiration of my own so I don’t bore you with the mundane recording of my travel monologue.

We are supposed to arrive after 11:00 PM and we are to meet an associate at the airport to transport us to our hotel. I’ll post this when I can and keep writing for later postings. Once we leave the city I probably will not have internet access for a few days. Thanks for reading along and keeping up with our India adventure!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

#3 Arrival in Ahmedabad

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Well, change of plans. We arrived at the airport on time and immediately went back 50 years in much of the culture. We disembarked on stairs that were rolled out to meet the plane. Shuttle buses were parked near the stairs to transport passengers to the immigration office of the airport. A variety of large planes sat around the parking lot indicating that this was normal at Ahmedabad International airport. It was very much a “third world” feeling I had reminding me of a trip to Ethiopia five years ago. However, I think the airport in Addis Abba is still a nicer airport. The building looked to be at least fifty years old, very institutionally designed with little regard for aesthetics. (I later found out this was the new part, only about a year old!) Everything is dirty and appears to be disorganized. You line up to get your passport stamped then proceed around the corner to baggage claim. It seemed everyone took advantage of the free baggage cart (or trolley) and before long every spare inch of floor space is a congestion of carts and people waiting for their baggage to come around the track. Fortunately, my suitcase made it without incident. I retrieved it and retreated a safe distance before the mob pressed in. Brian was not so lucky. He waited and waited for the small suitcase that he had checked. Just when he was about to give up he pressed back through the mob, found his bag, retrieved it, and we proceeded to the end of the room where bags were being x-rayed to leave the airport! No questions or inspections, just x-rays, procedures and chaos. We then waited in another line to exchange some greenbacks for rupees (42.5 cents for 100 rupees). This economy will take some getting used to. My 100 USD turned into 4250.00 rupees. At least for a while I’ll feel like a rich man. One final check point and we were out the door in the dark and tropical evening. It was 85 degrees at midnight.

Once outside the Ahmedabad airport it was very similar to the atmosphere surrounding the Addis Abba airport, on the dirt parking lot a mob of people and taxi drivers lined the fence to greet the arriving passengers. As we emerged from the building, Brian spotted his brother-in-law, Everett McCoy, who was there to meet us along with the local pastor, J.P. who is the coordinator of the annual conference. They had procured the services of a taxi driver named Jackson. We found out that they use his services frequently because he is also a Christian.

Jackson had to tie three of the suitcases on the top of the Toyota SUV type vehicle that served as his taxi. Pastor J.P. sat up front with Jackson. Brian and I sat in the second seat and Everett took the drop down seat in the baggage area of the vehicle. What I thought would be a short trip to a local hotel turned into an hour and a half journey to the city of the conference, Anand. Even though it was dark outside it was immediately apparent that this is not your normal North American town. The British influence is seen in the cars and on the road system. Traffic travels on the left side of the roads—well, they are supposed to—and the steering wheel is on the right side. Our driver honked and flashed his lights at anyone who took too long to get over and move out of our way. Fortunately, as we got out of the city we were able to take a new highway and the traffic was greatly diminished.

We arrived at the Surabhi Regency Hotel in Anand about 2:30 AM. Pastor J.P. and Everett were hungry so they ordered room service and I retired to my room, room 405. It was a Spartan room with all the necessities provided. It contained a full sized bed, a four inch mattress covered only with a sheet, two folded blankets and two strips of rough sheet-like material for covering, and two very thin pillows. There was a window A/C unit and an overhead fan. Those were essential luxuries in this tropical climate. The floor was ceramic tile and the entire bathroom was tiled. It had the European style shower, basically a spray spout and a drain in the floor, a sink and toilet. They provided the complementary bar of hotel soap and a towel … nothing else. They don’t use toilet paper. I didn’t ask how they handled hygiene. I was just glad I brought a small pack of Kleenex. I also brought antibacterial hand sanitizer which I used faithfully … especially after shaking lots of hands! Sounds like I have a phobia of germs. Actually, my goal is to make it all week without getting sick! The room had a closet, four hangers, a counter / desk top, a small television, two sitting chairs, a small coffee table, and a gliding love seat (kind of like a twin size rocker except it swings rather than rocks … if that makes sense).

The sheets were somewhat stained so I used one of the blankets to cover the sheet and pillows. I put the sheet strip over the blanket, and then used the remaining sheet strip and blanket for covering once it got cool enough to cover up. I had no trouble going to sleep.

Teaching at the conference in Anand, Gujarat, India. Gabriel was the interpreter for all sessions.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

#4 – The conference begins

Friday, October 20, 2006

The conference began with registration at 8:30 AM so we were not required until the 10:30 service which opened the conference. I tapped on Brian’s door about 7:30 and got no answer so I went down the hall to Everett’s room and knocked. He was up and had already ordered breakfast to his room so I went back to room 405 and ordered boiled eggs toast and jam. I’m still not sure what I can eat and what not to eat. I figured the boiled eggs would be safe. I also ordered coffee and bottled water. The room service is very reasonable and the staff is very eager to wait on you.

There’s somewhat of a language barrier. They speak English, but it’s not always the same English we speak! The young man had a hard time understanding “bottled water.” Come to find out they call it mineral water most places here. Oh well, I found out that the hotel carries “Aquafina,” bottled by Pepsi, so that’s what I started asking for. I lived on this water. I even brushed my teeth in it to avoid drinking any of the local water.

We met in the lobby about 10:00 AM and headed out to the grounds were the conference is being held. It is only about 10 minutes from the hotel. Pastor J.P. provided our transportation to and from the conference center. The grounds obtained for the conference is a very old complex that used to be a medical hospital run by a religious group (maybe Presbyterian?) around the turn of the century. It is now owned by CNI (Christians of North India). They used the old buildings for housing people attending the conference. They contracted a cook to fix meals for the conference and contracted another group to erect the tent. It is an attractive tent, mostly of white, but decorated with ruffles and bunting of red and pink. A beautiful fabric mural provides the backdrop for the platform area. Another company provided the sound reinforcement. Four huge Peavey speakers pumped the sound of singing, music and preaching for the surrounding area to hear. They are not shy about being heard!

The arrangement reminds me of a campmeeting from an earlier day where everyone came to the campgrounds and lived, and cooked on the grounds. Services are planned for four times a day. That also reminds me of earlier years! With everyone on the grounds it makes it easier to have more meetings. They have nothing else to do.

Each service started out with a lot of singing and worship. There were times of corporate prayer and individual response. They have a custom of welcoming their guests with a garland (similar to the lei in Hawaii). We were each presented with a garland of flowers. Most of the flowers were like an orange carnation. It was customary to receive the garland, get a picture made, and then remove them. I was glad I didn’t have to wear it all week. It would probably stir up my allergies!

Everett McCoy preached the first message on being “adorned with the anointing.” It was a fitting beginning service. Following the service Pastor J.P. took us to lunch along with Pastor Oneal and Gabriel. This restaurant looked a little scary to me. The huge bread oven was outside and the fried or baked bread was thrown out on top of the hot oven to be served up to the patrons. We went into a small dining area where you could see the well used kitchen behind the counter. We stopped by a washroom that had no running water. They provided a pitcher of water for hand washing. It was very dirty. Upstairs they had several old and faded tables lined along the open windows where you could look out over the street. Ceiling fans above stirred the hot air making it bearable inside. Pastor J.P. recommended a dish that was less spicy for me. Some of the others had very spicy foods. Surprisingly the food was very good. They provided bottled (mineral) water. When Brian ordered a Pepsi I saw one of the servers running back with some drinks in a bag from a nearby shop.

Following lunch we went by the hotel for about 20 minutes to freshen up and use the restrooms in our rooms. I looked over my notes and prepared to preach the next session. I preached, “God is in Control.” The message emphasized faith in God, an appeal to trust Him for the future. We had a good response in an altar service to conclude the service. They do not make a lot of noise while you are preaching but when it is time to pray they respond and begin to open up in prayer. Once you learn their habits and customs in worship and response it is easier to know what to expect.

We returned to the hotel for about 30-40 minutes before the next service this evening. It was another time of worship, music, and singing. Brian Henry started off the evening services preaching on Faith. Today’s services began the foundation for the ministry this week.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

#5 A Full Day of Conference

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Saturday was the first full day of conference starting at 8:30 AM. Brian asked that we all meet together before service to discuss the day’s schedule and objectives. We planned to meet at a café downstairs in front of the hotel. We found that the café was closed down so we went back in the hotel and met in Brian’s room, #406, and ordered room service for breakfast. We had cheese omelet, toast, and coffee. It was surprisingly good. Most everything in India is a little spicy … usually a whole lot spicy! The coffee was kind of a latte. To get just plain coffee you had to order “service coffee” – being interpreted that was a carafe of hot water a dish of instant coffee, another of sugar cubes, and a small container of milk. But, hey at 24.00 rupees that was only about .60 USD. The cheese omelet was less that 2.00 US and the toast another .60. Pretty cheap breakfast in our economy!

Everett preached a tremendous message on the dwelling places of God from the tabernacle, tabernacle of David, Solomon and Herod’s Temple and finally dwelling in our lives. It was a perfect complement for the message I was feeling led to preach, “Built on the Rock.” I continued the theme that God is establishing His church --- the people of God in this world.

We broke service about 1:00 PM and greeted some of the people before lunch. Pastor J.P. introduced us to two pastors from another area. One older gentlemen was a pastor in a remote area of much difficulty. A man that had been an enemy of this pastor and the church drowned in the river. When the pastor heard of it he went and prayed for him and witnessed the man restored from the dead!

Another pastor formerly worked for an airline based in New Delhi and had a very good salary. He resigned his position and returned to his home to start a church. He now pastors 9 churches. There are some incredible men of God among this group!

We went back to the little restaurant near our hotel, “Three Musketiers.” What I ate yesterday seemed to be safe so I ordered it again – actually Pastor J.P. ordered it for me without asking! We talked to Gabriel about coming to CLC. His application is pending approval for an educational visa. Pastor J.P. suggested that he come and prepare himself for future ministry in India. He and his wife, Delin, are prepared to come next semester if they can get their visas approved.

We returned to the hotel for about 45 minutes before the next service. I debated taking a quick nap but I also needed to email my family to let them know I’m still alive. There is a little Cyber café less than a block down the street from the hotel. Email and internet won out over the nap. I removed my shoes at the door (in compliance with the sign posted by the door) and logged on to my assigned computer. They had about eight computers lined in a tiny hot room. Ceiling fans fought furiously against the heat. The connection was slow and the keyboard a little dirty but I was able to log onto Yahoo mail and return four emails in about 20 minutes. I paid out. It cost 10 rupees (about .25 USD). I could get used to living here! … Well, maybe not all the time.

I got back to the hotel and sat down for about five minutes before it was time to go again. Back to church! Pastor J.P. preached on “God’s name.” God is revealed as the “I AM” but He wants to be called by other names. He was called the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Other passages identify Him as the God of Daniel, the three Hebrews, or of Elijah. He is looking for someone to stand in the gap. He wants to be called by your name, the God of YOUR NAME. The “Church of God” is mentioned eight times in the New Testament. All references are to the “body of Christ” not a building or temple. – People responded very well to his message.

Brian Henry preached the “God of water and fire.” He gave an altar invitation for those desiring the Holy Spirit, then for those with other needs. Twenty were filled with the Holy Ghost and about ten experienced healing.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Sunday Afternoon Tea

Sunday afternoon, a little lunch and some Indian Tea before the next session. We really didn't plan to dress alike! But, it was Sunday ... seemed like a good day to wear a white shirt!

#6 Sunday, The Center of Conference

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sunday service started about 9:00 AM. Because it was Sunday the schedule was changed up a bit and we only had three services instead of four! Another difference in the service was that they received an offering. I noticed the offering cans over at the side in other services, but this was the first where an offering march was organized and apparently the people knew that this would be a part of the service because they quickly responded, joining the march to bring their offering to the front. Another feature of the Sunday morning service was that several people, men and women, were called on to come to the platform and share their testimony. Following the sermon there was also recognition of three birthdays this week. Candy was passed out among the congregation that was provided for by parents of a couple of young boys who had birthdays.

Everett preached in the first service, “I need a Rest.” He talked about the Sabbath under the law and how there was also to be a Sabbath rest every seventh year and a Jubilee on the fiftieth year. After the Babylonian captivity the Sabbath became a day of worship and assembly in the synagogues that were constructed in the restoration.

We had some lunch on the conference grounds. It was typical Indian fare, rice and Dal (a bean that looks like corn), followed by Indian Tea. The Indian Tea was quite good. It reminded me of the Chai Tea from Starbucks. Back at the hotel I was finally able to take a nap. When I got up after about thirty minutes I had time to study and to enjoy a Coke and some snacks. We returned to the conference center about 4:00 PM for the next service. I preached, “Follow Me!” There was a good response in the prayer service following the message.

Between the services we enjoyed another round of Indian Tea. Their teacups are very small and the tea is very hot. However, they have tea several times a day so you never need a lot at one time.

Tonight was a dance service! Certain songs just seem to bring the dance out of these Gujaraties. The women had a version of “ring around the roses” in their dance. The men were more freestyle and the young boys had a terrific time of jumping and leaping. While there is an element of natural expression, it also reflected their joy of the Lord.

Brian Henry followed with a powerful message as well.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Baptism in Jesus' Name!

One of twenty who were baptized in Jesus' name on the Hindu New Year!

#7 It's Monday!

Monday, October 23, 2006

We went to bed with the sounds of explosions all around us. These Hindus definitely know how to celebrate the New Year! I thought America was bad around the fourth of July with all the wasted money blown up in fireworks. This place celebrated for several days. Every evening you could see roman candles and other fireworks displays going off around us contributing to the cacophony of noises around us. On their New Year’s Eve celebration (last night) the noise maker of choice was firecrackers. It was similar to the Chinese New Year in the States. They set them off by the string, continuing their explosions for minutes at a time. An occasional louder boom sounded like M-80 exploding. This continued well after midnight and to my surprise started early this morning (by 7:00 AM). It made great video footage. I can narrate a story line as though we were under gunfire and heavy artillery attacks!

We delayed our departure a little this morning because Gabriel, our interpreter, had to take the morning off because of allergies from the dust stirred up in last night’s dance. He was suffering some congestion in his chest that began to affect his voice. He is an incredible worship leader and interpreter, fully pouring himself into the conference. He would sometimes lead worship and singing for over an hour and then turn around and interpret the message for another 45 minutes to an hour. This is repeated in four services each day. It is no wonder that he is beginning to suffer some limitation. Another young man, Linus, from Ahmedabad was also able to play the guitar and lead worship today to give Gabriel a little more of a break. Pastor Oneal was asked to preach in the first session today so that Gabriel would not have to interpret in that session. It was appropriate to hear from Pastor Oneal. He is the brother of Pastor J.P. and is the local pastor in Anand. He was the emcee in most of the services and was a blessing in the conference.

They were also preparing for a baptismal service during the early session. Because of threats against conversions to Christianity by fanatical Hindus the church has had to be a little more secretive about baptisms. Hindu is the official religion in India. Official estimates for the percentage of Hindus vary. Some say 70 percent while others claim more of the population has embraced Hinduism. In Gujarat, a more radical form of Hinduism is practiced. The current political leader has tried to repress Christianity which has emboldened the attacks by fanatical groups. As a result of some of these attacks, the church does not announce the baptisms publicly. One on one and in small groups they spread the word that baptism will be given and they will be notified when things are ready.

The service continued while those that were ready for baptism gathered outside the tent. Initially, there were 17 that professed their faith and desire to be baptized in Jesus' name. We walked down the dirt road and onto the narrow paved road to a fenced lot that we passed each day coming to the conference. It was only about ¼ mile from the conference center. We stepped off the road through an iron gate leading to a small pasture covered with grass and several trees and bushes. The church men had built a rectangular baptismal tank of cement in the middle of the lot surrounded by trees. Though not completely hidden from the road it did provide the feeling of some seclusion where people could be baptized without fear of interruption. The lot was owned by a Hindu man that Pastor J.P. had met. He agreed to the use of his property for the baptisms. Afterward the men will destroy the tank and remove it from his property.

The tank stood about four feet tall and was large enough for the pastor and candidate to get into the tank and have room to baptize. Two step ladders were used to enable people to climb into and out of the tank. One by one candidates climbed into the tank to be baptized. Pastor J.P. performed the baptisms. Because of abuses by some pastors who have charged candidates to be baptized, some ministers now ask for a signed testament from the candidate that they received no compensation for performing the baptism. It is safest just to allow local pastors to baptize the converts. When all was said and done, twenty were baptized in Jesus’ name!

Young and old lined up for baptism. The youngest looked to be about 10 to 12, the son of one of the church elders. The eldest could have been a grandmother. Gabriel told us the story of some of those being baptized. One had left Faith Church for awhile and had been baptized in the titles by a Trinitarian church. Now that she has come back to truth she wants to be baptized in Jesus’ name! Another man was very poor. He had been to several churches but because he was unable to contribute they were shunned. Pastors would not come to pray in their home and they were not accepted in the congregations. When they came to Faith Church they found acceptance and love and a pastor who would care for them regardless of their ability to contribute. Another lady came for baptism. She had attended churches, but when one of her sons embraced homosexuality she was shunned by the church she attended. No one would speak to her. When she came to Faith Church she found welcome and acceptance, people who would love her and pray for her son. The final one to be baptized was a former Hindu man. He is lame in one leg and requires a walking stick to get around. He was warned by the Pastor that if he became a Christian he could lose his disability benefits provided by the state. He still chose to embrace Jesus and be baptized in His name!

In the service following the baptismal service Everett preached on the increase of God’s presence and the illumination of the Spirit. His sermon title was “It’s getting bright in here.” He talked about the difference in reflection, refraction, translucence, and transparence with respect to showing God’s light.

After the session we went down the way to our “favorite” lunch spot. However, it was closed due to the Hindu New Year. We crossed the median and went by another place across the street. It was also closed so we went on to a third. It was a nicer restaurant. They had an air conditioned dining room downstairs. Today seemed a little more humid and still in the 90’s so the A/C was most welcome. The food was tasty, but very spicy. I was concerned that it would not settle. Thanks to my Rolaids I think I survived it!
For lunch “Hindu New Year” we found a restaurant still open

Before the next service we had a meeting with all the pastors in attendance at the conference. There were about 25 pastors present. The group has at least 62 churches total but not all were able to come. Pastor J.P. had the three of us (Everett, Brian, and me) speak to these pastors. We each spoke words of encouragement. They are a wonderful group of men. Two of them lost their homes in the recent monsoon floods, yet they were at the conference worshipping God, smiles on their faces.

After Pastor J.P. talked for a little while we immediately went into the next session. I spoke on “Recognizing the Voice of God.” A disciple hears the voice of the shepherd and follows!

After having a cup of Indian Tea we went back to the hotel for a pit stop and refreshment and then returned for the evening service. Brian preached in the evening service, “Press on, Hold on, and Move forward.” There was a good response to the message this evening.

Everett left after the service to return to Ahmedabad. He has an office there for his internet company and he needed to get some work done before he leaves on Friday. One of the men in the church has a van that he uses for taxi service. He used to have an auto-rickshaw and Everett called him “Brother Rickshaw.” Now he calls him “Brother Van!”

His ride came by the hotel where we had a quick bite to eat from the room service menu. Between cheese omelets and grilled cheese sandwiches we made it pretty good. Even their French fries were good!